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Alive Inside Shows the Power of Music as Therapy for Dementia Patients

Practically guaranteed to elicit tears within its first five minutes, Alive Inside — a documentary about activist Dan Cohen’s attempts to get nursing homes to use music as a part of their care regimen for those afflicted with dementia, Alzheimer’s, and Parkinson’s diseases — is nonetheless more than just a tearjerker.

Opening with clips of an unwell elderly woman and man becoming rejuvenated, physically and mentally, after listening to the favorite songs of their youth, director Michael Rossato-Bennett’s moving film argues music’s therapeutic value on slowly deteriorating minds.

This treatment is the brainchild of Cohen, whose Music & Memory non-profit organization advocates such methods as a way to not only relight the spark of senior citizens cast into mental darkness but also — by functioning as an at-home alternative to pharmaceutical medication — to help alleviate an increasingly overly burdened health care system.

That latter argument is far from thoroughly (or convincingly) laid out. Yet Rossato-Bennett’s footage of confused and/or comatose older people being euphorically reinvigorated by songs on Cohen’s iPod compellingly conveys how music — so intimately wedded to our emotions, and experiences — can help the severely ill elderly reconnect with themselves.

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WAKE UP CALL

Like it or not, you’ve had at least one Avicii single, most likely “Wake Me Up” or “Hey Brother,” stuck in your head. It’s clear why these country-fried, radio-friendly EDM songs became such hits: They made both genres accessible to people who may not necessarily listen to or even like them. These massive singles off the 24-year-old Swedish DJ’s debut album, True, have not only helped him maintain his spot as one of the top DJs in the world, but have made him a household name, the new face of EDM’s evolution out of clubs and onto your local radio stations’ airwaves, parents’ iPods, and Ralph Lauren ads. This year, Avicii has embarked on his first concert tour, which includes a stop at Barclays before returning to the city again for a Fourth of July set at Governors Island.

Sat., June 28, 8 p.m., 2014

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Feist

Leslie Feist’s presiding force reached its peak during the early 2000s with her second and third albums Let It Die and The Reminder respectively, even earning a Top 10 hit off the surprise success of “1234” when it was featured in an iPod commercial. Before her breakout, Feist worked closely with Peaches and toured with Broken Social Scene, who influenced her to take a more multi-instrumental approach. Feist’s odd, sultry vocal stylings and incisive, poetic lyrics have earned her many accolades as a women in rock, not pop, and she remains an international force to be reckoned with.

Thu., April 10, 8 p.m., 2014

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AUDIO, VIDEO, DISCO

With last year’s Shuffle Culture, Questlove attempted to re-create and rethink the experience of scrolling through an iPod live onstage at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. This year, in a program titled Electronium in honor of Raymond Scott’s late-’60s desk-sized synthesizer, the acclaimed drummer, producer, bandleader, shoe designer, and memoirist returns to explore—and once again shuffle through—a half-century of electronic music. Expect to see the likes of indie r&b dude How to Dress Well, beatboxing champ Rahzel, and experimental MPC fiend Jeremy Ellis interpreting the work of artists from Robert Moog to George Clinton in a show that won’t be matched until Questlove returns for 2014.

Fri., Oct. 25, 8 p.m., 2013

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Modern Terrorism Wants to Kill You with Laughs

Yes, I suppose, looked at the right way, everything’s funny, even terrorism. But your view of it will depend on the context in which you see it. Those who may be vulnerable to the next terrorist attack—and nowadays that includes practically everybody—might be forgiven for not getting the joke.

That poses a problem for Jon Kern, author of Modern Terrorism (Second Stage). He can’t depict wholly convincing terrorists and still make his audience feel safe enough to laugh. Intermittently, his comedy makes a daring try at that tricky double act, but his overall solution, far too facile, is simply to slice the Gordian knot. He makes his terrorists duffers—or, let’s say, intensely committed near-duffers: The gang that couldn’t bomb straight.

That concept, as recent news stories have shown, does have its meager reality. Apparently there are many wannabe bombers out there who wouldn’t know a real bomb from a mock-up, or an undercover cop from a dedicated destroyer. But such would-bes make viable targets for comedy precisely because they play so little part in the actual dangers we fear. Kern imagines a disparate, ill-trained trio, each with a distinct, disorderly agenda, and each differently compromised in his or her terrorist purity by his or her immersion in the corruptions of Western consumerism.

This merits a few mild chuckles—yes, people who mislay a borrowed iPod on their way to blow themselves up in a tourist crowd are funny, when they come back embarrassingly unexploded—but an actual suicide-bomb exploding would kill the joke, plus all interest in the mislaid iPod, right along with the suicider and the innocent civilians around him.

So when Kern, for his finale, hastily imagines an actual bomb and actual deaths (including the messy onstage one of a screwed-up civilian), he leaves his comedy, unachieved, stuck in the bloody wreckage—without, ultimately, having enabled us to understand, either better or more comically, what terrorists with more skill or deeper dedication are like, much less how we might learn to love them. He has provided, at points, some sharply funny lines, of which Peter Dubois’s smooth production takes jovial advantage. The four-person cast works well, Steven Boyer’s cheerfully oafish comic style contrasting, charmingly, with the taut concentration of Nitya Vidyasagar and the fierceness of William Jackson Harper. Best of all is Utkarsh Ambudkar, endearingly hapless and brave as the confused kid, chosen to wear the bomb, who’d really rather be home rewatching Star Wars.

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Grouplove

Fresh from Bonnaroo (where their neo-hippie ways were surely appreciated), these giddy L.A. goofs hit town for a sold-out show in support of last year’s Never Trust a Happy Song. If the band’s name doesn’t ring a bell, you’ve definitely heard their single “Tongue Tied,” which has shown up in an iPod commercial and more recently on Glee. With Georgia’s Reptar, whose new Body Faucet is a minor Vampire Weekend-ish delight.

Tue., June 12, 7 p.m., 2012

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The iPod Turns 10

This past Sunday marked the 10th anniversary of Apple’s digital-music player the iPod, though you’d be forgiven if you thought it were older. The iPod’s rapid evolution during its first decade seems natural in the context of our ever-changing times, but just try and hold one of the first click-wheeled models at the same time as a sleek iPhone 4S; the difference seems like that between a brick and a feather, or perhaps more appropriately, a manual typewriter and a barely there MacBook Air.

The first iPods had capacities of five and 10 gigabytes: That was enough to fit about one or two thousand songs, or approximately 83 or 164 12-song albums. Gone were the Case Logic “wallets” that held CDs in batches, bloating bags and resulting in awkward fussing on train rides. Gone, too, the decisions over whether to pack a disc in order to spin one song, thanks to the ability to select songs one by one. And those songs could be from any source as long as they had been digitized first, whether a seven-inch that fell out of print after its first tiny pressing or an album that broke the million-shipped threshold of a platinum album.

Tuesday night’s Smashing Pumpkins show at Terminal 5 was, in a way, a testament to the idea of a band’s catalog sticking around forever (or at least until the hard drive crapped out). No longer bound by pesky things like limited-edition pressings or in-store availability of product, the digital-music age ushered in an era of consumption. People who wanted to gorge on a particular band’s catalog could do so after just a little bit of online sleuthing (and a lot more waiting back in the era when the iPod first came out). Lead Pumpkin Billy Corgan—the only member of the band’s classic early ’90s lineup—led his charges through a set that included a healthy smattering of B sides from its earliest days; the audience knew the words to both those nuggets as well as to tracks from the band’s forthcoming album, Oceania, which had more recently been loosed online.

The iPod also helped usher in the age of shuffle, and your music collection became an ever-thrumming glob of songs that could be mixed and matched without effort. In the CD era, some audiophiles were able to engage in behavior that mimicked the iPod’s shuffling capabilities—the few 100-CD players on the market allowed for those people with big enough record collections to show just how wide the breadth of their taste was or to wittily remark on the machines having a mind of their own when, say, Metallica segued into Mozart or some other genre.

Now that sort of catholic approach to music listening is somewhat more commonplace. Sunday night at Madison Square Garden, the Korean pop-music concern SM Entertainment threw a gala concert, a three-and-a-half-hour spectacle full of pyrotechnics, flying boybanders, and synchronized dance moves. Not only was the teeming crowd a testament to how music that was once locked up by import-CD prices and tussles over copyright could make its way to these shores more easily, but SM (with the assistance of U.S. pop songwriters like former Guy member Teddy Riley) also used the concept of “pop” as a jumping-off point instead of a means to its own end, a concept that fits in quite snugly with the idea of shuffling through one’s music connection. The glitzy show had songs that were inspired by obvious antecedents—the glossy, pummeling tracks written by “I Want It That Way” mastermind Max Martin, the chirpy jitter of Janet Jackson—but it also grabbed from metal (complete with the five members of boyband SHINee headbanging in unison), traditional Japanese music, and opera. That the show also contained a tribute to Michael Jackson seemed more than appropriate, given his big-tent approach to pop music, though one wonders what he’d have thought of the action stopping dead for that opera bit. (The aria, performed by the SHINee member known as Onew, was well-sung, but it seemed somewhat dropped-in—like when a song that was downloaded on a lark horns in on a playlist meant for more serious moments.)

Since its birth 10 years ago, the iPod has mutated into the iPhone—a device that makes grown adults wait in line to get it, much like people used to amass outside now-departed record stores in order to get concert tickets. Rumors have persisted that thanks to the new, touchscreen-equipped, Internet-enabled progeny of its staid forbear, Apple will discontinue the “classic” version of the iPod—the one with the ability to play music and not much else, stripped of Angry Birds and weather alerts—sometime in the near future. It’s hard not to see this development, or even the traction gained by the rumors predicting it, as yet another sign that music’s fading into the background or at least losing some of its luster in the context of the greater culture. But that loss of status doesn’t necessarily mean that music is “dead,” as the more hyperbolic pundits out there like to say. More than anything, it’s just becoming more personalized, as the increasingly atomized collections of its fans do the same.

mjohnston@villagevoice.com

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Anthony Braxton

This four-night fest at the experimental music bastion’s new BK HQ is exactly the kind of program that both tickles insiders and entices outsiders. The composer-saxophonist is a sui generis titan of possibilities, whose imagination is never at a loss for idiosyncratic endeavors. Possibilities include: ensembles with dancers, an orchestra with three conductors, a sizable vocal choir, improvisers wielding iPods as well as instruments, and, to cap things off, a world premiere of his new opera (or at least portions of it), Trillium J. It’s ok to be befuddled, but prepare to be dazzled as well.

Wed., Oct. 5, 8 p.m.; Thu., Oct. 6, 8 p.m.; Fri., Oct. 7, 8 p.m.; Sat., Oct. 8, 8 p.m., 2011

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The Submarines

This lovey-dovey L.A. duo keeps pumping out albums full of cheery indie-pop ditties that sound like they were conceived precisely for future placement in an iPod ad. The Submarines’ latest, Love Notes/Letter Bombs, practically has the words “Designed by Apple in California” stamped on the sleeve. With Pepper Rabbit and Yellowbirds.

Tue., April 26, 9 p.m., 2011

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VINYL MANIA

Put down that iPod—today is Record Store Day, the fourth annual event in which indie record stores (no corporate behemoths allowed) across the country shower their most loyal customers with special in-store performances and giveaways. A sampling of events includes an afternoon concert at Other Music (15 East 4th Street, 212-477-8150), where Regina Spektor will perform at 2 p.m. for the first 100 fans to buy her new Record Store Day special release (this show will also be recorded live for a future release), and, over at Sound Fix (110 Bedford Avenue, Brooklyn, 718-388-8090), folk-rock duo Damon and Naomi will play a set at 7 p.m.

Sat., April 16, 2 & 7 p.m., 2011