Those Darlins

Hot on their “Summer’s Dead” national tour, punk is anything but with this gritty, Nashville-based power trio. Often compared to the Runaways for their high estrogen quotient and lo-fi, pseudo-’70s country punk hybrid, sort of Liz Phair if she’d been more of a badass, they share more in common with the Ramones, having taken Darlin as a last name and strumming their low-hung guitars with a reckless abandon that would have been just too intense for Lilith Fair. Setting the macabre tone for the week, the tour’s eponymous single is a murderous sprint through a haunted Winnipeg hotel the band recently played.

Fri., Oct. 26, 8:30 p.m., 2012


KT Tunstall

It’s Scottish singer/songwriter KT Tunstall’s MO to be a one woman Lilith Fair, crafting bracing, empowering singles (“Suddenly I See”) that define her hear-me-roar femininity. 2010’s Tiger Suit took that vibe and ran with it, often bundling Tunstall’s typical rough-and-tumble with a crafty, listenable, and very modern electro-pop current.

Mon., April 11, 7 p.m., 2011


Sarah McLachlan

’90s nostalgia was a powerful force in 2010, with folks remembering the enchanted over the slanted and generally carrying on like the Clinton years were pop’s most halcyon era. Sarah McLachlan got in on that act with a Lilith Fair reboot and a record, Laws of Illusion, that reentered the misty romantic swirl of her past. Backward looks aside, this tour rewards legacy McLachfans with nostalgia jams, new material, and light Storyteller-style stage banter. Better catch her now before she ascends into the heavens on a cloud of synthesizers and free trade coffee beans. Mystery: built.

Wed., Jan. 12, 8 p.m.; Thu., Jan. 13, 8 p.m., 2011


St. Vincent+tUnE-YaRds+Basia Bulat

Why have Lilith Fair ticket sales been plummeting? Because in 2010, the real patchouli-scented sirens of the summer festival season are the oddball instrumentalists St. Vincent, tUnE-YaRds, and Basia Bulat. St. Vincent (a/k/a Annie Clark) is known for her dramatic love songs almost as much as her good looks, while Montreal solo artist tUnE-YaRds concocts seriously feral folk out of her “get people’s attention or die” mantra. Acting her part, Basia Bulat might be the flaxen-haired perpetuator of the auto harp, but she remains more Johanna Newsom than Indigo Girl.

Sun., Aug. 1, 3 p.m., 2010


Metric+Bear In Heaven

Although Metric will be stopping through New York area in August on the Lilith Fair(!), their performance tonight at 3,000-capacity Terminal 5 will likely be more intimate on every count. The Canadian indie-rock group’s most recent album, Fantasies, contains so many skittery, layered nuances that the PNC Bank Arts Center may swallow them whole during Lilith. The album’s single “Help I’m Alive” will take on a whole new meaning. Openers Bear in Heaven play moody, textured psych-rock that’s even more echoey than the headliners’.

Sun., May 16, 8 p.m., 2010


Basia Bulat

A decade and a half ago, flaxen-haired Basia Bulat might’ve been lumped in with the Lilith Fair set, given her proclivity for the autoharp and her iconic voice (shades of Natalie Merchant). But on her latest album, Heart Of My Own, she collaborated with Arcade Fire producer Howard Billerman and her brother Bobby to create a thoroughly jarring slice of life, inspired by a mid-tour sojourn in the Yukon. A generous and gifted performer, tracks such as “Gold Rush” echo the ornamental mystique of Johanna Newsom, without any of that weird elfin shit. With Sam Izdat.

Sat., March 27, 7:30 p.m., 2010



The list of winners this year at the Grammys is a clear indication that it’s the year of women in music—and we didn’t need the revival of the Lilith Fair to tell us that. What It Feels Like for a Girl: Women, Music and the Girl Power Revolution, a discussion with music writers and musicians, hopes to dissect the intersection of girlhood and music. Participants include writers Marisa Meltzer, Elizabeth Spiridaki, and Voice contributor Sean Fennessey. Plus, a musical performance by Supercute!, fronted by our favorite Brooklynite teen Rachel Trachtenburg.

Wed., March 3, 7 p.m., 2010


The Iron Sheik

I bristle, as I suppose he still does, whenever someone backhands Duncan Sheik with the “one-hit wonder” tag. He has two. “Barely Breathing” is the mom-rock monster everyone remembers, a soft-strummed Lilith Fair-era classic that just happens to’ve been sired by a dude. But hunt down the 1996 self-titled record whence it came—two different people are selling it for a penny on Amazon, which I find bewildering—and play the track after it, “Reasons for Living.” It’s even wussier. Soft-plinked piano, idly puttering drum machines, and Duncan purring vaguely spiritual greeting-card slogans—”There is a rhythm/It’s near and it’s far/It flows from the heart of us,” etc. Some nice Starbucks Eno synth-wash stuff on the outro, as Duncan intones, “I don’t know/I don’t know.” It’s stupendously corny but stupendously moving in its earnestness. It was meant for the stage.

Ten years later, the Sheik lies down on Broadway. Spring Awakening opened in December with a delightful tale of sexually ignorant and monumentally frustrated 19
th-century German teenagers—even their hair is thoroughly frazzled—riding a death spiral of furtive masturbation, domestic abuse, incest, academic exile, suicide, and botched abortions, pausing occasionally to pull microphones from their buttoned-up suit pockets, jump on chairs, and sing badass as-rock-as-Broadway-gets songs of imagined rebellion as a small onstage ensemble politely writhes behind them. Titles include “The Bitch of Living,” “My Junk,” and “Totally Fucked”; swingin’-on-the-flippity-flop lyrical tics include “I try and just kick it” and “Wanna bundle up into some big-ass lie.” Stupendously corny but stupendously moving—Steven Sater wrote the lyrics, but Sheik wrote the tunes. Great idea. He’s a fantastic schmaltz apologist, a water filter for grating musical cheese. Thanks to him, you can safely drink from Spring‘s well.

And for those who quietly respected Sheik’s soft-rock splendidness but lost track of his various “Barely Breathing” follow-ups (sorry, dude), you will recognize his pre-Frappuccino Frappuccino croon even as it’s refracted through spastic twentysomethings playing really spastic teenagers who inadvertently spit a great deal more onstage than I have to imagine Duncan ever did. (The lead actor in this thing is a one-man car wash.) The faux-edgy “Bitch”/”Junk”/”Fucked” wing of the show succeeds in spite of itself, that last tune exploding into a glorious chorus of “Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.” And though weepy power ballads eventually overpower everything—the whole second act is basically funerals, weeping fits, people discovering gravestones and shouting, “NOOOOOO!!!!”, so on and so forth—that’s when Sheik shines brightest, when you can see the thread from “Breathing” to now, the progression, the exit strategy. “Mirror-Blue Night” resurrects a goodly amount of the Buddha-worshiping Buddha Machine hum of “Reasons for Living.” “Don’t Do Sadness” is angry and cathartic without any tortured youth-baiting IM-speak. And when the last two numbers call for amorphous, gushy declarations of anthemic hope, spirituality, and mystical fulfillment . . . well, when you need to sell a line like “The earth will wave with corn,” you hire someone who’s waved a few ears himself. “Those You’ve Known” is delivered by three people, two of them friendly ghosts, in a smoke-machine-addled graveyard, and does not sound or even look ridiculous. Amazing. And “The Song of Purple Summer,” though purple indeed and undeniably a Broadway show-closer with all the corn that implies, is undeniably a Duncan Sheik song as well, better than it has to be and better than you assume it’ll be.

If Sheik had released the Spring Awakening tunes as a standard solo album, hardly anyone would’ve noticed. (Including me, probably.) But this way he gets praised in the breathless, exclamation-point-heavy, truly bizarre whirlwind of Broadway praise—”For the first time in its history, Broadway has a score that can compete with MTV and iTunes!” raves NY1—and still retain his voice, lyrical and melodic, capable of passable stabs at rage, lust, or goofiness but best at coffeehouse ambient drones and self-help slogans that don’t sound completely insulting. The final result won’t usurp Rent or out-glam Hedwig, but it’s nonetheless an excellent resurgence from a likable guy who deserved to avoid plummeting from VH1’s mom-rock past to VH1’s celeb has-been present. Your next trip to Broadway with the grandparen ts is now infinitely more enjoyable, and Sheik gets to keep making a living suggesting reasons to live.


Girls Interrupted

The success of Lilith Fair, now in its third and final year, reads well on paper. Big-voiced gals with guitars have gained thousands of new female fans who leave clutching free CD samplers, NOW stickers, and Biore strips. The largesse to LIFEbeat and local women’s shelters radiates an especially benevolent vibe after Woodstock. Lilith brings women together almost long enough to force a massive cycle synchronization and moves with an equality-driven efficiency— no two bands played concurrently; the end of one set cued the next. But something troubling lurked beneath the you-go-girl positivism. Women’s music may be more bankable, but only if it fits into the marketable mold that has been wildly reinforced, ironically,
by Lilith Fair itself.

It seems that slinky, bass-driven soul searching (Me’Shell Ndegeocello) and insidious melodies of bittersweet introspection (Aimee Mann) don’t sell records. When MN played “Grace,” she quietly mentioned, “It’s the first single from my new album, I hope.” That is, if it can get past Maverick, which is apparently hoping for something instantly accessible. Mann, whose laconic delivery recalls Chrissie Hynde, is buying her album back from “the evil record company,” which “didn’t hear a single,” and will release it independently. Not even 20-year veterans like Hynde can relax. Before the Pretenders launched into “Human,” she said, “Our record company and lots of radio people are here, so act like you like it.” What kind of celebration is this?

Little imagination was required to figure out where the performers fit in the pop music market. Mya, a poised teenage song-and-dance prodigy, showed the influence of Miss Jackson’s Rhythm Nation. Sheryl Crow, in a muscle T-shirt and sporting a short, tousled haircut, plowed confidently through her hits, with the swagger of a male rocker. Though Sarah McLachlan’s sparkly, seraphic presence evoked high-pitched screams, I keep waiting for her to evolve as Mann and Ndegeocello have, and buy a distortion pedal. McLachlan must have been the quiet girl on the playground who never got angry and never chased the boys. —Carrie Havranek

Safe Bilingual Home

The question spread like wildfire among the Roseland faithful last Wednesday night— will he sing first in Spanish or English? It was another one of those intimate New York Marc Anthony showcases where he invites select celebs, industry, press, and all 4 million of the area’s Latinos to share the wealth of his magnificent tenor. But this night would be different because Anthony was to unveil six new songs from his upcoming English-language album. Amid scattered screams for “Salsa! Salsa!” he opened up with an electrifying rendition of last year’s hit, “Contra la Corriente,” leaping up to a bank of amplifiers, egging the crowd on. But then the stage went dark, and a huge screen rolled down to play the video for “I Need to Know,” a slinky strut that does for bugaloo what bugaloo did for cha-cha.

The tune and the video’s Day-Glo club images suggested a slower, more soulful Vida
Loca than Ricky Martin’s ska-inflected rapture. The lyrical content of the English songs seems streamlined and unexceptional compared to the tricky multisyllabic demands of a salsa torch song— in “That’s Okay,” he laments, “You were something/And now there’s nothing.” But the steamy grooves propelled by his backing band (notably Bobby Allende’s killer timbale solos) and the current Latin-friendly music climate gives this English experiment can’t-miss status. Anthony’s well-rehearsed and intoxicating voice turned the reggae-lite confection “When I Dream at Night,” and the midtempo ballad “You Sang to Me” (from the Runaway Bride soundtrack) into unexpectedly emotional experiences. It’s because Anthony, a native barrio boy, thinks and feels in English, that he succeeds where other salseros have failed in the past. Ever the shrewd performer, he culminated the show with masterful, improvisation-filled versions of “No Me Conoces,” “Hasta Ayer,” and “Te Conozco Bien,” letting everyone know he would never leave salsa, and his legion of loyal Boricuas, in the past. —Ed Morales

Brutal Youth

It would be all too easy to dismiss Joe Jackson as an ’80s castoff, gone the way of the bi-level and the DeLorean. But Jackson was actually too far ahead of the curve. After he hit the charts with the sublime four-chord Sturm und Drang “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” as an angry young wunderkind 20 years ago, his eclecticism alienated as much as it anticipated. This was a guy who made Louis Jordan covers back when Big Bad Voodoo Daddy still wore knee pants, recorded the proudly homoerotic “Real Men” while Michael Stipe and many others loitered in the closet, raided calypso rhythms on Night and Day 15 years ahead of the Buena Vista Social Club. Rather than a has-been, the 43-year-old polymath now seems a pomo prophet.

So it was eerie to see the guy put on a makeshift nostalgia gig at the eponymous Joe’s Pub last week, and even weirder to see the ex­new waver out himself as a Donna Summer fan. The two-night stand sold out in 24 hours, and the capacity crowd was treated to a trio set that included perfunctory hits (“Steppin’ Out” now sounds made for the dentist chair), random covers (a Gen-X nod with Radiohead’s “Karma Police,” a cabaret-style take on Steely Dan’s “Any Major Dude,” a postglam run-through of Bowie’s “Heroes”), and a sample of an unfortunate oratorio about six downtown losers (Rent meets The Threepenny Opera meets Tama Janowitz). But when he finally pulled out the 20-year-old Look Sharp! material, we remembered that we liked him better when he was a classical kid who could crank out pop, not the other way around.

During the metamusical “Slow Song,” a hush fell over a drinking mass pushing 40. Eighties nostalgia may be a misnomer, but the pathos was real. No one could miss the era, but they all missed their youth. —David Yaffe