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Music & Concerts

Troye Sivan conjures up minimalist magic at the Anthem

Out singer does wonders bringing spare, mellow ‘Bloom’ to near arena-size life



Troye Sivan, gay news, Washington Blade

Troye Sivan performs at the Anthem Oct. 4 in Washington. (Washington Blade photo by Joey DiGuglielmo)

A Troye Sivan concert leaves one with two major impressions: One, it’s amazing the magic he can weave using so little and two, the juxtaposition of his sonic/video/TV show performances — where he comes off as an androgynous, gay sex-starved coquette gyrating lasciviously — dovetails quite nicely with his stage/interview persona where he’s self deprecating, down to earth, sweet seeming, even anodyne. 

That’s not a twofer you’d necessarily think would work. His Aussie accent helps. With his bleached blonde hair, blue eyes, lanky, 115-pound (it appears) frame, the 23-year-old seems positively angelic but you’re never quite sure if he stayed with the good angels like Gabriel and Raphael or is working undercover in Lucifer’s throng. 

Last week’s D.C. concert at the Anthem where he played the eighth show of his current 26-date “Bloom Tour,” (his album dropped Aug. 31) felt in some ways rather minimalist. A couch and a few lamps during the ballad set were the only props. The rest of the time the only visuals were — an impressive backscreen light show notwithstanding — Sivan’s four-piece (two guys/two girls) band and Sivan himself. There was an outfit change or two but the clothes were so non-glam and unmemorable he might have just as likely been out for a stroll on the D.C. Wharf. 

There were no video projections, no appearances from any of the fabulous, gender/bending clothes from the eye-popping “Bloom” video and nary a peeking nipple — kind of a Sivan trademark — was seen all night. No choreography either. Sivan just sort of bops around — he jumps, he spins, he twirls, he gyrates, he almost-but-never-quite-rubs himself — as the spirit moves. No backup singers (though the players did add some vocals), no dancers, no pyrotechnics. It was spare, but spare in a refreshing way. You never felt he didn’t have those things because he couldn’t yet afford them. This is only his second record, so maybe he can’t, but the minimalism felt chosen not resorted to. 

Last time he played Washington (not counting his ebullient June appearance at Capital Pride) — at the 9:30 Club in early 2016 — it felt like teenybopper girls’ night out with some gay men mixed in. This show felt like the inverse. It was almost all 20s and 30s gay men, like a gay high holy day young professionals night, with about 15 percent straight gal pals along for the ride. 

When you’ve been (as I have) to way too many shows by veteran acts in their golden years with 30-plus-year careers behind them, it’s fun to see an act only on his or her sophomore album. Whatever the new album is, it gets played almost in its entirety, there’s true energy in the room, people sing along en masse to every song whether it was a single or not and the performer feels genuinely thrilled to be there. These are still new experiences and unchartered terrain. They’re still giddy they can fill the next size venues up from their last tour. 

In Sivan’s case, that meant we got to hear all 10 cuts from the “Bloom” record in mostly faithful arrangements. The only unexpected twist was “My My My!” went into dance club remix mode (double-time beats) for its last couple choruses. It worked — the crowd (fairly packed on Anthem floor but not sold out) ate it up.

It was impossible to tell how much of the actual music was live. At times Sivan would take a line here and there a fifth or an octave above where he sings it on the album. The album vocal would keep going but you could never quite tell if that was recorded or live BGVs from the band. It didn’t matter — the vocals were stellar all night. If some beds were recorded, you never sensed for a second it was to save him any taxation. 

Seven cuts (four from the new record) made a killer opening set. “Plum” and “Lucky Strike,” neither singles interestingly, were arguably the most beguiling. Sivan sold them with abandon. Only on “Wild” did the relative simplicity of his choruses feel a little threadbare; in other spots it just seemed to buoy the sing-alongability of his tunes. 

A four-song ballad set provided a nice mid-show contrast with room for acoustic piano and guitar accompaniment. “Bite,” a bonus cut from his first album “Blue Neighborhood,” was the only semi-dud bouncing back and forth between a finger-snapping, sing-songy sort of thing to thundering drum solos that felt a little whiplashy. You could see why it was a bonus cut but I guess you gotta get a little creative to fill out a set when you’re only on your second record.

“Dance to This” and “Animal” closed out the main set. “Animal,” a fine song, wasn’t quite the best choice for that slot, but it wasn’t a catastrophe. “Youth,” fist-pumpingly ecstatic, and “My My My!” (of course) were the encores. 

The banter was just the right amount. Sivan talked about walking his dog around D.C. that day, went on and on about how great it was to see everyone, expressed concern for the mashed-together crowd (there are no seats on the Anthem main floor), told the crowd he wanted to “see you guys go fucking crazy” during key musical climaxes (we happily obliged). It was all just fun. You didn’t have to overthink it, you just soaked in the joy of having such an out-and-proud headliner who could fill the place among us. We might argue how much of a groundbreaker Sivan is. Yeah, we’ve had Rufus and Jake Shears (he’ll be here Oct. 31, by the way) before him but those singers were always — in much different ways — a bit left of center. Most of us admire Rufus Wainwright but he’s somebody you might put on at 4 a.m. during a nightcap, not somebody you want to blast on a summer road trip. 

Sivan is the middle ground. His album doesn’t beat you over the head. You’re not immediately sucked in by its hooks the way you are by, say, Charlie Puth or Shawn Mendes. But let it soak in and you see how much understated beauty and warmth is there. Sivan hit all the right notes realizing “Bloom” in a live setting. It’s sort of a mellow, hot tub-and-sex album; it wouldn’t have automatically worked in a large room yet Sivan and the crowd together made it pop live. 

His pal Leland opened but I missed his set. Trans pop princess Kim Petras gave a super-fun, eight-song set from about 8-8:35 full of Cyndi Lauper-esque pop hooks and big, rafter-raising vocals she pulled off beautifully with unwaveringly good pitch. 

The merch was underwhelming. Sivan looked more like a washed-out ghoul on his own shirts which were — as we have come to expect at such events — obscenely overpriced (Ts went for $40 and except for ball caps and pop sockets, it went up from there). 


KIM PETRAS (8-8:34 p.m.):

1. All the Time

2. I Don’t Want it All

3. Hillside Boys

4. Hills

5. Unlock It

6. Close Your Eyes

7. Heart to Break

8. Can’t Do Better

TROYE SIVAN (9:07-10:30)

1. Seventeen

2. Bloom

3. Plum

4. Heaven

5. Fools

6. Lucky Strike

7. Wild

8. Postcard

9. The Good Side

10. What a Heavenly Way to Die

11. Better Now (cover) 

12. Bite 

13. Dance to This

14. Animal


15. Youth

16. My My My! 

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Music & Concerts

Forget streaming, the holiday classics return to area stages

Bring your proof of vaccination and check out a local production this season



A scene from a previous Gay Men's Chorus of Washington Holiday Show. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

A year ago, the holiday season was streamed. But now, thanks to various protocols including masks and proof of vaccination, DMV theatergoers can come together and experience – live and in-person — both beloved classics and some promising new works. Here’s a smattering of what’s out there.

At Olney Theatre, Paul Morello is thrilled to bring back “A Christmas Carol 2021” (through Dec. 26), his solo adaptation of Dickens’ ghost story. Concerning returning to a live audience, Morello says, “While this is technically a one-person show, it’s really about the connection and collaboration with an audience, being in the same room, breathing in unison. I can’t do this without an audience and for a story that thrives on redemption, mortality, isolation, the need for community and connection, and the things that matter most, the timing couldn’t be better.”

Olney also presents “Disney’s Beauty and the Beast” through Jan. 2. This musical “tale as old as time” stars out actor Jade Jones as Belle and Evan Ruggiero plays the Beast.

For the holidays, Synetic Theater at Crystal City is reworking “Cinderella” (Nov. 27-Dec. 26). Led by an all-female team of creators, this festive take on the classic fairytale is inspired by Afro-Latino music and dance. Directed and adapted by Maria Simpkins who also plays the title role.

Last year, because of COVID-19, Ford’s Theatre presented “A Christmas Carol” as a radio broadcast, but now the fully produced play returns to the venue’s historic stage through Dec. 27. A popular Washington tradition for more than 30 years, the thoroughly enjoyable and topnotch take on the Dickens’ classic features Craig Wallace reprising the part of Scrooge, the miser who after a night of ghostly visits, rediscovers Christmas joy.

Another D.C. tradition guaranteed to put audiences in a holiday mood is the Washington Ballet’s “Nutcracker,” playing at the Warner Theatre through Dec. 26. Set to Tchaikovsky’s enchanted score, this charming and superbly executed offering takes place in Georgetown circa 1882 and features a retinue of historic figures along with children, rats, fairies and a mysterious godfather. Choreography is by Septime Webre.

The Folger Consort, the superb early music ensemble in residence at the Folger, will be performing seven concerts of “A Medieval Christmas” (Dec. 10-18) at St. Mark’s Church on Capitol Hill. A streaming version of the concert will also be available to view on-demand.

At Lincoln Theatre, the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, D.C. presents “The Holiday Show” (Dec. 4, 11, and 12) replete with tap-dancing elves, a dancing Christmas tree, snow, and a lot more. The fun and festive program’s song list includes “Let It Snow! Let It Snow! Let It Snow!”, “The 12 Rockin’ Days of Christmas,” and “Boogie Woogie Frosty.” Featured performances range from the full Chorus, soloists, all GMCW ensembles, and the GenOUT Youth Chorus.

Arena Stage is marking the season with August Wilson’s “Seven Guitars” (through Dec. 26), a drama about a small group of friends who gather following the untimely death of their friend, a blues guitarist on the edge of stardom. Directed by Tazewell Thompson, the production features an exciting cast that includes local actors Dane Figueroa Edidi and Roz White.

Creative Cauldron is serving up some holiday magic with “The Christmas Angel” (Dec. 9-19). Based on a little-known 1910 novel by Abbey Farwell Brown, it’s the story of a lonely and bitter spinster who returns to happiness through a box of old toys. The commissioned new holiday musical is a collaboration of longtime musical collaborators and married couple Matt Conner and Stephen Gregory Smith (lyrics and book).

In keeping with the Yuletide spirit, the National Theatre presents two feel-good national tour musicals. First, it’s “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” (through Dec. 5), a musical take on Dr. Seuss’ classic holiday tale featuring the hit songs “You’re A Mean One, Mr. Grinch” and “Welcome Christmas.”

Next up is “Tootsie” (Dec. 7-12), the hit musical based on the 1982 gender-bending film starring Dustin Hoffman as an out-of-work actor who disguises himself as a woman to land a role on a popular soap opera. The show boasts a Tony-winning book by Robert Horn and a score by Tony winner David Yazbek (The Band’s Visit).

Keegan Theatre presents its annual holiday offering, “An Irish Carol” (Dec. 10-31). Set in a modern Dublin pub, the funny yet poignant original work (a nod to Dickens) tracks the changes in the life of a rich but miserable publican over the course of one Christmas Eve.

At Theater J, it’s the Kinsey Sicks’ “Oy Vey in a Manger” (Dec. 17-25). Blending drag, four-part harmony, and political humor, the “dragapella beautyshop quartet” brings its own hilariously irreverent view on the holidays.

And through Jan. 2, Signature Theatre continues to brighten the season with its production of Jonathan Larson’s “Rent” directed by the company’s out artistic director Matthew Gardiner and featuring out actor David Merino as Angel, a preternaturally energetic drag queen and percussionist.

The Music Center at Strathmore, also in Bethesda, is presenting a wide range of musical holiday offerings including “Manheim Steamroller Christmas” (Dec. 3 and 4), a multimedia holiday tradition; Sarah Brightman in “A Christmas Symphony” (Dec. 6 and 7); “A Celtic Christmas with Séan Heely Celtic Band” (Dec. 11); Washington Bach Consort’s “Bach’s Epic Christmas Oratorio” (Dec. 11); the beloved “The Washington Chorus: A Candlelight Christmas” (Dec. 16 and 17); and last but not least “The Hip Hop Nutcracker” (Dec. 20), Tchaikovsky’s classic reimagined with MC Kurtis Blow (“White Lines”).

And finally, something strictly for the kids: Imagination Stage presents “Corduroy” (Dec. 11-Jan. 24). Based on the beloved children’s books by Don Freeman, it’s the heartwarming story of a girl and her perfectly imperfect Teddy Bear. Best for ages 3-9.

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Music & Concerts

BETTY returns to DC

Queer band to perform at City Winery Dec. 5



BETTY (Photo by Gene Reed, 2021)

Pop-rock band BETTY is returning to their District homeland for a holiday show at City Winery on Dec. 5.  

Fronted by Alyson Palmer and sisters Elizabeth and Amy Ziff, the band who are “rule breakers” and “equality rockers” have been touring, writing, and advocating for social change through their music since 1986. The band has been featured in shows like “The L Word” and “Encyclopedia,” and created their own off-Broadway show “BETTY RULES.”

The D.C. show will kick off a tour that will bring the band to New York City, Cincinnati, and New Hope, Pa. Elizabeth, who identifies as lesbian, said it’s been “incredible” to be in rehearsals for shows again after the pandemic put a hold on live music.  

“We’ve been together for so long. We are a family and we hang out and we’re friends and we play music together,” she said. “It’s our life.”

Amy, who is queer, said she’s excited to perform in the District where the band originally formed. 

“It’s so emotional because it’s where we grew up,” she said. “Not just musically, but it’s where we came out.”

Proof of vaccination is required at all shows. To purchase tickets, visit

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Music & Concerts

We waited eons for this? New Diana album is colossal disappointment

Saccharine sentiments sink largely self-penned effort from diva supreme



Diana Ross’s new project ‘Thank You,’ while hopeful and optimistic, is too musically weak to catch fire after the one-two punch of its opening cuts. (Image courtesy Decca)

Diana Ross’s solo albums are almost always inconsistent.

This isn’t unusual among R&B/pop divas; start wading past the hits and the same could be said for the album tracks of Gladys Knight, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, et. al.

The few times she’s made a start-to-finish solid effort, like 1991’s “The Force Behind the Power,” 1995’s “Take Me Higher” or even 1985’s “Eaten Alive,” which works even with its campy title cut, they’ve never been huge sellers or featured any of her trademark hits.

However — and it pains me to say this — you have to go all the way back to 1983’s “Ross” to find an album as bad as her new release “Thank You” (★½ out of four), her first album in 15 years and her first of new material in 22 years. Pre-COVID, she was highly active with touring (and played the D.C. region many times), but her studio work had ground to a total halt.

A few things trickled out from the vault, like 2006’s delightful jazz album “Blue” (recorded in the early ’70s), but there was nothing new. And while it was always great to see her on stage — she looks fabulous at 77 (although you’d never know it from the vintage photo used on the “Thank You” cover) — her show varied little from year to year and her vocals were occasionally pitchy.

So while it’s great to finally have something new from the Motown legend — a studio workhorse all through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s — this extremely uneven new album is a musical Hallmark turd that never met a feel-good lyrical cliche too saccharine or an easy listening musical bed too insipid.

It’s hard to place too much of the blame on Troy Miller (a veteran of Amy Winehouse’s band), who produced the bulk of the tracks here, as Ross’s fingerprints are all over it — she’s billed as executive producer and, in a career first, she co-wrote nine of the 13 cuts. Though she took a few songwriting credits here and there over the years (she co-wrote four songs on her 1982 album “Silk Electric”), on most of her albums, her songwriting contributions are zero. And although two of those — the bouncy title cut and second single “If the World Just Danced” — are unequivocally the project’s best tracks, Joni Mitchell she is not.

Here’s the good news — she sounds amazing. There’s a lustrous quality to her vocal work here, her range is truly impressive and the pitch never wavers. Some scoff, but I have always felt Ross is a great pop singer with considerable range and impressive interpretive abilities in a wide gulf of genres. She was never a Whitney or Celine, but she could coo (“Baby Love”), yearn (“Cryin’ My Heart Out for You”), burn (“Muscles”) and growl (“Swept Away”) as well as anyone. This album’s “Time to Call,” though weak, gives her a chance to unfurl several melismas in her highest register and she kills it.

Stylistically, while varied, the album as a whole is numbingly mellow. Three cuts (the solid “If the World Just Danced,” retro shuffle “I Still Believe” and horn-laden abomination “Tomorrow”) are dance tracks and almost all the rest could legitimately be dubbed easy listening. There’s cascading string work, decent (if hardly impressive) production and stylistic variation, but the flame dies out after the first two songs and, with such banal lyrics and painfully unimaginative melodies, never comes close to reigniting despite Ross’s conviction. It’s like seeing a truly good actress in a turkey of a play knowing she co-wrote it. You’re rooting for her, but you’ve spent most of the outing wincing.

One might argue saccharine and Ross have gone hand in hand back to the days of “Reach Out and Touch” and “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” — true — but it’s taken to a new low here. Of course, nobody expected Deepak Chopra-caliber insight, but with clunkers like “what is isn’t/what isn’t is” (on the Ross co-penned “All is Well”), “I’ll be the pillow where your head will lay,” (on daughter Rhonda’s “Count on Me”) or “the first time I saw your face …” (on mother’s ode “Beautiful Love”) — ripping off a lyric that blatantly should be illegal — this album’s scaffolding is so weak, one positively groans at the amateurishness of the songcraft. This is the chorus of “Count on Me”: “count on me/count on me/count on me/count on me.”

Siedah Garrett, a respected songwriter who might have momentarily elevated the proceedings, delivers one of the album’s worst cuts with the nauseatingly treacly “The Answer’s Always Love.”
I could go on, but you get the idea.

One might also argue, hey, couldn’t we use a little positivity today? Cut Miss Ross some slack and just be glad she’s back. True perhaps, but with material this weak and the thought of what this album could have been in more daring, imaginative hands, it’s downright frustrating.

With little chance of making any kind of dent on U.S. (or U.K. for that matter) pop radio and in her late 70s, I’d hoped Miss Ross, with no fucks left to give, might have done something brash and daring, but this is called playing it safe folks and sadly it’s a yawnfest.

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