Thursday, September 30, 2010

Darkness falls. Enjoy.

Check out 11:11 Theatre Company’s Poe adaptations and then drop into the Gallows to quench your thirst
When it came time to decide among the stories and poems by Edgar Allan Poe to adapt for the stage, Brian Tuttle, artistic director of the South End-based 11:11 Theatre Company, gravitated toward the darker side. “It’s set in October, so I thought it would be appropriate to have a wonderfully eerie show,’’ he says of the new production, “Poe; a fever dream.’’

“We mostly went with the macabre,’’ Tuttle says. That includes such classics as “The Tell-Tale Heart,’’ “The Fall of the House of Usher,’’ and “The Cask of Amontillado.’’

“The idea behind it is to produce it in such a way that it feels like being in one of Poe’s stories, kind of like a fever-dream nightmare.’’

Tuttle says they were intent on reproducing the feel of Poe’s grim scenarios through atmosphere. “ ‘The Fall of the House of Usher’ is a beautifully written story, but it’s much more enthralling when you’re watching [the characters] in this house and hearing the moans of his not-dead sister.’’
All of the 11 actors in the ensemble play recurring roles throughout, which lends a fluidity to the borders of the stories. “Thematic strands keep coming back. . . . You get the full effect of what he was obsessed with.’’

“Poe; a fever dream’’ opens tonight. 8 p.m. $17. The Factory Theatre, 791 Tremont St., Boston.
One thing that obsessed Poe was drinking. He might have appreciated the concept behind the nearby gastropub the Gallows, with its tongue-in-cheek name and decor, when it came time for an evening tipple. It is located in the South End, near where Boston’s gallows once stood. “We’re right by the site of many hangings of Colonial pickpockets and murderers and the like,’’ says manager Francie Dorman. The area was also once referred to as the Boston Neck, an isthmus connecting Boston to Roxbury. “We thought that was a funny play on words for the Gallows, too,’’ she says.

Taxidermy ravens throughout and creepy touches like a headless dress form and large windows up front overlooking the foreboding Cathedral of the Holy Cross add to the feel. The cocktails riff off that theme, with offerings like the Elisabeth Aplegate (made with gin, hyssop syrup, absinthe, cucumber, and lemon). She was a Boston woman publicly punished for going crazy in public, Dorman says. Other cocktails like the Killer and the Chupacabra invoke madness as well. Too scary? Don’t be alarmed, Dorman says. “We’re very welcoming in our creepiness.’’

The Gallows, 1395 Washington St., Boston. 617-425-0200.

There goes the neighborhood

I was stumbling down Washington Street the other night, in search of some post-drinking noodles, when I came across a sleek-looking lounge that stood out amidst the rows of hole-in-the-wall Asian take-out spots. What’s this place doing here, my friend asked. Well, it’s not your parents’ Chinatown anymore.

That’s a good thing, says Matt McCoy, general manager of Q, the Mongolian hotpot restaurant and lounge that opened earlier this week. “There’s nothing else like this place around here. We’re hoping everyone steps up and follows suit, and this area makes a transformation.”

Seems like it already has. To say this modern space — with a mahogany-hued dining area, polished granite bar and exposed marble walls — doesn’t fit the Chinatown stereotype is an understatement. For years, this site used to be home to a peep show.

The premise of the menu here, which also includes a sushi bar, is that diners dip their food into fondu-style pots resting on induction heating plates on the tables. But more remarkable may be the addition of a bar that takes its spirits and cocktails seriously in the neighborhood. Classics showing up on the menu are given minor Asian-influenced twists. The Perfect GQ is a perfect Rob Roy made with Yamazaki 12-year single malt whiskey; The Q-Tini is a heated fusion of Wasabi Sake Vodka, Quintessential Gin, Canton ginger liqueur and pickled ginger. Elsewhere, McCoy pays homage to resurgent tiki-style cocktails like the Singapore Sling and a traditional Mai Tai made with crushed ice. “These are real cocktails,” McCoy says. “It’s beautiful.”  No word yet on whether they’ll be serving “cold tea” in here late at night, but we’ll see how the neighborhood rubs off on them.

The Q Restaurant
660 Washington St., Chinatown, Boston

Friday, September 24, 2010

Double Date: Free-form festivities

Spend the day enjoying a South End jazz fest and top it off at an anything-goes neighborhood eatery

When it comes to jazz, Boston may not have the same high profile as other cities, but, thanks in large part to the Berklee College of Music, we can certainly hold our own bringing in big names and fostering locally grown talent. One of the biggest factors in that regard in recent years has been the Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival. Now in its 10th year, this weeklong celebration of music, wrapping up this weekend, regularly attracts thousands of jazz fans. The biggest party of the week kicks off tomorrow, shutting down sections of Columbus Avenue for performances from 15 acts on three outdoor stages. Al Kooper and the Funky Faculty, the Jonathan Batiste Trio, and Rhiannon are among the performers.

“It’s a way to give back to the community,’’ says festival artistic director Terri Lyne Carrington. And you can’t beat the price, she says. It’s free. “It’s called a jazz festival, but there’s really something for everybody. No matter what your background is, or your status in life, everybody comes together and has fun together. That’s always a great thing for any city to do.’’

Berklee BeanTown Jazz Festival outdoor concert. Saturday, noon- 6 p.m. Free. Columbus Ave. and Mass. Ave., Boston. (For more on the festival, see Pages 22-23.) 

Restauranteur and developer Darryl Settles played a role in getting the Berklee festival off the ground, but with his latest effort he hopes to bring jazz back to a more permanent, familiar home. Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen will take over what’s still known as the old Bob the Chef’s space in Roxbury. Settles has owned the building through its various incarnations since 1990, including the popular Bob’s Southern Bistro. “Ten times a week I would go to places and people would say, ‘You have to get that place back.’ ’’

The new restaurant will feature jazz acts on varying nights of the week, including noted saxophonist Pat Loomis and his quartet tomorrow night. The menu, too, will play with a loose, riffing style. Tim Partridge, formerly of Perdix, will helm the kitchen. “It’s a local, fun neighborhood bar, with great food,’’ Settles says. “We have lots of restaurants in the South End but this is a place that you can go on a regular basis and get different kinds of food. The menu is all over the map, from seafood-based dishes to barbecue.’’ That includes options like buttermilk fried chicken, beer-battered catfish, pan-fried trout, and braised pork belly.

Now all he needs is to win back the old customers. “They’re already here,’’ he says. “People that have been in the South End for a long time, people that are new, they are glad and happy for the change. And I’m happy to be here.’’

Darryl’s Corner Bar and Kitchen, 604 Columbus Ave., Boston. 617-536-1100.


Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Liquid: The Last Word

When it comes to the qualities that bartending connoisseurs look for in a cocktail, you couldn't find a more perfect match than The Last Word. It's made with gin. It uses two (relatively) lesser-known liqueurs with centuries-old recipes, including one made by monks in the mountains of France. It has a hard-to-verify Prohibition-era provenance, and it languished in obscurity for decades until being rediscovered. That's a complete bartender bingo right there. Oh, and it also happens to taste amazing.
The Last Word was invented at the Detroit Athletic Club in the '20s, according to Ted Saucier's 1951 cocktail tome Bottoms Up, which contains the first known mention of the drink in print. And while it enjoyed a brief moment in the spotlight, it largely fell out of favor until a few years ago, when influential bartender Murray Stenson at Seattle's Zig Zag CafĂ© dusted off the recipe. It soon spread through the usual bartending trade channels, eventually making its way to Boston. The early-adopter bars have been featuring it for a while now, but this season The Last Word finally seems to be on everyone's lips once again. 

The standard recipe is unique in that it calls for equal measures of four diverse and assertive ingredients: gin, green Chartreuse, maraschino, and lime juice. Green Chartreuse is the liqueur made from 130 herbs and botanicals that takes its name from the Grande Chartreuse monastery in France, where it was originally distilled by Carthusian monks. Maraschino is the bittersweet liqueur made from crushed cherry pits in Croatia. Both have become indispensable on well-stocked bar shelves.
"I think what works nicely about all the four ingredients in the cocktail is that they are all very distinct flavors," says Ryan Lotz, bar manager at Lineage (242 Harvard Street, Brookline, 617.232.0065). "It's one of those cocktails where there is a little bit of magic: it tastes like all four ingredients, but it doesn't. They all blend together for one unique taste of its own."

The flavors seem like they might compete, but they actually complement one another. Maraschino is often misjudged as having a strong cherry flavor, and while it is sweet when too liberally applied, it tends toward a more subtle almond. "It has those notes of cherry," Lotz says, "but it's earthy and funky, and not all that sweet." That earthiness plays well off the medicinal, grassy, bitter notes of the Chartreuse.

"I think it's interesting that it got reinvented in Seattle and is kind of making its way here," says Tom Mastricola, bar manager at Back Bay Social Club (867 Boylston Street, Boston, 617.247.3200), who lauds the cocktail's balancing act. "It's a little bit of sweet, a little bit of sour. It has a dry finish with the maraschino, then a big herbaceous tone at the end of it. With a half-ounce of everything, if it's built correctly, it's a great drink."

The Last Word's canonical status may be cemented by the fact that bartenders are now using its recipe as a base to play off of, the sign of any classic. "It's become this crazy cocktail people love to play with and tinker with and create new recipes off the base of four ingredients in equal parts," Lotz says. At some bars you'll find Bols Genever used in place of gin, or see yellow Chartreuse and its milder, brighter flavors swapped in for green. 

Bartending trailblazer Phil Ward of Death and Company in New York invented a new classic called The Final Ward that substitutes rye for gin and lemon for lime. The complex relationship of the liqueurs here is further enhanced by the spice of the rye.

"I never thought I'd go through green Chartreuse at the rate we do," says Lotz. "People love it. It's one of those cocktails where the first sip can be a shock if you don't know what to expect. The first sip I had was nothing like I expected. I almost didn't get it until I was halfway done and the flavors sort of unlocked for me." Lotz points to the ultimate source of the drink's appeal: ingredients working in harmony, but gently asserting themselves to the fore, always trying to get the last word in.

Soundclash’s two battling bands make for one successful night

At: the House of Blues, Monday

Strictly speaking, the word “versus’’ refers to a competition. In the world of online remixes, however, where songs from disparate artists are stitched together into hybrid mash-ups, it takes on the opposite meaning. The Red Bull Soundclash performance on Monday night at the House of Blues — featuring Washington, D.C., rapper Wale vs. Ontario indie rockers Tokyo Police Club — split the difference between those two polar definitions.

The night was set up like a contest, with one winner declared by crowd reaction; but it was also a collaborative effort, or rather a “musical conversation.’’ The bands faced one another on opposing stages, taking turns playing, covering one another’s songs, or experimenting in improvised genre-excursions. It’s a brilliant premise, and the perfect distillation of Internet culture’s short attention span.

They call it a Soundclash for a reason though. Pitting a charismatic, party-starting hip-hop and go-go band against a shouty, introspective indie rock act may not have been fair in terms of getting a reaction from the crowd. All the same, the contrasting styles made for a rare unscripted night of surprises.

Wale and his 6-piece band tore through a funky blast of get-your-hands-up jams, like his groupie-love hit “Pretty Girls.’’ Tokyo Police Club, a band of wiry 20-somethings, ripped it up with their stop-and-start, down-stroke guitar and janky keyboard riffs on songs like “Tessellate’’ with nervy aplomb. It was more fun to hear both bands play the same cover back to back, Tom Petty’s “American Girl’’ in this case.

Later rounds saw them stopping mid-song and tagging in the other band to finish, or performing their own songs in a country or thrashing punk style. It was like watching a band at work in the rehearsal space toying around with arrangements (“Dude, what if we tried this one as a punk song?’’). Tokyo Police Club singer Dave Monks assured the crowd before one of his band’s assignments, “Just because I’m Irish, doesn’t mean I can’t play reggae.’’ He may have been wrong; TPC proved better suited to its own material, like the careening keyboard runs and yearning hooks of “Your English Is Good.’’

By the end of the night Wale and his crack band had won the exhibition of skill, but from an audience perspective, everyone came out on top.

Boston Globe

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Double Date: Curiouser and curiouser

Enjoy the wonder of the ART’s ‘Alice’ and then have a little tea party at UpStairs on the Square

There have been so many interpretations of Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’’ over the years, it’s easy to lose track of where the original ends and the adaptations take off. That’s a question of fluid identity that would likely appeal to Brendan Shea, author of “Alice vs. Wonderland,’’ opening this weekend at the American Repertory Theater.

The adaptation tells the story “through the perspective of an older Alice, age 13 to 14,’’ explains Shea. “Because the story is about the dream of an older Alice, it’s going to look different than the dream of a 7-year-old in Victorian England.’’ Shea’s Alice is a contemporary teenager whose dreams are saturated by pop culture. “It deals with a lot more adult issues, more angst, things that young people today relate to.’’

The shape those dreams take is a largely musical production, sort of Carroll meets Lady Gaga. “It’s about the experience of us looking back on our own teenage years and relating to Alice in that way.’’ Six different actresses play the role of Alice, a decision that reflects the questions of identity inherent in coming of age. “It’s to show the different aspects of a girl and her consciousness going through this journey,’’ Shea says. “Every time she eats or drinks, instead of getting bigger or smaller, she changes her identity, her physical being. The effect it has is it paints this mosaic-like portrait of a modern teenage girl and a teenage identity crisis.’’

“Alice vs. Wonderland,’’ Saturday, 2 p.m., 7:30 p.m. $15. Loeb Drama Center, 64 Brattle St., Cambridge. 617-547-8300.

Of course, one of the most iconic scenes from Alice’s story is the Mad Hatter’s tea party.
At the nearby UpStairs on the Square, the popular Saturday afternoon tea sittings might not qualify as “mad’’ per se, but they’re certainly the funkiest in town, says co-owner Mary-Catherine Deibel. It’s not your grandmother’s tea, in other words, although she’ll probably enjoy it too.

“We give you beautiful service, but at the same time, it’s not a super-attenuated kind of English tea, what you think of as kind of snooty,’’ says Deibel. “It’s an organic, wonderful thing. And it’s an affordable way to get an artisanal meal.’’ That meal consists of an assortment of sweet and savory options, like hot dates wrapped in bacon, brown raisin bread with cream cheese, cucumber sandwiches, blini with smoked salmon, lemon tarts, milk chocolate praline turtles, and eclairs. Just don’t be late.

Up Stairs on the Square, 91 Winthrop St., Cambridge. 617-864-1933.

Thursty: Foundry On Elm

At Foundry on Elm, the brasserie-tavern that opened last week in Davis Square, they're covering a lot of territory, both literally and figuratively. The room itself is huge, and plans to open a speakeasy style lounge downstairs and refurbish the adjacent Jimmy Tingle Theater in the coming months will only expand upon that. The 43-foot long Italian marble bar is impressive as well, which is important, because they're going to need ample room to pack in people eager to drink their way through the broad selection of carefully selected cocktails, wines and beers.

Heading up the bar operations is Andy Kilgore, recently of the like-minded Stoddard's downtown and formerly of No. 9 Park. “We've got a lot going on here at the bar,” he says. With 32 craft and artisanal beers on tap, 20 bottles, a rotating cask ale, 25 wines by the glass, and a cocktail list that mixes in old classics with Kilgore's playfully creative variations, that's an understatement.

Since there's nothing else like it in Davis Square at the moment, it seems likely that the college student heavy neighborhood is about to get a jolt in its beer-swilling ways. “I think Davis Square needed something sophisticated,” Kilgore says. Something for people who wanted somewhere else to go besides a beer bar or an Irish pub or sports pub.”

What he's having

“Cocktails are my thing,” Kilgore says. “I was lucky to get in early on the classic cocktail resurgence at No. 9.” One favorite is his Manhattan using Old Grandad bourbon infused with sour cherries. Other cocktails pay homage to the area's rich distilling history, like the Medford Rhum. Made with molasses syrup, Barbancourt Rhum, citrus juice and soda, it makes for a blend of thick, wholesome sweetness with spice from the rum and a touch of acidity.

Foundry On Elm
255 Elm St., Somerville.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Teen Daze

Four More Years

Naming genres of music is a tricky business, but goddamn if they didn't nail it with this chillwave shit. Everything you need to know is right there in the heading: down-tempo, chilled-out electro that pulses in organic waves of noise.

The wave bit can be taken at face value as well; this music may be the product of (usually lo-fi) machines, but it sounds like the tides in harmony with the moon. That's before we even get to synonyms like glo-fi and hypnagogic — the former indicating the bedsit-laptop approach that glows like aural mist, the latter a reference to the state between wakefulness and sleep where these songs seem to have been born. It's a style popularized by the label Arcade Sound Ltd and acts like Washed Out and Millionyoung. But the nebulous, Vancouver-based producer Teen Daze has written the genre's most congenial record to date.

Four More Years is a low-settling haze of keyboard squelches and squiggly bass, with ambient, vaporizing synth hooks that cut through the cold like a beacon. The sparse vocals come through here in echoing washes of '80s electro-pop pining. If it weren't for the mid-tempo synth-beat push on songs like "Around" rooting Teen Daze in the firmament, it'd be easy to hold this record tight to your breast like a helium-filled valentine and float off into the clouds.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Not So Crafty: Despite The Buzz, Craft Cocktails Still Have Boston Converts To Win

Pay attention to this magazine (or just about any local pub covering food and booze), and it seems obvious that the craft-cocktail revolution is in full swing in Boston, right? Think again. Remove the hardcore barfly nerds from the equation, and you'll find the general drinking public and the majority of watering holes around town are still in the dark when it comes to craft cocktails. Many bars don't even have bitters in stock (gasp!) or know how to mix something as obvious as a Manhattan.

You can't blame the lagging bars alone; a lot of them are simply reacting to the demands of their customers. If the bottle of Maraschino is gathering dust because no one has asked for it, then it's easy to forget. Despite all of the attention paid to classic cocktails and creative mixology, people at large still order the first thing that comes to mind when they approach the bar. And let's be honest: it's usually something shitty.

"There is definitely a group of people that are into craft cocktails, but I think the majority of drinkers go with what they know," says Allan Tidd, wine director at Harvest (44 Brattle Street, Cambridge, 617.868.2255).

Justin Ito-Adler of Rocca Kitchen & Bar (500 Harrison Avenue, Boston, 617.451.5151) says he doesn't know whether he would say the majority of people are ordering "shit" drinks as I suggest, adding, "I'm not even sure I am qualified to say what constitutes good versus bad cocktails." But, he agrees, "Most people, unless overtly encouraged, are hesitant to take a risk on a drink."

It is your money, after all. If you want to go into a nice restaurant and order a well-done plain hamburger every time, that's your (boring) prerogative. "You will always have your go-to drinkers who aren't interested in anything else," says Don Wahl, a bartender at Ginger Park (1375 Washington Street, Boston, 617.451.0077). "I often tell people who order mojitos that 1990 called and they want their drink back."

What gives? "Ultimately, the craft-cocktail trend hasn't reached its tipping point," says Augusto Lino, bar manager at Upstairs on the Square (91 Winthrop Street, Cambridge, 617.864.1933). "Mad Men didn't do for the old fashioned what Sex and the City did for the cosmopolitan."

For those of you still living in the dark ages of drinking, the first step if you want to improve your own cocktail acumen is to find bartenders like these whom you can trust. Ask them what cocktail they're excited about at the moment, and try it on a whim.

And just as you would when you're choosing the dishes you want to eat, think seasonally when it comes to drinking, says Bernie Keaveney, a bartender at La Morra (48 Boylston Street, Brookline Village, 617.739.0007). "The season dictates a lot. Peaches, strawberries, mint, and basil, to name but a few, are very prevalent on summer cocktail lists." You'd be amazed at what a difference fresh ingredients make.

Other drinkers simply have to find the gateway cocktail that opens up a wide world of boozy possibilities. Ito-Adler says that "a properly executed sidecar could be a great introduction into classic cocktails because it can assuage the fear some people have about consuming darker liquors, and it demonstrates the balance between sweet and tart found in a number of great cocktails."

Lino suggests the French 75 as a starting point. "If there was one single cocktail that killed the apple martini, it was the French 75. There's something about the perfect sweet-and-sour balance, plus the possibility to drink gin and Champagne at the same time, that is irresistible." A Hemingway daiquiri or an aviation might work as well, he says, and margarita drinkers may want to consider a pisco sour or a caipirinha.

From there you can move on to the serious stuff. "Nothing makes me happier than when I have a lady order a Sazerac or a Negroni," says Wahl. "That's the sign of an educated drinker to me."
The options are endless, so take a chance the next time you roll up to the bar. The payoff will be well worth retiring your watered-down vodka cranberry - I promise.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Airborne Toxic Event

Indie rock band Airborne Toxic Event calls in the Calder Quartet for backup

When the Los Angeles-based indie-rock band Airborne Toxic Event pull into the Somerville Theatre this week, don’t be surprised to find an array of classical instruments on stage. The band, which is touring in support of its new DVD “All I Ever Wanted: Live From the Walt Disney Concert Hall’’ will have a string section, the Calder Quartet, in tow.

Then again, fans of the ambitious band may have become accustomed to their keeping rather musically refined company. After completing a run of 354 traditional rock show dates on the back of their breakout 2008 self-titled debut, and the overwhelming success of their single “Sometime Around Midnight,’’ the band wanted a final performance that would break the mold of what fans have come to expect. The DVD captures the preparations and rehearsals leading up to a December 2009 show that incorporated a high school marching band, a children’s choir, Mexican folk dancers, visual artists, and more into their anthems of indie-rock grandeur.

There was a time not long ago when Mikel Jollett, the band’s songwriter and frontman, didn’t feel like they could, or perhaps should even be able to pull something like this off. In an interview in the film prior to the oversize performance he says: “We’re not an important enough band for a gig like this.’’ Was the widely lauded musician merely being humble? “I meant it. It felt kind of daunting.’’

“I was feeling overwhelmed before the show. It was so much work, it felt very much like an ambitious undertaking to be doing such a large show with 100 different performers, and playing a world-class concert venue.’’

He still can’t believe the show was sold out. “It’s hard for me to wrap my head around it. We only have 39 minutes of recorded material. Our first record is not even very long. It seemed a little bit absurd, but once we got into the planning of it, the point was, for us, our ability to marshal some of the local Los Angeles resources and tap into the talents of the community, and if we could spearhead that effort, then we saw ourselves as servants of that cause.’’

The original idea, when they were approached by the Los Angeles Philharmonic to perform at the venue, was to play as part of a celebration of Los Angeles indie-rock culture. Jollett, a native of the city, didn’t want it to be focused solely on bands like his. “We felt that having a bunch of bands that came up playing [local rock venues] like Spaceland playing at Disney Hall seemed kind of silly.’’ Instead they called upon the area’s high school bands, folk performers, classical musicians, and visual artists to help out. “That was our understanding of Los Angeles culture.’’

Andrew Bulbrook, a Weston native who plays violin in the Calder Quartet, says working string arrangements into the band’s darkly uplifting rock wasn’t too much of a stretch, for both the Disney Hall show and the tour on which his group will support. Bulbrook’s sister, Anna, plays viola in Airborne Toxic Event. His quartet has been playing with the band, whether formally or informally, almost since the beginning.

“The quartet was out in LA, and my sister had started doing this band, so I was going to the shows when it was first starting and they were getting their momentum going. One day they were recording for their first album and they did a set of acoustic videos,’’ he says. Jollett soon asked if they’d like to accompany them. “At the end of the night everyone was buzzing. No one could go to sleep. Something special and magical had happened.’’ It kept growing from there, he says, with the quartet performing with the rock band on multiple television appearances.

While the Calder Quartet is primarily a classically trained group that usually sticks to the likes of Mozart, Hayden, and Beethoven, as well as more experimental classical pieces, this partnership provided a new set of creative rewards.

“It always seemed like it would work,’’ he says. “Afterward it was evident that it made a big impact in the way the songs are written. The strings added a lot, probably because there was a viola player in the band already. By adding a quartet behind that you could fill that out and accentuate that.’’

The groups will attempt to re-create some of that magic when they come together on Wednesday in Somerville, albeit on a much smaller scale. “The idea is to take the Disney Hall show on the road,’’ says Jollett. “We put so much into playing that one night, we practiced for it for so long, and we never toured for it. I think this is just trying to re-create it on tour.’’


Body Talk Pt. 2
“It is really very simple, just a single pulse repeated at a regular interval’’ goes the sample at the start of “Include Me Out.’’ You could say that refers to a lot of the musical arrangements here on the follow-up to the recent “Body Talk Pt. 1,’’ but that’s discounting the intangible magic Swedish pop-goddess Robyn brings with every casual exhalation. Album opener “In My Eyes’’ is a case in point, showcasing the tension-and-catharsis approach Robyn (unlike a lot of lesser imitators) is capable of achieving with her vocals. A slight shift in tone and she blasts the momentum of a simple synth chord progression onto the next joyous level. Danceable, downtrodden songs buoyed by a hint of self-willed confidence are Robyn’s specialty; even when Snoop Dogg shows up on “U Should Know Better’’ — a collaboration that, unlike his work with Katy Perry, doesn’t sound forced. For further evidence, see the glistening, upbeat remix of “Hang With Me’’ — a fragile acoustic ballad from “Body Talk Pt. 1.’’ It’s the type of heartbroken, loop-driven signature Robyn track that was perfected on “Pt. 1’’ with the brilliant “Dancing On My Own.’’ “Just don’t fall recklessly, headlessly in love with me’’ she sings. Whoops, already have.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Marina at new ’Dise offers 2 debuts in 1

UK pop star Marina Diamandis at the newly renovated Paradise rock club. (Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe)

For Boston concertgoers, Wednesday night at the Paradise represented two distinct and much anticipated debuts. A performance from rising UK pop star Marina and the Diamonds marked the grand reopening of the venerable old rock institution after undergoing extensive renovations over the summer. Knocking out a few walls, including the mid-level balconies, and streamlining the flow of traffic through the front of the club made for much improved sight-lines and a larger floor space. (The surly bar service, however, hasn’t been updated.)

For Marina Diamandis and her four-piece touring band, it was their first-ever stop in Boston. The captivatingly quirky and emotionally complex balladeer/pop-diva hybrid had been resoundingly praised in the States leading up to this tour. For a giddy, sold-out crowd she arrived as advertised, gliding through a rambunctious, if rather short set of material drawn from her debut album, “The Family Jewels.’’

Much has been made of Diamandis’s ability to alternate between joyous dance-floor pop and contemplative balladry with the same ease as her voice jumps from a low, throaty husk to fluttering, operatic highs, and the pace of the set didn’t disappoint in that regard.

Songs like “Shampain’’ energized the crowd with a raving, strobe-light pulse, while on the galloping “Girls’’ the band summoned up a charging piano funk. For slower numbers like the sweeping string weeper “Numb,’’ Diamandis took to the piano by herself. Here the distraction of pre-recorded backing vocal tracks that meandered a bit clumsily throughout the upbeat numbers gave way to the singer at her loveliest.

It’s hard to re-create the multitrack harmonies of a record in a live context, but still, it might have been more advisable throughout to leave the heavy lifting entirely to her. She’s certainly up to the task; every song, from the achingly romantic affirmation of human imperfection “I Am Not a Robot’’ to the flagrantly theatrical pop of “Are You Satisfied?’’ were belted with resounding, moving clarity. Nonetheless, with her first Boston date, she’s built an impressively solid foundation. Unlike the old Paradise, there’s only very little room for improvements.

Double Date: Think ink


Check out the artists at the tattoo convention and then sample the squid at nearby restaurants

Now in its ninth year, this weekend’s Boston Tattoo Convention marks its first move outside of the Boston Center for the Arts. A new location at the Sheraton Boston Hotel will give the annual celebration of everything inked-up more space, says convention manager Micah R.O. Litant of Witch City Ink in Salem. “Hotel shows are more centralized. It’s much better having everything, and everyone, in one place.’’

That means easier access to parties, artists’ galleries, and performances like collaborative live painting exhibitions, mixed martial arts fighting demonstrations, burlesque performers, and a Ms. Boston Tattoo contest. Throughout the weekend participants can also enter themselves and their tattoos in categories like best of show and best portrait. The main draw will be the hundreds of artists on hand practicing their work on conventiongoers.

“Some artists book themselves in advance, usually the more well-known ones,’’ Litant says. “But there’s definitely plenty of opportunity for people to walk around, meet the artists, chat with them, and if they want to get a piece done that day there’s always someone available.’’

Boston Tattoo Convention, Sept. 3-6. $20-$70. Sheraton Boston Hotel, 39 Dalton St., Boston.
There’s more than one way to get inked up this weekend. At the nearby Giacomo’s Ristorante they’re serving a squid ink pappardelle with swordfish and tuna in a puttanesca sauce. Chef Richie Talieri says he uses the ink sac from squid to color and slightly flavor the pasta for this popular dish most notable for its artful presentation. “The black ribbons of pasta in puttanesca, purple olives, green capers, and red plum tomatoes make for a really nice color scheme.’’

Bina Osteria offers a squid ink dish as well, with its spaghetti done Sicilian style with lemon, onion, marsala, parmigiano, and cream. “It’s not just the color that makes the pasta stand out, it’s the flavors of the sea that the ink imparts,’’ explains co-owner Babak Bina.

You can also find ink on the menu at Spanish tapas restaurants like Dali. They use squid stuffed in its own ink for dishes like their Chipirones Rellenos. They’re tender, medium-size squid bodies stuffed with tuna fish, chopped onion, garlic, thyme, dried parsley, and hot paprika, braised in a sauce made with onions, garlic, clam juice, white wine, squid ink, bay leaf, and black pepper. “Once people are brave enough to try it, they really love it,’’ says Dali’s Mary Anne Carlson.

Those with tattoos know the feeling.

Giacomo’s Ristorante, 431 Columbus Ave., Boston. 617-536-5723.; Bina Osteria, 581 Washington St., Boston. 617-956-0888.; Dali Restaurant and Tapas Bar, 415 Washington St., Somerville. 617-661-3254,

Mass Brewers Summerfest

MAIN: Gentlemen, start your engines! RIGHT:  Brosseau says the
beers at Summerfest have more in commonwith wine than Bud.

While you can certainly find a decent number of micro-brews on tap at the city’s better pubs, it’s safe to say you won’t see a selection like this anywhere else when the Massachusetts Brewers Guild holds the Mass Brewers Summerfest on Friday. The festival brings 80 local craft beers from more than 20 breweries all together in one place.

“We’ve still got a long way to go, as successful as craft beer has been,” says Guild president Drew Brosseau of Mayflower Brewing Company.

Bigger names like Sam Adams have obviously done very well, he says, but nationwide, craft beer still has less than 5 percent of the market share. Events like this, which will serve as a fundraiser for the Guild, are also designed to help educate people about the small breweries operating right in their own backyards. There is a rich drinking life outside of the hegemony of Budweiser, in other words. Who knew?

Most Boston drinkers are familiar with Harpoon, for example, but perhaps less so when it comes to smaller, quality names like Berkshire, Blue Hills, Cambridge and Cisco, to name a few.
“Events like this are important,” says Brosseau.

They’re partly about introducing people to new kinds of beer, but also about getting people to approach beer differently than they might have before.

“That means thinking about beer more like a complex beverage similar to wine, not just something that you knock back after you get done mowing the lawn,” he jokes.
He still wants you to do that, though.

“The variety now is so incredible that beer can be paired with all kinds of foods or just enjoyed on its own in the way people drink wine. A lot of these craft breweries in Massachusetts have more in common with wineries than with Budweiser.”

Mass Brewers
Friday, 6 p.m.
World Trade Center, Boston
$29-$35, 877-725-8849