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MADE IN HER IMAGE

Over the course of her long career, photographer Deborah Feingold has often had to improvise: Her darkrooms have included a Boston prison cell and her apartment’s shower stall. The result, however, is extraordinary, with an oeuvre of subjects that define culture, including Barack Obama, Bill Gates, and Johnny Depp. Tonight, Feingold previews her new book, Music, to be released on September 30, which chronicles her epic rock photographs. Having lingered on the New York scene since 1976, her images capture greats like B.B. King, James Brown, and Madonna at their most candid. Feingold chats tonight with Anthony DeCurtis of Rolling Stone, telling the stories behind her iconic shots, like the time she secretly captured Mick Jagger, hands to his head with anxiety, after she told him the camera was broken.

Mon., Sept. 8, 7 p.m., 2014

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BOYTOY

The wad of ascending killer bands flooding from Brooklyn’s DIY punk pantheon truly is the shit. The stellar barrage is relentless, and now BOYTOY has joined the tribe. Like Potty Mouth and Amanda X, grungy co-ed trio BOYTOY–its moniker righteously swiped from the 80’s heyday of Madonna’s glorious Like A Virgin reign—melts the lo-fi godhead hook-centric indie pop simplicity made legendary by K Records with the contagiously sweet 90’s-era Boston rockin’ rollick sounds of Belly, Throwing Muses and The Breeders. BOYTOY’s debut EP, released earlier this year, slays with hooks galore, gushing with syrupy pogo-crazed riffers on its seven sun-soaked anthems, their bass-less tunes the sublime summer soundtrack. Plus they even have a rad vid featuring that SNL dude, Horatio Sanz.

Fri., Aug. 29, 11:59 p.m., 2014

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Billy Martin’s Drummingbirds

Scrutinizing percussion possibilities is the Medeski, Martin & Wood drummer’s passion, and this week’s six-night residency (22-27) finds him banging around with various cohorts, including a cagey brass outfit and the Sirius strings. Somehow his collabo with Boston superhero Rakalam Bob Moses (a rare NYC sighting) and Cyro Baptista seems most alluring. Their excursions usually reveal a wealth of rhythm ideas. Hope they bounce through “Laughing Drummers in the Park, On Mars.”

July 22-27, 8 & 10 p.m., 2014

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The Astute Whitey Doc Explores How the Boston Gangster Was Caught

To almost anyone who lived in Boston in the ’80s and ’90s, and even to many who didn’t, James J. “Whitey” Bulger was a peculiarly powerful folk villain, a truly bad guy who, with the help of his shady organized-crime cohorts, had murdered people, buried body after body, and then, in 1994, simply vanished.

We never completely forgot about him — he was too genuinely bad to forget. And then, in a plot you couldn’t put into a USA Network show for fear people would howl at it, Whitey Bulger resurfaced in 2011 in Santa Monica, where he had been quietly hiding out with his longtime girlfriend.

Joe Berlinger’s astute documentary tells what happened after that: Hoping to save their own skins, a number of Whitey’s old associates stepped forward to squawk, among them Kevin Weeks, a beefy ex-bouncer whose grand jury testimony helped prosecutors put Bulger away for 19 murders and numerous instances of racketeering. Weeks, as interviewed here, is a jovially threatening presence, a regular guy with a supremely dark side: He describes the South Boston dive where he got his start in organized crime as “a neighborhood bah, kind of a rough bah,” but the accent isn’t so funny once he starts revealing grisly details of the horrific deeds he helped Bulger commit, crimes that, for years, Bulger got away with.

Berlinger covers lots of territory, including heartrending accounts from the family members of some of Bulger’s victims. The whole exercise is fascinating, if vaguely unsatisfying: Bulger himself doesn’t appear, of course; at age 84, he’s currently serving two consecutive life terms, plus five years. Somehow, it just doesn’t seem long enough.

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In Beneath the Harvest Sky, Images of Young, Small-Town Life Will Linger

If the new hard times have been addressed in The Place Beyond the Pines and Out of the Furnace, films that depict hardscrabble America as rugged and feral, then Aron Gaudet and Gita Pullapilly’s Beneath the Harvest Sky is those dramas’ Gus Van Sant-influenced cousin, detailing rural socioeconomic travails from a more youthful, romantic perspective.

Casper (Emory Cohen) and Dominic (Callan McAuliffe) are best friends in a poor Maine town who dream of escaping to Boston, an outpost that feels no closer than the moon. In a forgotten corner of the U.S., neither has much in the way of economic opportunity: Dominic works the potato harvest, while Casper apprentices for his drug dealer father (Aidan Gillen).

Yet the narrative is the least interesting thing about this perceptive, sometimes poetic feature. Gaudet and Pullapilly have a background in documentaries, and there’s a convincing naturalism to their storytelling.

Teenagers get into car chases with moose, fight at concerts in dirt fields, and shoot potato cannons, all to find some small pleasure outside their tedious routines, and it’s all captured with an unstinting gaze, the filmmakers’ takes long and camera handheld. The naturalism is sometimes infused with Van Sant’s romanticism, as in the potato scenes or a sequence where Dominic and Casper shove a beat-up car off a cliff.

While the narrative does make late, unfortunate lurches into overcooked-thriller territory — complete with an ending that exemplifies the term “deus ex machina” — the images of young small-town lives resonate and linger.

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Saul Dazzles on Palate and Plate

As any pseudo-intellectual can tell you, some questions are best left to the confines of the dorm room. Questions like: “What is art?” “Does art imitate life, or is it the other way around?” or “Why are these cookies my friend sent me from Denver making me appreciate Rothko more?” To attempt an answer is a fool’s errand. Anything can be viewed through a subjective lens as art.

The trend to deify chefs and food-world personalities has exhumed comparisons of chefs to artists and the sum of their cooking to works of art. There’s no denying food’s intrinsic visual significance, not only in terms of what makes a dish appetizing but also as an expression of a chef’s vision. The expression “we eat with our eyes first” isn’t just something uttered by a terrifying creature in my nightmares.

Still, it seems that museum restaurants and the chefs who cook in them have a particularly difficult task. The food either provides a counterpoint to the surroundings or becomes an exhibit unto itself. Danny Meyer and Gabriel Kreuther led this charge in 2004 with the opening of The Modern at MOMA, and other well-known chefs have followed suit with their own art institution partnerships, including Marcus Samuelsson and his American Table Café and Bar at Alice Tully Hall and Ken Oringer, the Boston chef who opened an outpost of his popular Boston tapas restaurant, Toro, here last September and also operates the New American Café in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

Saul Bolton’s relocation of his flagship, Saul — one of the most quintessentially Brooklyn restaurants of the past two decades — to the Brooklyn Museum is a notable move for the borough’s dining scene, which has hosted an influx of creative, trendy venues in the past 10 years thanks largely to Saul’s success. But lest you fear that the neighborhood’s prodigal son has gone corporate, Bolton’s cooking is every bit as honest as it was on Smith Street. And though the brick walls and soft lighting of the original have been replaced by a predominantly monochrome color scheme, the new tone helps draw attention to the room’s more vibrant sights: Abstract Expressionist works from Paul Kelpe, an expanse of gallery visible through floor-to-ceiling windows, and, most importantly, the food.

Tart sorrel leaves cradling kernels of puffed quinoa look like Georgia O’Keeffe flowers or unrolled joints. I can’t tell, but like both of those things, they’re gateways to untold delights. A hit of bracing ginger sauce bolsters the herb’s citrusy sourness, met head on by quinoa’s nuttiness. Parsnip soup, frothed and pale as ocean foam, evokes a nature scene, with pine nuts piled onto craggy parsnip chip islands surrounded by ripples of vanilla oil. Sweet and earthy with equal parts cream and crunch, it’s a thoughtful study of an ingredient. The same can’t be said for a pallid salad of cooked and raw fennel that begs for more aggressive seasoning despite brighter elements on the plate like Castelvetrano olives and citrus supremes. Charred octopus also falters, but only on the merits of its accoutrements (too-thick pads of rendered speck ham, a slightly pasty white bean purée). The cephalopod itself is tamed into tender submission with an exterior char.

Paunchy ribbons of black pepper pappardelle constitute the restaurant’s vegetarian entrée and have as much virtuous imperfection as Chinese hand-torn noodles. The pasta is cooked perfectly, but red wine hardly registers in a sauce that tastes overrun by roasted mushrooms and sunchokes. Visually, it’s as rustic as a forest floor in winter. Carnivores fare much better in the second half of the meal with a painterly canvas-shaped plate of dry-aged squab, breasts facing meat side up to show off perfectly glistening near-rare flesh, the crisp legs occupying opposite corners of the plate, separated by dunes of bulgur wheat salad and carrot purée. Both the squab and a tasting of Vermont pork have a decidedly abstract feel to them, though only the pork feels abstract in flavor. To be sure, this is an expression of porcine divinity, with gently cooked blocks of loin, oblong halves of liver, and a crackled brick of pork belly exhibiting gamy unctuousness. But the sharp sting of booze-infused pears clashes with the pork’s barnyard flavor. More successful are soft cabbage leaves and beet halves, which soak up a rich jus that dominates the plate.

Bolton also handles dessert, and his spiky baked Alaska has thankfully made the trip across town. Its extraordinary meringue peaks curl and contort into something resembling a Chihuly sculpture. Passion fruit ice cream hides beneath the sweetened egg whites, sitting on a bed of tapioca and toasted coconut. If you stare at it long enough, maybe you’ll understand. It’s subjective, after all.

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Animal Instinct: Toro Is a Big, Strong, Virile Beast

In the opening scene of Battlestar Galactica, a striking blonde wearing red (she’s actually a robot named “Model Six”) enters a space station. She saunters up to a man sitting at a desk, leans in real close, and asks, all sultry-like: “Are you alive?” Shaking, he answers yes. “Prove it,” she says, and goes in for one of the more sensual robot kisses in television history. Then her friends blow the place to smithereens.

I often remember this scene — Six’s voice: “Are you alive?” — in places with all the spirit of a goldfish floating limply in its bowl, or when I’m with likewise clammy people.

But on a recent Saturday at Toro, the new tapas restaurant from Beantown impresarios Ken Oringer and Jamie Bissonnette, Six came to me halfway through dinner. I looked around and realized I hadn’t been in a restaurant that felt so completely alive in many moons.

The dining room quivers with the electricity of a place where life is happening. Via phone, Oringer says he’s after the energy of Barcelona, but the space reads Chelsea, 2013: sleek, high-ceilinged, a bit raw, and packed with a horde of downtown sophisticates.

But it also radiates the convivial spark that defines dinner on Las Ramblas. Ask a bartender about the spice in your sangria ($12). She’ll say it’s nutmeg, then ask, “Do you like that?” as if she’d gladly change it if you didn’t. But I could drink myself into a Dionysian coma on the stuff, it’s so good.

And Oringer says Barcelona’s lawless approach to tapas informs the menu. “There are no rules, but you can still have something kind of entrenched in Spanish culture,” he says, “so it can be modern and traditional.”

This frees the kitchen to mix and match: to sauté, say, market-fresh cauliflower and kohlrabi ($12) with kimchi, raisins, pine nuts, and anchovy—ingredients more familiar to Asia, Italy, France, and the Middle East than to Spanish comida tipica. It’s a layered, nuanced dish. “I don’t know if I could figure this out,” says a friend who’s an ambitious cook.

Roasted marrowbones ($16), served with braised beef cheek on toast, are similarly mysterious. These underwhelmed my friends, but I have a feeling they blew the ratio: Spoon a glob of marrow over the beef, let it seep through the bread; the proper portion is 1:1:1, bone, beef, toast. Top it off with mixed citrus and radish, which cut through the fat like a hot knife. It’s a fascinating, dynamic dish.

Other plates show more restraint. Nantucket Bay scallops ($15) sing simple harmony with pomegranate and smoky Urfa chili, and fried shishito peppers ($8) are naked but for a touch of salt. Twirl one in ham if you want to dress it up; there are several fine cures to choose from.

So try a few: Serrano de Fermin ($17) is a deep, smoky red; La Quercia ($16), cut from acorn-fed Iowa hogs, flushes pink. Wrap them around deviled eggs ($7), like mom’s but for a sliver of yellowfin conserva, for next-level ham and eggs.

If Oringer and Bissonnette are deft with protein, they approach vegetables with a brusque innovation most herbivores wouldn’t dream of: If a pile of heirloom carrots ($12) looks blackened, it’s because they’re smoke-roasted in hay. With harissa and daubs of dilled buttermilk, they’re a happy mess on the plate, and a near-perfect mushroom sauté ($16) with a lusty yellow egg yolk is so good we almost ordered another. Actually, no — the mushrooms are perfect, the best dish I ate. They far surpass more glamorous plates like a too-charred truffled lobster paella ($45/$90), a just-meh grilled octopus ($16), or a sea urchin bocadillo ($13) that resembles overwrought grilled cheese.

But with more than 60 dishes on the menu, we’ll allow a few flops. Also, the staff will graciously take something back if you don’t like it, so order a lot; let the plates come in waves, a few at a time, if you can afford it. Doing so can’t help but feel festive, and service is quick. On a busy Saturday, four of us were in and out in well under two hours.

Though when the last plate arrives, it feels like the last present on Christmas. Toro’s tapas are fleeting like that: They come fast, explode in your mouth, and are gone in a few bites. Thankfully, you can always order more.

So stick around for dessert. Find out what a “Deconstructed Caramel Apple” ($8) is all about (hint: It involves chiffon-smooth buttered yogurt mousse, salted caramel, and crisp apple sticks), and give yourself one final gift.

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LAUGH RIOT

The Eugene Mirman Comedy Festival might have started out as an inside joke among Mirman (Bob’s Burgers) and his comedian friends, but now, as it goes on six years and has even toured to Seattle and Boston, is it taking itself more seriously? Judging by the title of the kickoff event, “The Urbane Comedy Hour: Nonstop Courtesy and Culture Through the Prism of Comedy,” that would be a no. Tonight’s absurdity includes performances by Mirman, Jim Gaffigan, Ira Glass (with Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass), Wyatt Cenac, Tom Shillue, and more. On Friday, catch “Invite Them Up!,” with guests Todd Barry, Michael Che, Michael Ian Black, and Mehran Khaghani. Saturday reunites Kurt Braunohler with Kristen Schaal for their bizarre variety show Hot Tub, and Sunday is a party for the season four premiere of Bob’s Burgers with performances by the cast.

Thursdays-Sundays, 5 p.m. Starts: Sept. 26. Continues through Sept. 29, 2013

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Lucy Thurber’s Five-Play Cycle Examines Poverty’s Impact

Being from Western Massachusetts myself, I was excited to sample The Hill Town Plays, Lucy Thurber’s cycle of five dramas set amid the hamlets and college towns west of Boston and east of the Berkshires. The series, produced by the Rattlestick and running in repertory at four downtown theaters, inaugurates the Rattlestick’s new program, Theater:Village, which will feature a different cycle of linked plays every year.

Each of Thurber’s dramas—one of which, Ashville, is a world premiere—takes a snapshot of an intelligent young woman in a hard-luck home. Sometimes the plays share a protagonist—Rachel, a brilliant writer, features in Scarcity and Stay—and sometimes Thurber swaps her for a down-and-out doppelganger, like Celia, Ashville‘s angsty heroine. These girls are drowning in poverty’s tragedies: abusive alcoholic dads; powerless alcoholic moms; the struggle to get a meal or a good night’s sleep; the quest for a future elsewhere.

But economic realities don’t automatically make compelling drama, and, disappointingly, Thurber’s cycle relies heavily on cliché and self-congratulation. The three plays I saw, Stay, Scarcity, and Ashville, press their protagonists into cookie-cutter precocity, serving up pop-psychological ideas about cycles of abuse and hardship. The plots are predictable, the characters dismayingly worn-out.

In Ashville, Celia (Mia Vallet) is a struggling teen who’s too smart for her run-down hometown. Celia’s mom (Tasha Lawrence) drinks and drags home the wrong men; her boyfriend, Jake (Joe Tippett), is sweet but stifling. Only her good-time neighbor, Amanda (Aubrey Dollar), gets her. Will Jake pressure Celia to grow up too fast? Will her relationship with Amanda turn into something eye-opening but unhealthy? Yes and yes—but only in the most hackneyed ways.

Scarcity, the best play I saw, is the most conventionally realistic, unfolding in the hyperdetailed living quarters of 11-year-old Rachel (Izzy Hanson-Johnston), big brother Billy (Will Pullen), and their parents (Gordon Joseph Weiss and Didi O’Connell). Billy plots his escape to prep school, relying on the good graces of a teacher who’s a little too fond of him, while Rachel—wise and well-read beyond her years—longs for a similar way out. Unimaginative plot twists abound, but the piece benefits from O’Connell’s performance and from Thurber’s indictment of Ellen (Natalie Gold), Billy’s well-meaning but culturally tone-deaf teacher.

Stay, by contrast, was the weakest of the three. Rachel (Hani Furstenberg) and Billy (McCaleb Burnett), now adults, strive to put their childhoods behind them: She teaches creative writing to coddled college students; he’s nearly made junior partner at his law firm. But past psychological burdens trail the siblings—as does Rachel’s imaginary friend (Jenny Seastone Stern), who spouts an impish interior monologue only Rachel can hear. The siblings let their childhoods win, committing versions of self-sabotage right out of advice-column cliché. (Stay is also built on some fuzzy playwriting: Thurber’s fiercely self-protective protagonist has an inexplicable habit of leaving her front door open, allowing scantily clad undergraduates to wander in at will.)

These plays are clearly dear to Thurber’s heart, and the productions feature some excellent performers (O’Connell, Seastone Stern). But just because characters are poor, must they fulfill every stereotype about poverty? Just because they’re young, must they be precocious and sexually confused? In the end, I couldn’t help feeling that Thurber was a little like the misguided teacher in Scarcity—trying so hard to do right that everything ends up wrong.

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Eric Hofbauer

There’s something deceptive about the informality the Boston guitarist brings to his solo work: On the recent American Grace he makes dabbling a fine art. A short inversion of Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors,” a reverie sparked by Ornette’s “Peace,” a Sacred Harp chant spun for six-string—they’re all loosely filtered through a personality that likes to bend, not break, orthodoxy. This tiny room is perfect for his recital. Baritone saxophonist Josh Sinton opens at 8:30 pm with his own solo presentation.

Sat., Sept. 14, 9:30 p.m., 2013