“When I think about people, I think about space, how much space a person takes up and how much use that person provides,” begins Joan is Okay by Weike Wang. Our narrator is Joan, a thirty-six-year-old Chinese-American whose life happily revolves around the New York City hospital ICU, where she works as a physician. But when her father dies unexpectedly from a stroke, and her mother returns to America from China to “become friends” with her children, and her brother and sister-in-law mount pressure on her to settle down in the suburbs and start a family, and the coronavirus pandemic shuts all life down, Joan is forced to question her workaholism and define her own cultural beliefs.
Binaries give structure and conflict to the story: Joan and her brother, work life and domestic life, America and China, present and past.
As I look for a comfortable viewing space within the crowd here to see YACHT’s performance at Rough Trade, I am surprised how packed the venue is. Since I discovered YACHT (“Young Americans Challenging High Technology”) in my early teens, the band’s renown has exploded. YACHT has gone from a little-known alternative favorite to a fairly known Grammy-nominated kombucha-drinking-crowd-drawing phenomenon.
When I saw the band in January of 2018 in Manhattan on their “Strawberry Moon” tour, the small venue they performed in was maybe halfway full – I was never more than an arm’s length away from frontwoman Claire L. Evans, and she was able to leave the stage and dance through the crowd. Now, YACHT’s audience nearly fills Rough Trade, which has a capacity of 250. I can barely scope out a space by the bar.
The day after the hottest day ever recorded in Paris (42 degrees Celsius, 108 degrees Fahrenheit), two things happen. One: Batsheva’s Young Ensemble—the training appendage of the modern dance group Batsheva Dance Company—puts on its final show for the Festival Paris l’Été, performing the 2000 piece Decadance. Two: the heat breaks—just gives way—and is forgotten. The cold lands in its place. Leaves fall, as if in autumn.
These two things happen at the same time. They are unrelated. The cold did not come for Batsheva. It is there for them nonetheless. That explains the sweater I pull on—layering, the first time this summer—before walking the six blocks from my apartment to the theatre. Explains, too, the see-through rain-coats that volunteers hand out at the door. Your call. But it’s going to rain, one insists, after I decline.
On a summertime Tuesday night, the Brooklyn queer bar 3 Dollar Bill readied itself to host an unlikely trinity. I wandered in among the ticketholders who were congregating, apparently undaunted by the impending weekday morning, for a performance of Oscar at the Crown. The website announcing this “immersive nightclub phenomenon” promised a show that would situate in one dystopian future the three pillars of society: sequins, Oscar Wilde, and the housewives of Orange County.
A lot to prepare for, perhaps, so the musical’s site also offered some advice: “Wear something cool!” The wardrobes of the audience had clearly obliged. The primary colors dutifully coalesced in a corner over a round of drinks: bright red jumpsuit on one attendee, on another, a bluish sleeveless two-piece number complete with buttons and lapels, and on a third, a canary tee proclaiming, “I’m a limited luxury edition of myself.
Electric Forest takes place in a woodland of thousands of years old. Bonnaroo features craftsmen and artisans vending their wares. Coachella is... Coachella. Aspiring to some bohemian or rustic ideal (whether achieved or not), each of these events has its idiosyncratic personality. But Boston Calling is the corporate-sponsored, licensed-to-within-an-inch-of-its-life, capitalist cousin of these festivals. It’s as if it was designed in a boardroom at McKinsey—at the 2019 edition of Boston Calling, everything ran smoothly, but after the music ended, the revelers departed without a single distinctive memory of the festival organization itself.
Fortunately, Boston Calling gets its music right. This year’s cast was studded in gold—the lineup included indie sweethearts Mitski and Tame Impala; hip-hop superstars Travis Scott and Anderson .
Like most famous people, Louise Glück is shorter than I expected. At Glück’s reading on April 10th in the Barker center, the room was so packed I had to sit on the floor. From this vantage, I had a better view of the audience than of the stage, such that when Glück arrived, what I saw first was not the poet herself, but the awed looks that followed her into the room, signaling that this, this mild and unassuming figure, was the Poet Laureate, the Louise Glück.
Glück’s reading was a study in contrasts. The poems were packed with the first-person, existential intensity that characterizes her work. Yet in performance, she read her work in a slow, husky monotone that felt oddly quiet and small. Glück herself presented no fewer contradictions. Though plainly-dressed, soft-spoken, and diminutive, Glück moved through the room with unseen force, parting the crowd with ease.
Seeing Angel Olsen play Madrid is a bit like watching your childhood best friend meet the roommates: it’s beautiful, but sometimes you need to duck out of the room. Olsen is here, here being Europe, to promote Phases, 2017’s collection of folk/rock anthems that didn’t make it into her four previous albums. It’s a tour for the fans, who’ve filled the thousand seat theatre. She promises the crowd she’ll play any song we like. I catch myself wondering if anyone else is having an out-of-body experience. Like the Orpheum in San Francisco or Boston’s own Opera House, Madrid’s Calderon is capped with a neck-achingly beautiful ceiling and impossibly low-backed seats. The fluttering vibrato of Olsen’s voice in “Iota,” and even the power-ballad of “Never Be Mine” are swallowed up. Standing is difficult: the chairs, which are covered in dark velvet, keep everyone firmly anchored in place and exactly one arm-rest away from the nearest neighbor.
When I got there, late last Thursday night, the Sinclair had an unusually low-key energy. It kind of felt like the Powers That Be had pushed back Twain's stage time (they were opening for Darlingside) to do a late-night sound check, or like the venue had been delaying things with a recorded set list but the speakers had conked out. Even with the low audience hum, it was that quiet, and there was that little energy. And having listened to Twain’s label debut with Keeled Scales (Rare Feeling (2017), more info here) a few times through now, the reality of their live performance was awkward; I had been expecting the coherent, and (occasionally) profoundly listenable sound that defines tracks like "Solar Pilgrim" and "Freed from Doubt," and instead found myself struggling to follow along. I'm sympathetic, though; all it takes is a coffee house experience or two to know that it's really, profoundly hard for acoustic groups to command attention, when that attention isn’t already there.
The night began with The Star-Spangled Banner and a man in a black Morphsuit. The anthem, sung by concertgoer Kayla M. Salmon, was the highlight of an impromptu talent show hosted by Coast Modern, Tuesday night’s headliner in The Sinclair. This goofy, no-stakes “talent show” was the perfect icebreaker that seemed to forewarn the audience, “Don’t take anything you are about to see or hear too seriously.” And there’s nothing serious about Coast Modern.
From Los Angeles, Coast Modern is an indie pop band that sounds like they are from Los Angeles. Their music is an amorphous mixture of mischievous energy and dog-day lethargy. To hear this contradiction, listen to a track from their eponymous debut album released last year. The band consists of lead singer Coleman Trapp and guitarist Luke Atlas - who, by the way, was presumably the man in black spandex.
Moses Sumney isn’t taking interviews right now. But his manager is happy to put this writer and a photographer on the list for Sumney’s Monday performance at the Sinclair. Her message - or maybe it’s Sumney’s - seems pretty clear. Meet the musician through his music. Questions can come later. (Another possibility is that the Harvard Advocate isn’t exactly the sort of media outlet that Sumney, fresh from collaborations with Solange and Beck, and recent mastermind behind the genre-defying soul/folk/synth/choral creation that is Aromanticism, is going to entertain. But you can decide for yourself.) Anyway, we go. They are, after all, free tickets to a Moses Sumney concert.Live, Sumney embodies the same certainty that an interview refusal kind of implies. He jokes with the crowd, he heckles, he splits the audience of mostly-college students to self select into a two-part harmony by asking us whether or not we were rejected by Harvard College.
Earlier this year, Tank and The Bangas’ Tiny Desk contest-winning video went (deservedly) viral. NPR’s been hosting the concerts since 2008 (there had been 550, viewed a collective 80 million times as of November 2016), and the yearly contest is going on its fourth cycle now. But as much of an NPR fan-girl as I am Tank’s video is the first I remember watching the whole way through. Because, and maybe there’s no other way to put it, Tank, and The Bangas, are artists in a spectacularly new way.This past Thursday the group came up (they’re from and based in New Orleans) with Sweet Crude to play a gig at The Sinclair. Sweet Crude opened, starting exactly on time (and maybe I’m not going to enough Sinclair gigs but that has never happened to me, not once, not even within 15 minutes of the posted time) and right away had the half-full crowd completely rapt.
The end of the 2008 financial crisis marked the beginning of an agitated love-hate affair between Hollywood and Wall Street. Movies that satirized, maligned, or celebrated the exploits of the veiled “masters of the universe” became incredibly popular. Hollywood had found its new villain, and the following years saw the release of a string of movies like Margin Call (2011), Too Big to Fail (2011), and The Big Short (2015). Steve James’s new documentary, Abacus: Small Enough to Jail, might be described as the anti-Big Short. It refuses to play into the tropes and excesses of its precursors. For one, it makes no attempt to glamorize the work of bankers or bamboozle the viewer into dumb awe with a barrage of inscrutable technical terms—CDS’s, MBS’s, tranches, and the like. Instead, the only source of the fantastic comes from the film’s very premise: Abacus is a profile of the only bank to have been criminally charged with mortgage fraud in the wake of 2008, and the family behind its operations.