Concert Special! — Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, featuring “The Love,” Asase Yaa Entertainment Group

Last night, I saw the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater for the first time. This morning, I am still transfixed and in a bit of a fog; still caught up in the artistry, grace, power, and emotion of the performances. Marking the 60th anniversary of the company, Ailey 60 spanned decades. There were classic pieces choreographed by Alvin Ailey himself in the 1960s to the music of traditional hymns and spirituals (the famous “Revelations”), modern pieces danced to funk, disco, and hip-hop of the early 1980s (“Stack-Up”), and a visceral, highly charged performance choreographed incredibly by Robert Battle in 2003 to an incredibly bold and modern original composition for orchestra by John Mackey (“Juba”).

Each were beyond remarkable.

Musically, however, I was particularly taken with the selections for the newest piece, a beautiful blend of modern and African dance completed in 2018 and titled “The Call.”

The Call by Ronald K. Brown from Alvin Ailey on Vimeo.

It features three distinct pieces of music, the last one titled, The Love from the album Drum Love, which is the soundtrack to a play of the same title featuring the Asase Yaa Cultural Arts Foundation drummers led by Yao Ababio and Osei Ababio. I got lost in this music and the dancing was so well-choreographed to it; all fluid movements, deeply soulful, patient and quiet, while conveying strength and pride.

Featured Image: Paul Kolnik

Concert Special! — Lucy Dacus

It’s been a quiet winter/Q1 2019 concert calendar for live music in greater Portland, Maine that I actually want to get out and see/hear. But, like most things in Maine, the scene is heating up heading toward summer. For me, a string of great upcoming concerts was kicked off by Lucy Dacus headlining a great, sold out show, which also featured Fenne Lily and Mal Blum.

A quick word about the openers. I was new to both artists and, in that, I was a minority in the room. My small city continues to impress with the breadth of genres and artists that are supported locally with core, active followings — in this case, a singer/songwriter, folk and anti-folk, indie-rock, punk-supportive crowd. Fenne Lily’s voice was a revelation; beautiful, hushed, aching, at-times wavering and almost brittle-sounding, but with equal depth, heft, and ribbons of steel.

Mal Blum nearly stole the show with a band that was totally in the pocket and their songs’ energy, wit, catchy hooks, and alt-rock and punk-pop power chords (Green Day came to mind a lot). Like all of the acts on the night, lyrics matter and deal directly — deeply — with relationships, identify (sex, gender, social, etc.), injustice, and core themes of love, hope, loss, and anger. Blum’s new single (introduced as a song about being in the closet) hit me especially hard when they belted out an anthemic shout into the void: “If I could I would disappear / But, I’m still here and you’re still here / We’re all still here.”

All of this set the stage well for Lucy Dacus’s potent blend of powerful songwriting, captivating vocals, and guitar-rock grit. She expertly tore through all of the standouts from her hit 2018 record Historian and dug out a couple of songs from her back catalogue.

She also opened and closed her show with solo versions of two new, unreleased tracks, the second of which was just a depth charge of a song that caused everyone in the room — and, it seemed, time itself — to stop. I can’t wait to hear the future released version of the track. In that one song, all of Dacus’s gifts and quiet force were on full display: expert songwriting chops delivering deeply personal, searing lyrics, combined with a great ear for slightly dissonant, confident melodies.

Of all of the songs Historian, I was most looking forward to hearing Night Shift and Timefighter played live. Each include huge builds, loud and gnarley power chords, and soaring vocals. She and her band absolutely slayed them both. I wrote about Night Shift last year, so it’s the other track’s turn up — with a video of it played live to a much bigger room than the one I was in.

Concert Special! – KRS-One (@ Hip-Hops 10 w/ The Perceptionists, New Fame, Ben Shorr, Busy Bars, and DJ Myth)

Lots of content going up this week, starting with the Blast Master himself, KRS-One, crushing a sold out show this past Friday in lil ole’ Portland, Maine.

[Special Note: All credit to rapper/promoter Ben Shorr for the years he’s spent cultivating a hip-hop community in Portland and developing the innovative Hip-Hops concert series — without either of which KRS-One wasn’t likely to make the trek north.]

There was a lot of talent on stage at Hip-Hops 10 leading up to KRS-One’s headline set. New Fame was a revelation; a new discovery for me. Their mix of heavy beats, rapid-fire rhymes, and lead vocalist Adrienne Mack-Davis’s soulful voice when she kicked into a sung lyric line got everybody jumping and moving with them. Fun to watch the crowd inch closer to the stage with every track.

And, The Perceptionists brought it. Mr. Lif and Akrobatik have crazy chemistry together — even after 12 years spent doing solo projects in between their last record and their 2017 record Resolution — and, lyrically, they brought straight fire. As the world goes to fucking shit, they go harder and smarter.

But, the headliner stepped up and didn’t disappoint. KRS-One has been doing this for almost — *ahem* — 40 years and he came out firing like it was his first show. He pounced on stage, intoned “Strictly classics” into the mic, launched into Step Into a World, and then was off — ripping into beats that sounded both iconic and fresh as the day he first dropped them. He still has that snarling edge, pushing back against fake MCs and “media schemes” and demanding respect owed to an originator who is keeping the flame lit for the origins of hip-hop culture.

A professional at work and a legend still teaching.

Concert Special! – Mt. Joy

I was pysched to see Mt. Joy show up on the Portland concert calendar. An up-and-coming indie folk-rock group and nearly overnight success story, they were one of my favorite personal discoveries in 2017.

Mt.+Joy+Promo+Pic+(1)

They released their debut album last year (the eponymous Mt. Joy) and it is stacked with hit single-worthy tracks. Hooky and catchy, but without being too pop-py or over-the-top anthemic, the songs feel — above all else — intimate and authentic.

Despite their youth and meteoric rise as a band (from posting three tracks online as unknowns to playing Bonaroo and Newport Folk Festival and releasing a full-length debut – all in under a year), Mt. Joy live sound confident and seasoned. A bit road weary, yes (and anxious to write some new songs to play), but they put on an energetic, heartfelt show with a set that kept the audience’s attention. Lead vocalist Matt Quinn’s distinctive, natural, range-y voice (at a pitch and tone that helps the lyrics stick in your brain) was on full display.

Outside hearing my top songs from their records (Sheep and Silver Lining), my favorite moment from the show was the band’s performance of Julia. The full track is below, but the band took the song to 11 live by adding an interlude cover of Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine.” It was tight. A really great show by a band that I hope comes back around again.