Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Great American Songbirds -- June 4, 2008

Today at the Andersonville street fair as I was leaving, a cover band was singing that 80s hit, “500 miles”. And the cover was just so-so, but it didn’t matter. As my friend and I walked out, everyone in the crowd was DAh dada DAh – ing right along, mouthing the lyrics into their beers and at their friends. I even saw one woman singing into her cell (insert eye roll here) and, in spite of my best efforts, my whole bike ride home, I was dadadada ing in my head, too.

What is it about a quirky pop tune that ignites subconscious memory and inspires temporary glee, and makes even the worst singers among us totally dork out in public and burst into song?
Whatever that thing is, it inspired rec room alum Abby Cucci and her co-curator Ryan Brewster to bring rec room a night of music, dedicated to the American Songbook. As the show description illuminates: "The years between about 1920 and 1960 saw the emergence of new works of popular songwriting now known as the American Songbook. Catalyzed by the free-wheeling and nascent forms of Jazz music and fortified by the simple structures of Tin Pan Alley, the American Songbook has been rediscovered and reinterpreted by every generation since. Come take a stroll through the Songbook with some favorite Chicago songbirds. You'll hear classic melodies--Gershwin, Porter, Berlin--and remember why this music strikes a chord in all of us, year after year. "

As I sat in the back room of Black Rock Wednesday, June 4, the team of talented Chicago songbirds Cucci and Brewster assembled struck so many pleasant chords with me. I vacillated between broadly grinning, outright chuckling and downright laughing and bouncing up and down in my seat for: Brigette Ditmar’s pizzazz on “Accentuate the Positive”, Melissa Young’s refreshingly exuberant version of “On a Clear Day you Can See Forever”, Jonny Cunningham’s dangerously tongue-in-cheek take on “Let’s Do It”, as well as Cucci and Gerald Richardson’s charming rendition of “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off”. And who wouldn’t be show-stopped by Bethany Thomas’s powerful, resonant version of “At Last”, or compelled by Vallea Woodbury’s sultry cover of “My Funny Valentine”, or moved by Richardson’s version of “Sophisticated Lady”, or delighted by Young and Stephanie Layton’s campy rendition of “Friendship”?
Seriously, people. There were so many things to be happy about with this show: the approachable cool of Rob Smith’s “One More for my Baby Tonight”, the unexpected poetry Jayson Brooks introduced to us in his cover of “Lush Life”. When the show closed with an ensemble version of “The Best is Yet To Come”, well, I believed them. I was standing on my feet – happy, clapping, hooting out my praise for the performers. These songbirds filled my head with tunes I won’t be able to stop singing for a good long time.

Thanks to our girl Abby for providing witty and insightful “liner note” introductions that helped us all become even more familiar with the Songbook, and to Ryan for his stellar accompaniment, which supplied the essential spirit necessary to showcase these hits. Thanks to the full house of listeners, who cheered for the singers and generously donated to rec room. And special thanks to all the talented Chicago songbirds who came to the back room of a bar on a Wednesday night, and gifted us all, with music.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Your Way With Words Makes Me Act A Fool -- June 18

Dear rec roomer,

Have you ever tried to paint an opera, dance a photograph, sing a statue?

This Wednesday at rec room, poets open themselves up to interpretation, and improvisers set themselves up for failure or glory, as we present a one-of-a-kind poetry/improv collaboration, "Your Way With Words Makes Me Act A Fool".

Join us at black rock June 18 at 8 p.m. for a night where lyric poetry spawns improvised sketch comedy.

Curated by: Pat Babbitt and Erin Teegarden, with readings by: Joshua Dumas, David Digangi, Nicolette Bond, Meg Barboza, Katie Hartsock, Erin Teegarden, with performances by: Lindsey Fisher, Heath Cordts, Chris Dingwall, Dave Rispoli, Pat Babbitt.

What: the reconstruction room (a biweekly theme party -- with art, literature and performance)
Website: www.recroomers.com (contains a calendar of upcoming shows and an archive of past shows)
When: the first and third wednesdays of every month -- 8:00 p.m.
Where: Black Rock (a bar at the corner of damen and addison in roscoe village. two blocks west of the addison stop on the brown line. Address: 3614 N. Damen Ave., Chicago, IL, 60618)
Cost: free
Contact: recroom@recroomers.com

Monday, June 9, 2008

Bestiarum Vocabulum - May 21, 2008

Did you ever play that game where you look at people and try to decide what kind of animal they look like? For example, I went to grad school with a lemur, an orange cat, a gander, and a bull, and I also knew someone who was an ewok (I’m not sure if that counts as animal or not, though). My best friend from high school always told me that I looked like a stuffed squirrel with shiny glass eyes, which always creeped me out. I thought of this game during Bestiarum Vocabulum, the May 21st show curated by Jacob S. Knabb, but I’ve only come up with a couple of examples. I could tell you that Nicolette Bond is a barn swallow, her preferred habitat being “open country with low vegetation, such as pasture, meadows and farmland, preferably with nearby water,” and I think Philip Jenks and Simone Muench are cats, all lean and sassy hanging out on an alley fence. But what about Jonathan Messinger, Greg Purcell, Erikka Mikalo, Nick Garcia and Aras and the Volodkas (we’ll just go ahead and assume that I’m a stuffed squirrel)? I would love to hear what you think.

Back to the show, though. This was a fun night for everyone involved. There were several performers new to the rec room stage, and it’s always delightful to hear new voices. I also learned new things about old friends—for example, Jacob does a pretty good Louis Armstrong impression, and Nicolette’s pet goat shares a name with my wonky-eyed cat. I just want to thank Jacob and all of the performers for the cool show. I mean, I guess I’m a dork, but sorry, animals are awesome!