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Great concert week in DC with the Mac, Mika and Cameron Carpenter

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Mika on stage in Washington Wednesday at the Sixth & I Synagogue. (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

Mika on stage in Washington Wednesday at the Sixth & I Synagogue. (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

It was a great week for live music in Washington — Fleetwood Mac brought its “Tour 2013” to the Verizon Center Tuesday night, out pop singer Mika brought his acoustic show to the Sixth & I Synagogue Wednesday night and on Friday, queer organist Cameron Carpenter made his Washington-area debut at the Strathmore in Bethesda. The proceedings were stellar all around — I’ll dissect chronologically.

Many, many years of following various pop and rock acts has brought me to the realization that so many acts sort of “train” their audiences what to expect and the Mac is a perfect example. Its members — namesake rhythm section Mick Fleetwood and John McVie along with singer/songwriters Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham — talk in interviews as if they’re dutifully restricted from mixing things up too much because even with longtime songstress Christine McVie long gone (only one of her songs was performed — the chestnut “Don’t Stop”), they still have a truckload of ground they feel obligated to cover with songs like “Second Hand News,” “The Chain,” “Dreams,” “Rhiannon,” “Go Your Own Way” and the list goes on and on.

Thankfully the Mac — touring a second consecutive time now without a new album out — is throwing in a few surprises. Nicks has revived the long-dormant “Tusk” track “Sisters of the Moon” for the first time since the “Mirage Tour” in the early ’80s. There’s also one all-new track (“Sad Angel”) Buckingham says is slated for an imminent EP and the ancient-but-never-released song “Without You,” a ballad that featured perhaps the loveliest Buckingham/Nicks harmonies of the evening.

Except for some very anti-Mac-like remix-type looping touches brought into “World Turning,” the arrangements were tried and true. Nobody could argue the Mac doesn’t know how to give the masses what they want. Which can be a little disappointing for the die hards who go hear them every time they tour. Or even the more casual fans who tend to be more musically adventurous. Though many of the suggestions thrown about are utterly absurd — Thomas Conner’s naive op-ed in the Chicago Sun-Times last week is a great example — I could have gone for maybe 10 percent more adventure. A good starting point would have been “Soldier’s Angel,” the haunting duet Buckingham joined Nicks on for her brilliant 2011 album “In Your Dreams.”

With some acts — Madonna for one — you know you’re not going to hear every hit every tour. The Mac has never been like this, yet a few more unexpected moments would keep them a notch or two further away from the “cashing in/gravy train” bandwagon they’re clearly on. If you think for a second this is about the music and not the money, recall the arm twisting it took to get Nicks to agree to this. There was a well-publicized ballyhoo in 2012 when Fleetwood whined in a Playboy interview that he doubted the Mac would ever tour again when Nicks insisted on giving her solo album another year of touring. It was so wildly overstated that here they are on tour the very next year.  (Nicks said later three years — and she’s right — feels like a good amount of time to go between Mac tours.)

Fleetwood Mac on stage at the Verizon Center Tuesday night. (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

Fleetwood Mac on stage at the Verizon Center Tuesday night. (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

While the band has been more about money than music for eons, I will say a few quick things: one, the music at Tuesday night’s show was scary good. Nicks, though she doesn’t scream and growl as she used to, has developed into a very solid singer. There wasn’t one off-pitch sound that came from her mouth the whole night. And Buckingham’s guitar work was as great as it has ever been. If there’s one upside to the lack of Mac recordings in the last 10 years or so, it’s that Buckingham’s solo career has soared off in the other direction with a trio of masterfully conceived and executed solo albums (2006’s “Under the Skin,” 2008’s “Gift of Screws” and 2011’s “Seeds We Sow”).

Given the way the Internet has decimated album sales — especially new work from veteran acts — one can hardly argue with their “let’s just tour” approach. Still nobody seemed to notice the irony of the situation when Buckingham spoke about not wanting to run something that worked (“Rumours”) into the ground when it came time to make “Tusk.” Sadly now the band is doing almost exactly that — touring clearly works (I’ve never seen the Verizon Center so packed and on a weeknight no less) so why be bothered with doing a new album? While the night was great fun, the reality that the Mac seems highly uninterested in doing much beyond trudging out the staples — Nicks is the chief foot dragger — lent the proceedings a bittersweet air.

And why can’t we all just agree to let Christine McVie do what she wants? Legions of the Mac faithful seem to be holding out hope that she’ll one day rejoin them for one last outing. While yeah, that would be cool for “old time’s sake” (McVie said recently she would consider joining them on stage in London if they ask her later this year), they’ve already done that. Why do we need another “The Dance”-type outing (the name of a ’97 reunion tour with the classic lineup), especially if McVie’s heart is not in it? I would feel differently if they’d never done “The Dance,” but since they have, it’s time for everybody to move on.

Mika’s show the next night was an interesting study in contrasts — from a veteran band reliving its glory days to a young singer (he’s 29) only on his third album playing a small, atmosphere-heavy synagogue (it’s actually a great concert spot — much more music-friendly than the much-lauded 9:30 Club) with a throng of young fans at fever-pitch excitement throughout the evening. Touring behind his near-masterpiece album of last fall “Origin of Love,” the obscenely talented popster poured his passionately creamy falsetto-hued vocals and drivingly percussive piano playing through a nearly two-hour set that was the furthest thing from phoned in you could imagine.

Working with a tight two-man band — players who seemed to grab any instrument of the dozens on stage they could quickly get their hands on — Mika radically reinvented several songs from their studio versions (a ballad version of dance cut “Stardust” from the new album was perhaps the most radical), led several all-out audience sing-alongs (and the crowd knew every word) on “Grace Kelly,” “Love Today” and “Celebrate” among others, and even stepped away from the mic for nearly two full numbers just to savor the acoustics — which are stellar — of the venue. All were show-stopping in the best way.

Mika truly has it all — killer voice, great songwriter, solid musical chops and just-left-enough-of-center looks and charm to never be mistaken for a “Bachelor” contestant. He’s sort of our queer Justin Timberlake — with a much better current album out too, by the way.

Switching gears radically was Cameron Carpenter’s organ recital Friday night which, despite a few logistical head scratchers (more on that in a sec), was a musical accomplishment of Herculean, truly other-worldly proportions. Watching and hearing him play is much akin to the scene in the classic “Outer Limits”  episode (“The Sixth Finger”) in which a scientist figures out a way to push evolution ahead a million years and suddenly the protagonist can play Bach he just picked up. Carpenter is almost in that league, having been something of a child prodigy who claims to have mastered “The Well-Tempered Clavier” in adolescence.

Cameron Carpenter at the Strathmore Friday night. (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

Cameron Carpenter at the Strathmore Friday night. (Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

The first oddity was why Carpenter — with all the amazing pipe organs in Washington — was at the organ-less Strathmore at all. Playing an electronic Rodgers three manual brought in just for the occasion, Carpenter got more sonic contrast out of the thing than probably anybody else could have, but from the massive instrument at the National Cathedral, the new pipe organ at the Kennedy Center (where he’s rumored to be playing next year sometime) or even the glorious five-manual behemoth at National City Christian Church in Thomas Circle (which could just about have housed the somewhat disappointing turnout — of the Strathmore’s three balconies, only the lowest one was about half-full; the upper two sat empty), it seemed just plain dumb to have him there. It could be a harbinger of things to come — Carpenter’s most insistent recurring theme is his endless frustration at having to adapt to a different organ for each town he plays. Let’s hope whatever touring instrument he ends up with — he says it’s almost finished — has a little more sonic heft than the Rodgers. Which sounded OK — I’m not trashing it altogether. One could clearly tell, though, that it was a sound coming from speakers, not pipes.

That said, what Carpenter did with it was beyond staggering. His musical instincts — as sharp and deadly as Wolverine’s knife claws — are in a league of their own among organists, at least to my knowledge. He plays with a pianistic-like virtuosity that’s stunning to watch (a screen above him amplified his finger work). Often playing two manuals simultaneously with one hand, leap-frogging between the choir, great and swell like an Olympic sprinter and displaying the most nimble pedal work I’ve ever seen, Carpenter truly is a talent for the ages. Granted, the Rodgers had a minimal number of stops it appeared — it looked like a child’s toy compared to, say, the National City console — yet Carpenter changed registrations like most people blink. One five-minute improvisation he played featured more than 40 registration changes. That amount of tone painting just through stop changes was impressive in and of itself, forget about the actual note playing.

His wildly eclectic 100-odd minute show (played entirely from memory) featured everything from Bach works written for organ, transcribed for piano, then adapted back to organ (by Carpenter), two Liszt Transcendental Etudes he said were “nearly impossible to play,” a wickedly playful transcription of Bernstein’s “Candide” Overture and a playful encore/fantasia on — of all things — “Shortnin’ Bread,” a whimsical-but-no-less-dramatic way to end the evening. The highlights for me were a moody and languid — yet endlessly colorful — transcription of Isaac Albeniz’s piano work “Evocacion” (the first movement from “Iberia”) and a fantastically creative Marcel Dupre arrangement of a French Noel that Carpenter tackled in a deliciously subversive way, nearly matching the macabre wit Dupre brought to it originally.

Though nearly as night and day as one could fathom, all three shows were utterly magical and evenings I will never forget.

Fleetwood Mac’s set:

1. Second Hand News

2. The Chain

3. Dreams

4. Sad Angel

5. Rhiannon

6. Not That Funny

7. Tusk

8. Sisters of the Moon

9. Sara

10. Big Love

11. Landslide

12. Never Going Back Again

13. Without You

14. Gypsy

15. Eyes of the World

16. Gold Dust

17. So Afraid

18. Stand Back

19. Go Your Own Way

ENCORE

20. World Turning

21. Don’t Stop

ENCORE 2

22. Silver Springs

23. Say Goodbye

Mika’s set:

1. Grace Kelly

2. Toy Boy

3. Lollipop

4. Blue Eyes

5. Billy Brown

6. Popular

7. Love You When I’m Drunk

8. Underwater

9. Stuck in the Middle

10. Emily

11. Big Girls

12. Origin of Love

13. Happy Ending

14. Lola

15. Relax, Take it Easy

16. Stardust

17. Celebrate

18. Love Today

19. Over My Shoulder

Cameron Carpenter’s set:

1. Bach — Prelude 1 from “Well Tempered Clavier”/Fugue No. 15 in G Major

2. Bach/Busoni — Cello Suite No. 1

3. Bach — Fantasia and Fugue in G Minor

4. Albeniz — Evocacion from Iberia

5. Dupre — Variations on a Noel

6. Liszt — Feux Follets

7. Liszt — La Campanella

INTERMISSION

8. Bernstein — Candide Overture

9. Ives — The Alcotts from Concord Sonata

10. Improv

11. Improv

ENCORE

12. Chopin — Minute Waltz

13. Shortnin’ Bread

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Photos

PHOTOS: DCGFFL 25th Anniversary Party

Gay flag football league marks milestone at Penn Social

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The D.C. Gay Flag Football league held a party celebrating their 25th season at Penn Social on Saturday. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The D.C. Gay Flag Football League (DCGFFL) held a 25th season anniversary party at Penn Social on Saturday, Sept. 23. Proceeds from the event benefited the LGBTQ youth services organization SMYAL as well as the D.C. Center for the LGBTQ Community.

(Washington Blade photos by Michael Key)

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Books

New book goes behind the scenes of ‘A League of Their Own’

‘No Crying in Baseball’ offers tears, laughs, and more

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(Book cover image courtesy of Hachette Books)

‘No Crying in Baseball: The Inside Story of ‘A League of Their Own’
By Erin Carlson
c.2023, Hachette Books
$29/320 pages

You don’t usually think of Madonna as complaining of being “dirty all day” from playing baseball. But that’s what the legendary diva did during the shooting of “A League of Their Own,” the 1992 movie, beloved by queers.

“No Crying in Baseball,” the fascinating story behind “A League of Their Own,” has arrived in time for the World Series. Nothing could be more welcome after Amazon has cancelled season 2 of its reboot (with the same name) of this classic film.

In this era, people don’t agree on much. Yet, “A League of Their Own” is loved by everyone from eight-year-old kids to 80-year-old grandparents.

The movie has strikes, home runs and outs for sports fans; period ambience for history buffs; and tears, laughs and a washed-up, drunk, but lovable coach for dramady fans.

The same is true for “No Crying in Baseball.” This “making of” story will appeal to history, sports and Hollywood aficionados. Like “All About Eve” and “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” “A League of Their Own” is Holy queer Writ.

Carlson, a culture and entertainment journalist who lives in San Francisco, is skilled at distilling Hollywood history into an informative, compelling narrative. As with her previous books, “I’ll Have What She’s Having: How Nora Ephron’s three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy” and “Queen Meryl: The Iconic Roles, Heroic Deeds, and Legendary Life of Meryl Streep,” “No Crying in Baseball,” isn’t too “educational.” It’s filled with gossip to enliven coffee dates and cocktail parties.

“A League of Their Own” is based on the true story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). From 1943 to 1954, more than 600 women played in the league in the Midwest. The league’s players were all white because the racism of the time prohibited Black women from playing. In the film, the characters are fictional. But the team the main characters play for – the Rockford Peaches – was real.

While many male Major and Minor League Baseball players were fighting in World War II, chewing gum magnate Philip K. Wrigley, who owned the Chicago Cubs, founded the league. He started the AAGPBL, “To keep spectators in the bleachers,” Carlson reports, “and a storied American sport–more important: his business afloat.” 

In 1943, the Office of War Information warned that the baseball season could be “scrapped” “due to a lack of men,” Carlson adds.

“A League of Their Own” was an ensemble of women’s performances (including Rosie O’Donnell as Doris, Megan Cavanagh as Marla, Madonna as Mae, Lori Petty as Kit and Geena Davis as Dottie) that would become legendary.

Girls and women  still dress up as Rockford Peaches on Halloween.

Tom Hanks’s indelible portrayal of coach Jimmy Dugan, Gary Marshall’s depiction of (fictional) league owner Walter Harvey and Jon Lovitz’s portrayal of Ernie have also become part of film history.

Filming “A League of Their Own,” Carlson vividly makes clear, was a gargantuan effort.  There were “actresses who can’t play baseball” and “baseball players who can’t act,” Penny Marshall said.

The stadium in Evansville, Ind., was rebuilt to look like it was in the 1940s “when the players and extras were in costume,” Carlson writes, “it was easy to lose track of what year it was.”

“No Crying in Baseball” isn’t written for a queer audience. But, Carlson doesn’t pull any punches. 

Many of the real-life AAGPBL players who O’Donnell met had same-sex partners, O’Donnell told Carlson.

“When Penny, angling for a broad box-office hit chose to ignore the AAGPGL’s queer history,” Carlson writes, “she perpetuated a cycle of silence that muzzled athletes and actresses alike from coming out on the wider stage.”

“It was, as they say, a different time,” she adds.

Fortunately, Carlson’s book isn’t preachy. Marshall nicknames O’Donnell and Madonna (who become buddies) “Ro” and “Mo.” Kodak is so grateful for the one million feet of film that Marshall shot that it brings in a high school marching band. Along with a lobster lunch. One day, an assistant director “streaked the set to lighten the mood,” Carlson writes.

“No Crying in Baseball,” is slow-going at first. Marshall, who died in 2018, became famous as Laverne in “Laverne & Shirley.” It’s interesting to read about her. But Carlson devotes so much time to Marshall’s bio that you wonder when she’ll get to “A League of Their Own.”

Thankfully, after a couple of innings, the intriguing story of one of the best movies ever is told.

You’ll turn the pages of “No Crying in Baseball” even if you don’t know a center fielder from a short stop.

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Theater

Rupert Murdoch’s powers on full display in ‘Ink’

Media baron helped pave the way for Brexit, Prime Minister Thatcher

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Cody Nickell (Larry Lamb) and Andrew Rein (Rupert Murdoch) in ‘Ink’ at Round House Theatre. (Photo by Margot Schulman Photography)

‘Ink’
Through Sept. 24
Round House Theatre
4545 East-West Highway, Bethesda, MD 20814
$46-$94
Roundhousetheatre.org

Yes, Rupert Murdoch’s loathsome traits are many, but his skills to succeed are undeniably numerous. 

In the first scenes of John Graham’s West End and Broadway hit drama “Ink,” an exciting year-long detail from the life of a burgeoning media baron, Murdoch’s powers of persuasion are on full display.

It’s 1969 London. Over dinner with editor Larry Lamb, a young Murdoch shares his plan to buy the Sun and rebrand the dying broadsheet, replacing the Daily Mirror as Britain’s best-selling tabloid. What’s more, he wants to do it in just one year with Lamb at the helm. 

Initially reluctant, Lamb becomes seduced by the idea of running a paper, something that’s always eluded him throughout his career, and something Murdoch, the outsider Australian, understands. Murdoch taunts him, “Not you. Not Larry Lamb, the Yorkshire-born son of a blacksmith, not the guy who didn’t get a degree from Oxford or Cambridge, who didn’t get a degree from anywhere. Not you.”

Still, Lamb, played convincingly by Cody Nickell in Round House Theatre’s stellar season-opener, a co-production with Olney Theatre Center, remains unsure. But Murdoch (a delightfully brash Andrew Rein) is undeterred, and seals the deal with a generous salary. 

Superbly staged by director Jason Loweth, “Ink” is riveting. Its exchanges between Lamb and Murdoch are a strikingly intimate glimpse into ambition involving an ostensibly average editor and a striving money man who doesn’t like people.  

Once on board, Lamb is trolling Fleet Street in search of his launch team, played marvelously by some mostly familiar actors. He makes his most important hire — news editor Brian McConnell (Maboud Ebrahimzadeh) — in a steam bath. The remainder of the Sun’s new masthead falls handily into place: Joyce Hopkirk (Kate Eastwood Norris) the women’s page editor whose forward thinking is marred by her casual racism; Zion Jang plays Beverley Goodway, an awkwardly amusing young photographer; persnickety deputy editor Bernard Shrimsley (Michael Glenn) who learns to love ugly things; and an old school sports editor who proves surprisingly versatile, played by Ryan Rillette, Round House’s artistic director. 

At Lamb’s suggestion, the team brainstorms about what interests Sun readers. They decide on celebrities, pets, sports, free stuff, and —rather revolutionarily for the time —TV.  Murdoch is happy to let readers’ taste dictate content and the “Why” of the sacred “five Ws” of journalism is out the window. 

Murdoch is portrayed as a not wholly unlikable misanthrope. He dislikes his editors and pressman alike. He particularly hates unions. His advice to Lamb is not to get too chummy with his subordinates. Regarding the competition, Murdoch doesn’t just want to outperform them, he wants to grind them to dust. 

Loewith leads an inspired design team. Scenic designer Tony Cisek’s imposing, inky grey edifice made from modular walls is ideally suited for Mike Tutaj’s projections of headlines, printed pages, and Rein’s outsized face as Murdoch. Sound designer and composer Matthew M. Nielson ably supplies bar noises and the nonstop, pre-digital newspaper clatter of presses, linotypes, and typewriters.

From a convenient second tiered balcony, the Daily Mirror’s establishment power trio Hugh Cudlipp (Craig Wallace), Chris Lee Howard (Chris Geneback) and Sir Percy (Walter Riddle) overlook all that lies below, discussing new tactics and (mostly failed) strategies to remain on top.   

Increasingly comfortable in the role of ruthless, sleazy editor, Lamb is unstoppable.

Obsessed with overtaking the Daily Mirror’s circulation, he opts for some sketchy reportage surrounding the kidnapping and presumed murder of Muriel McKay, the wife of Murdoch’s deputy Sir Alick (Todd Scofield). The kidnappers mistook Muriel for Murdoch’s then-wife Anna (Sophia Early). Next, in a move beyond the pale, Lamb introduces “Page 3,” a feature spotlighting a topless female model. Awesta Zarif plays Stephanie, a smart young model. She asks Lamb if he would run a semi-nude pic of his similarly aged daughter? His reaction is uncomfortable but undaunted. 

For Murdoch’s purposes, history proves he chose well in Lamb. By year’s end, the Sun is Britain’s most widely read tabloid. Together they give the people what they didn’t know they wanted, proving the pro-Labour Daily Mirror’s hold on the working class is baseless and paving the way for things like Brexit and a Prime Minister Thatcher. 

“Ink” at Round House closes soon. See it if you can.

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