Natalie Merchant’s “Leave Your Sleep” Concert in Chicago Monday, Jul 26 2010 

PJ loves Natalie Merchant, so, for his birthday this year, I bought us tickets to see her  in Chicago last week. We’ve been listening to her new album of poetry for children set to music. I wasn’t completely into it, I have to say, so I was really surprised by how blown away I was by the concert. Merchant’s performance for the better part of three hours was simply amazing. It was one of the best concerts — if not the best concert — I’ve ever been to. Merchant was brilliant!

Here’s an explanation of what she’s doing in the album:

We saw her in the Chicago Theatre, which is a great venue. The first part of the concert was all songs from the new album. Instead of a traditional encore, she did a second set of some of her greatest hits and fan favorites.

What impressed me about the concert was two things. First, I really admired her commitment to teaching us a little bit about the poets whose words she’s set to music. She didn’t go into full-fledged lectures or anything, but she gave us a little tidbit about each poet’s life or poetry, something interesting and relevant to the poem. She also presented us with a PowerPoint presentation that had pictures of each poet and in a couple of cases illustrations that went along with the poems.


SotW: Felicia by The Constellations Friday, Jul 23 2010 

“Felicia” by The Constellations is another song I’ve heard a lot recently on Alt Nation on XM radio. I love it! Here’s a live version:

I love “dirty” songs like this in general, but what I love most about this track is the groove. It just makes you want to dance. (And for a change I don’t think the lead singer is hot, at least not here!)

I also love the female back-up singers. I like that the female voice is represented — it makes the song seem less sexist and more equitable!

Here’ a link to the official video (the singer is much cuter here — love the glasses!). I think it’s a fun and really sexy video.


SotW: Yeah Yeah Yeah by New Politics Saturday, Jul 17 2010 

In preparation for a drive to Richmond, Virginia, for a memorial service today (we left yesterday, spent the night, and returned him this afternoon), We re-subscribed to XM Radio. During the drive we listened to Alt Nation a lot, which has introduced me to a few new songs that I love, including New Politics‘ “Yeah Yeah Yeah”:

This song is infectious! New Politics is a band from Denmark but are now living in New York. And, not surprisingly, I think the lead singer, David Boyd, is hot! I’ve just purchased their album on iTunes.

Here’s another video of New Politics singing Yeah Yeah Yeah for the SXSW 2010 Showcasing Artist:


War Horse: A Review Thursday, Jul 15 2010 

The third play PJ and I saw in London was War Horse, which is based on a children’s book of the same name by Michael Morpurgo. It relates the story of a horse who is sold to the British cavalry at the beginning of World War I. The tale of this one horse becomes a meditation on the inhumane treatment of horses during the war. Here’s the “trailer”:

This preview gives you a little taste of what makes this production so amazing: the puppetry, which was designed by the Handspring Puppet Company. All of the horses in the show are puppets, but the amazing part is that you quickly forget that these horses are puppets and not real horses. They really seem to emote and to move like real horses. It’s amazing that these puppeteers can make you care about puppets in this way! PJ and I were both astounded by this aspect of the play. It’s the magic of theater at its best.

War Horse starts with young Albert being assigned to help raise a horse, Joey, that his drunken father has spent all of the family’s money buying just to spite his brother. When war is declared, the drunken father sees a chance to make a quick buck and sells Joey to the cavalry. Albert swears that he will find him again and bring him home.


Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: A Review Tuesday, Jul 13 2010 

When PJ and I were planning our trip to England last month, the one show I definitely wanted to see was Priscilla, Queen of the Desert. I love the movie, which is one of the great gay-themed films of all time, way ahead of its time. So, as soon as we landed in London and checked into our hotel we got our tickets for Priscilla for the second night we were in town.

I’ll state up front that this is going to be a mixed review. On the one hand, the show was entertaining. I especially liked the actors and was incredibly impressed with the stagecraft of the show, especially the quick costume changes. On the other hand, this show is little more than a collection of random songs — none of which are original — tied together by the barest of plots. As a result, we couldn’t care less about the characters or what happens in the show; we’re just waiting for the next big production number. I wish it had been more interesting on a narrative level.

The obvious point of comparison for this production is Billy Elliot, a great movie and show. Its creators took the plot of the movie, augmented it to make us care even more about the characters and time period, and then added original songs. It is an interesting show on every level, and it says something about gay issues.

Priscilla on the other hand is really just trying to make money. The creators clearly made a decision to use only old songs that audience members could sing along with–“You Were Always on My Mind,” What’s Love Got to Do with It,” “Hot Stuff,” and “I Will Survive” to name a few examples–as a way of filling the seats. It seems like this is a winning strategy, but the show could have drawn audience and been innovative and interesting. Why couldn’t they have taken a page from Billy Elliott and done more?


SotW: Crossfire by Brandon Flowers Friday, Jul 9 2010 

The Killers is (are?) one of my favorite bands, and I’m totally in love with Brandon Flowers (regardless of his heterosexuality and Mormonism). So, I was extremely excited to learn recently that he’s putting out a solo album. I was even more excited to hear his first single, “Crossfire.” And the video is smokin’ hot:

I love the way this video casts Flowers in the damsel-in-distress role and Charlize Theron as his rescuer. He’s so cute when he gives her his little small, and I’m surprised by how hot I think he looks with a bloody lip and a black eye! I also love the way she puts her arm around him at the end. The gender politics of this video are so interestingly feminist — maybe his Mormon heterosexuality isn’t so bad after all! (He’s seems gay-friendly in his interview with The Advocate and he’s on record as “not opposing” gay rights.)

I look forward to the new album, which is due out in mid-September.


Holding the Man: A Review Tuesday, Jul 6 2010 

Perhaps the main goal of PJ’s and my recent trip to England was to see a few shows. The last time we were there most of the shows we saw were total crap, so we really wanted this trip’s theater to be better. We ended up seeing four shows. Almost as soon as we arrived, we took the Tube to the Leicester Square tickets booth and bought tickets for our first two nights in London.

We knew we wanted to see Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, but it wasn’t playing on Monday night (our first night in London) so we bought tickets to another show, Holding the Man. PJ had read about it beforehand and knew that it was also an Australian “gay play,” which was enough for us. We bought tickets for Priscilla for Tuesday night, so we figured the theme of our visit would be gay Australian theater!

We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Holding the Man is much more than just a gay Australian play. It is an amazingly affecting theatrical experience. Unfortunately, the West End production has now closed, but the play itself is so good that I would recommend any production of this play.

Holding the Man is based on the memoir of Timothy Conigrave, an Australian writer, actor, and activist. Conigrave’s memoir follows his 15-year relationship with John Caleo. The two men met while still in high school, a Catholic boys school. Caleo was the captain of the school’s football team. The play’s early scenes detail their courtship and eventual coming out to their parents. When Conigrave goes off to college and wants to experiment with other men, the couple briefly breaks up. The second half of the play focuses on the latter years of the mens’ relationship and takes place in the AIDS era. Both men eventually dies of AIDS-related illnesses.


Visiting Kew Gardens Saturday, Jul 3 2010 

Two of our goals while we were in England last week were a) to find new things to see in London and b) to do relaxing things. My first year as dean has left me spent and tired; I definitely wanted a vacation that didn’t exhaust me even more.

To these ends, PJ recommended that we take the Thames River tour over to Kew Gardens and spend most of a day roaming around the Royal Botanic Gardens. Both ideas turned out to be excellent!

Inside the gates of Kew Gardens

The boat tour took about an hour and a half. The weather was wonderful: sunny and warm, perfect for a boat ride. The only down side was that we were unprepared for the sun, and both got rather sunburned as a result.

Once we arrived at Kew Gardens, we made a quick list of activities and sites that we wanted to do. These included Kew Palace, the Treetop Walkway, lunch, Queen Charlotte’s Cottage, Temperate House, and as much of the grounds as we could fit in.


SotW: Fire with Fire by Scissor Sisters Friday, Jul 2 2010 

It’s been a while since I’ve had a song of the week, but this morning I purchased the new Scissor Sisters album, Night Work, so I thought I would revive my SotW feature so that I can write about it.

Here’s the video for the first single off the album, “Fire with Fire”:

Of course I’ve heard about the Scissor Sisters since their first album came out, but I’ve never really listened to them before. I’m not sure why this is, but it’s probably just inertia or something. But then Jake Spears was interviewed in Butt Magazine, a queer zine that I love. (Click here and here for the interviews.)  Then I started to pay a little more attention.

While we were in England, we kept seeing advertisements for Night Work, so at some point I decided that I would give it a listen and see if I liked it. I sampled it on iTunes and enjoyed it, so I downloaded it so PJ and I could listen to it on our way to see his family in Indiana over the weekend.


Back from England Thursday, Jul 1 2010 

PJ and I got back from England on Monday. It’s taken me a few days to fully recover from the jet lag, but I’m starting to feel normal again.

We had a lovely time throughout our trip. The weather was lovely — mostly in the 80s and sunny or partly cloudy. No rain.

And we enjoyed all of our tourist activities. During the first part of the trip we were in London, where we took the Thames River cruise and visited Kew Gardens and Churchill’s War Rooms. We also saw a musical of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert, and a play called Holding the Man. We then went to Bath, where we visited the Roman Baths and the Abbey and generally walked around. We also took two bus tours, one of the Cotswolds and one to Stonehenge, Avebury, and other places. Then we were back in London for a couple of days to celebrate my 40th birthday. We saw the Queen’s Gallery and visited the Wallace Collection in addition to the Imperial War Museum. We also saw a gay version of Dangerous Liaisons and a play called War Horse.

Throughout the trip we ate incredibly well. In addition to a few pub meals, we had Thai, Indian, and French meals. And our hotels were the best we’ve ever stayed at in England — PJ did a great job picking them!

So, I now have lots to blog about in the coming days. I just hope to gather up the energy to be productive!