Mac DeMarco brings high-energy slacker rock to Williamsburg

By E.R. Pulgar

Via Allison Stubblebine for WSN

Via Allison Stubblebine for WSN

When you attend a Mac DeMarco show, you probably don’t expect the rising stoner rock demigod to put on an energetic set. Known for his laid-back, heartbroken artistry, DeMarco is best heard when laying in bed and staring at the ceiling for hours thinking about someone who probably isn’t returning your feelings. That being said, during Wednesday’s set at Music Hall of Williamsburg, the atmosphere was anything but.

Openers were garage rockers Happyness and kimono-clad electronic wizard Jerry Paper, both of whom were perfect openers for DeMarco. Paper’s disturbingly trippy visuals and downright strange stage-presence were complements to Happyness’ penchant for warbling guitar, both elements of DeMarco that have helped DeMarco make a name for himself. After riling up the crowd, the man himself appeared and, telling the crowd to “smile on their brothers,” launched into “The Way You’d Love Her,” the opening track off his latest mini-EP.

Contrasting his relaxed persona and his chill, sway-inducing songs was the high energy of the crowd and the band. Even the most relaxed songs almost made for mosh-pits. Relatively laid back “Salad Days” turned into DeMarco shout singing the chorus as his fans sang it back to him, relishing every note. It’s refreshing to see someone truly enjoy performing as much as DeMarco does; it’s comfortable, intimate, and definitely very raw. Just like in his music, he very much lays himself bare onstage, and it’s powerful to watch.

Besides proving his showmanship and frenetically devouring the mic for every song, DeMarco’s relaxed banter with the crowd and his band mates kept the night floating on as the crowd settled, showing how well DeMarco can read a room. His stories are range from hilarious (his bassist receiving an onstage blowjob from a fan) to heartwarming (about his girlfriend taking care of him on tour, which he told before romantically seguing into “A Heart Like Hers,” sung while maintaining eye contact with her from the balcony).

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the show was how well DeMarco deflected every situation that was interrupting the performance. At one point, several condom balloons started flying around the room and he, half-jokingly, popped one and threw it back into a delighted audience while shouting “keep these off my stage and on your motherfucking dicks!” Most notably, during “Together,” several girls got onstage and began to take selfies with the singer and the crowd, receiving several boos and derailing the energy of the set completely. Not one to be upstaged, DeMarco got the girls offstage and proceeded to stage dive for a good ten minutes before jumping back on stage and finishing strong.

Leaving the crowd hungry for more, shouts were heard for an encore performance of “Chamber of Reflection,” arguably DeMarco’s signature song. Peeking out his head from backstage, he brought out his band to an uproar and played the trippy, piano-dominated track as purple lights flooded the stage. Phenomenal closing track aside, DeMarco proved that not only could he cater to fans, but that not even they could take away his stage.

E.R. Pulgar is The Highlighter’s Lead Editor. Email him at epulgar@nyunews.com

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Mac DeMarco’s new release not just “Another One”

By E.R. Pulgar

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Mac DeMarco has become an idol of sorts for every greasy hipster with a heart of gold for being exactly who those greasy hipsters want to become. His pastiche image, despite coming off as crusty, has become an endearing part of his stage persona due to its raw, small-town kind of honesty, a trait that also accompanies his music. The slacker rock king is known to have a penchant for jangly guitar, and after a while you kind of expect more of the same. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing–especially not on his newest release.

“Another One,” a mini-LP, rounds out at no more than 23 minutes, but it’s an absolute punch to the gut for every second. This gentle assault on the senses starts out in typical DeMarco fashion: a jumpy, chugging guitar riff that should segue into a happy song, but “The Way You’d Love Her” is anything but, with DeMarco’s whispery voice beckoning you to chill in his sad, honest universe. The enticing juxtaposition of depressing lyrics with a happy instrumentation is the string that ties this album together so nicely, although it’s something longtime fans will probably expect.

DeMarco’s evolution instrumentation wise has not evolved much; “No Other Heart” hearkens to “Dreaming” a song from his album, “2.” Despite this seeming crutch, it makes the album stronger because of the resonance of his lyrics. This is a grown up, insecure, and deeply melancholic DeMarco, one even more eager to split his soul in half for the listener to understand his pain. You can almost imagine a tear falling from the buck-toothed troubadour’s eyes as he sings about being betrayed by a lover (“A Heart Like Hers”) or imagining life without his love (“Without Me.”)

The two aforementioned songs are standouts, but nothing can really compare to the title track, it’s melancholic piano run and light guitar blares perfectly capturing the melancholic nature of the album. The lyrics are even more heart wrenching: “Feeling so confused, / don’t know what to do, / afraid she might not love you anymore.” Despite the album title being a bit of a tongue-in-cheek for DeMarco releasing another work, another semblance of the sense of humor expected of the singer, the chorus of the actual song reveals “Another One” as the other man his significant other loves. It’s a heartbreak anthem for anyone that’s ever been cheated on or dumped because affections shifted, all told through twanging guitars and stoner-rock vibes.

“Another One” does have slow moments, such as the absolutely forgettable “Just to Put Me Down,” which features one lyric repeated ad nauseum to no particular effect, but that doesn’t stop it from ending on a strong note. The intimate “My House by The Water” is a 180 from his style; dominated by the soothing sound of waves splashing and a melancholy piano run at about the 30 second mark, this could easily be mistaken for an instrumental nature track. Then comes the ending, where DeMarco releases his address, and welcomes the listener to come over sometime for a cup of coffee. For those in New York, that’s a train ride away, and it’s probably worth the trek to drink some Hot Roast with the man himself and ask him who the hell broke his heart to such an extent. “Another One” might be one more LP in the list of countless heartbreak-inspired collections, but it’s definitely one of the finer, shorter, and more intimate on that list.

E.R. Pulgar is The Highlighter’s Lead Editor. Email him at epulgar@nyunews.com

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Why Not Opera: A Behind-the-scenes look at the “The Marriage of Figaro” in Sydney, Australia

By Dakshayani Shankar

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Why are behind the scenes tours of the biggest opera productions in the iconic Sydney Opera House so wildly sought after?

Well, you are graced with the opportunity to walk over the red carpet draped across the marbled floors—the first step to your transformation from opera audience—member to true opera connoisseur or fabulous star. Then, you can either choose to float around the wig-makers, the make-up artists or the set designers, uncovering the roots of glamorous productions such as Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figaro.” Plenty of choices within a 90 minute time-slot. So what’s the most interesting aspect of this tour, then?

Personally, I would say the set transformations of the actual opera production. During the behind-the-scenes tour for “The Marriage of Figaro,” I was afforded the chance to witness revamps of each Act’s set under thirty seconds. I initially basked in the opulence of Act Three’s set – Grecian-styled deco with touches of Classicism from long cream-specked beams and open doors, entwined in oranges to meticulously arranged bookcases. A few seconds later, Assistant Director of the opera, Andy Morton and lighting genius, Phil began their slow chant of codes; each unique code unlocking a set of instructions to change one aspect of the set quickly, such as C947 symbolizing the movement of the transparent curtain to close off the stage. Luckily for us, unlike the audiences who are greeted with a curtain for set changes, we saw every transformation in detail, ranging from lighting changes to dark blue to signify the night, to the disappearance of the bookshelves in place of a patio for Act 4’s flamboyant party scene.

act 3's transformation to Act 4

Morton explained individual set detail changes so beautifully that I found it quite difficult to not be enraptured by them. A classical opera and theatre lover by nature, it was extremely hard for me to plant myself firmly onto the gold-gilded seats without running off to the stage to participate in this operatic Disneyland-esque magic.

If my response on the set design hasn’t convinced you enough on the alluring nature of the Opera Houses’ behind the scenes tour, perhaps the clothing and make-up sessions might persuade you more.

Racks of lavishly seamed costumes, worn by notable opera singers, such as Turandot’s Lisa Lindstrom in older productions, were placed opposite an exhibition of the current seasons’ costumes. While you try on the tightly cinched red corseted gown from Bizer’s “Carmen,” hand-fitted by the Opera House’s costume designers, you could look upon the magnificent gowns worn by “Don Carlos “and “The Marriage of Figaro’s” leads on display. A dazzling once in a lifetime opportunity at hand!

Current Season's Exhibition

Not interested in gowns? Fear not – you could choose from hats, scarves, breeches, corsets, jackets, ties, coats and separate pieces, fashioned for a variety of periods for men and women. Against a glass backdrop showcasing Sydney’s azure blue waters, it would be foolish not to try on a costume, take a picture and pretend to belong to the gossip-fuelled worlds of these operas, most especially the lascivious world of the character, Figaro from “The Marriage of Figaro.”

For those whom love a hands-on theatrical experience with dashing and beautiful operatic leads, the personal Q and A experience serves a delicious dish of vocal exuberance and looks. During the Marriage of Figaro’s behind the scenes tour, the robust David Parkin strided onto stage alongside Conductor, Anthony Legge, explaining how operatic pieces took 6 months to prepare before breaking out into a euphonious and richly textured performance of one of the crucial arias in “The Marriage of Figaro.”

However, here’s where the deal gets sweeter. You see, operas like “The Marriage of Figaro” involve either male or female leads seducing each other through song.

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However, behind-the-scenes participants are extended the opportunity to act as either the male or female lead accompanying the singer for this intense dance of seduction. In my tour, multiple girls hands shot up, with one lucky flame-haired beauty running onto stage to sit next to Dr.Bartolo, the hunky lawyer Parkin portrays. As he danced, hugged, sang and even sweetly kissed her on the cheek whilst she tagged along to Legge’s instructions, the operatic experience metamorphosed into a star-studded escapade, oozing with love and charm.

Although I wasn’t chosen, I wasn’t fussed, excitedly anticipating the crucial Q and A after the aria performance. Comprising of Parkin, Legge and Morton, the Q and A allowed us to ask as many questions as we wanted that the ensemble had to answer. Questions ranging from, “How do you learn to sing in Italian?” to “How did you remake Mozart’s opera to fit the contemporary audience” filled the anxious gaps in the majestic Joan Sutherland Theatre. A form of closing the 90 minute time-slot, the Q and A is the event any newcomer to opera shouldn’t miss. It’s your only chance to understand all the intrinsic paths you can meander through to bask in the operatic world.

make-up session with current season cast of The Marriage of Figaro

Operas are typically expensive and are hard to encounter. However, pay up $15 and you get 100 percent of the operatic experience those luxurious A Reserve Stallers hang in. Plus, you can sit in their $299 sits for $15. Still not interested? How about this – you try it for $15 and open your mind up to a surrealistic experience you probably won’t experience too frequently.

 Dakshayani Shankar is a contributing writer. Email her at entertainment@nyunews.com

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Movement Electronic Music Festival: A Photo Essay

By Lola Izola

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Review: “Fun Home”

by Caroline Cunfer

via Joan Marcus

via Joan Marcus

Alison Bechdel’s relentlessly sincere memoir adapts into musical form like her tragicomedy graphic novel, “Fun Home,” and the Circle in the Square Theater were meant to be. In a stunning translation of the non-linear structure of the novel,  director Sam Gold and choreographer Danny Mefford beautifully orchestrate the interaction of the three Alisons, each representing the cartoonist at a different point in her life.  Bechdel’s unconventional sort of detective story is built upon the complications of memory as she tries to confront her relationship with her late father.

The stage functions as the Bechdel’s unstable home; actors move furniture around revealing its unsteady nature, yet Alison’s father, Bruce Bechdel (a brilliant and mesmerizing Michael Cerveris,) is adamant about keeping his home polished, pristine, and without a trace of the present chaos.  We soon find out his obsession with the museum-like appearance of his antiquated home mirrors his need to maintain his own facade that, although Alison makes attempts to dismantle, remains rigid and distorted. Amongst the polished silver and lavish wallpaper is an undercurrent of deception and falsehood as Bruce frantically masquerades the inner tumult afflicting his entire family.

The charged staging decisions are subtle until the moment of epiphany when their significance emerges and you stand dumbfounded at the purposeful and important implications. Squares of light resembling comic book scenes appear, furniture seamlessly moves in and out of trap doors as memories overcome Alison and then promptly exit, reflecting her reluctance to trust memory.

“Fun Home” is the Bechdel’s nickname for the family’s funeral home, and reflects the Bechdel’s oddly desensitized relationship with a death. When Alison is just a young girl, her father casually calls her over to the corpse he’s working on to ask her to hand him a pair of scissors, and Alison attempts to make sense of the intention behind her puzzling first encounter with a dead body. In a later scene, Small Alison and her younger brothers pop out of a coffin and perform a commercial for their “Fun Home” (“In our hearse there’s a backwards seat”) in the spot-on spontaneity and silliness of childhood.

Sydney Lucas embodies a fun-loving and spunky Small Alison with extreme depth and honest, raw emotion.  In “Ring of Keys,” Lucas  portrays Small Alison in an intimate moment of self-discovery, understanding, and youthful infatuation as a butch delivery woman enters a luncheonette she and her father are eating in.

Fast forward (or backwards) to Alison’s first year at Oberlin where we meet Joan, a wry and self-possessed classmate played by a brilliantly dry Roberta Colindrez who soon becomes Alison’s first girlfriend. “He didn’t send you a book on Toulouse Lautrec” she observes point-blank when Middle Alison speculates her father sent her “Colette” in response to her interest in French art.  After they spend the night together, a radiant Emily Skeggs in baggy white underwear accesses her feelings for Joan for the first time in an unembellished musical moment.

String-dominant, rambling and bouncy music by Jeanine Tesori courses through the performance, Lisa Kron’s lyrics heavy and the closest musical theater can get to resembling a conversation. Poignant lyrics simply and honestly express the inner-workings of a revelation, the bubbling fledgling emotions of a first love, or a trepidatious urge.

The chilling and syncopated “Telephone Wire” is Alison’s last attempt to connect with her father; a few days later he kills himself by stepping in front of a truck. A compelling Beth Malone creates a tragically beautiful moment as she tries to relive the memory, reproaching herself for not being able to say something.  Alison painfully tries to come to terms with this last conversation with her father, in disbelief that they were never able to connect.  (“There’s a moment I’m forgetting where you tell me you see me.”)

Bold, precious, and unparalleled, “Fun Home” fearlessly tells a story of truth, discovery, disjointed relationships, and the complex power of memory. It is now playing an open-ended run at the Circle in the Square Theater.

Caroline is Theater/Books Editor. Email her at ccunfer@nyunews.com

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Humor and technology shine at BookCon 2015

by Audrey Deng

by Audrey Deng

by Audrey Deng

Book lovers and media personalities from around the world met at the Javitz Center in New York City for the annual Book Con.

This year, Book Con celebrates books in and of the media. Among the notable figures was Mindy Kaling (“The Mindy Project,” “The Office,” “Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me?”), who launched the weekend of books with a discussion of her new book “Why Not Me?” with B.J. Novak (“The Office,” “The Mindy Project,” One More Thing). Kaling’s latest book is a candid snapshot of stardom and celebrity, including phrases like “Your natural hair color may be appropriate for your skin tone, but this isn’t the land of appropriate–this is Hollywood, baby. Out here, a dark-skinned woman’s traditional hair color is honey blonde.” Later, a moustache-less Nick Offerman (“Parks and Recreation”) presented to audiences “Gumption: Relighting the Torch of Freedom with America’s Gutsiest Troublemakers,” his list of great Americans, turned into a book. Shortly afterwards, fellow “Parks and Recreation” cast member Aziz Ansari debuted Modern Romance, a humorously scientific book on the contemporary woes of love (emojis, Tinder, and more). The book tracks the trajectory of technology and romance, using research from focus groups, Reddit and interviews with people from Tokyo to Wichita. Ansari collaborated with N.Y.U. sociology professor Eric Klinenberg on this book.

Author John Green and actor Nat Wolff made appearances as the faces of the upcoming feature film, “Paper Towns.” “Paper Towns,” a story based on the book of the same title, is a tale of cautiously reckless adventurism premiering on July 24. The other book to take its turn in theaters is the book Room, a story of domestic abuse told through a child’s eyes.

Also present in smaller conferences was YouTube personality Grace Helbig, actress Felicia Day, actor Taye Diggs and standup comedian Judah Friedlander. On Sunday, the last day of the conference, actor Jason Segel (“How I Met Your Mother”) will discuss “Nightmares! The Sleepwalker Tonic.” Justine Ezarik of iJustine will join Shane Dawson and other vloggers to discuss their transitions from video blogger to author. Also present will be Judy Blume to discuss her new book, “In The Unlikely Event,” based on true events which took place in the 1950s. Oscar-winning actress Julianne Moore will discuss crafting children’s books with acclaimed illustrator Brian Selznick.

Book Con 2015 is hosted at the Javitz Center until May 31.

Audrey Deng is the Entertainment Editor. Contact her at entertainment@nyunews.com.

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Review: “Iowa”

By Caroline Cunfer

via Joan Marcus

via Joan Marcus

Iowa at Playwrights Horizons takes the shape of a modern mosaic crafted from zany pieces that just don’t fit together.  The musical play, with music by Todd Almond and lyrics by Almond and Jenny Schwartz, is an absurdist and audacious production that ultimately leads the audience asking themselves “what happened?”

Iowa (billed as iOW@) begins as mother Sandy (Karyn Quackenbush) tells her daughter, Becca, a fine Jill Shackner who at moments nails the stubborn and excitable authenticity of a 14 year-old, that they are moving to Iowa to live with her cyber-boyfriend, Roger. Their estranged conversation unravels as Sandy simultaneously skypes with Roger, who loudly interjects from the computer screen to interrupt Sandy’s unbridled monologue.

Playwright Jenny Schwartz succeeds in conveying a frenzied state of mayhem, her frantic monologues artfully written and riddled with spontaneity, wit, and humorous attempts at internet lingo. But the subject matter is often bold, relatively offensive, and reminiscent of cringe-worthy black cards from Cards Against Humanity that straddle the fine line between humorous and highly insulting.

“Should I be worried? Hashtag,” Sandy says as she contemplates whether or not burnt food causes cancer. Her monologue unwinds in the style of “If you Give a Mouse a Cookie,” one buzzword prompting a round-a-bout new train of thought that adds to her highly un-PC soliloquy (Oh, my burqa arrived from Amazon!…Do I have to wear my becca (burqa) when I spin?”)

But other than the understanding that Becca and her mother will be moving to Iowa, the rest of this musical play is anything but cohesive and comprehensible. Other characters include cheerleaders, a singing pony, a cult of multi-ethnic Nancy Drews, and sister wives in matching pastel dresses.  And while Magritte may succeed in creating a a masterpiece from a mismatched collection of objects, Iowa‘s bizarre grab-bag does not resonate. It’s so overwhelmingly  difficult to discern a plot or a meaning behind the noise that one gives up from exhaustion.

That haphazardness of “Iowa” verges on experimental theatre, or perhaps it blatantly is. Schwartz places the audience in a state of confusion so disorienting that I questioned whether or not I was actually conscious. And while this whirling state of chaos may be the intent of the show, it was not an enjoyable state to be in.

Schwartz’s knack for clever dialogue does often shine through the mayhem, a highlight being her clever references to Nancy Drew that drew a giggle from those as devoted to the titian-blonde teenage detective as young Becca is: “Later ‘gator. Off to the haunted mansion,” “Is it true about the moss-covered mansion?” “Celebrity’s a bee-yotch. And Ned won’t leave me alone!”

Another diamond in-the-rough is the gorgeous set by Dane Laffrey that is exposed at the end of the play when Sandy and Becca finally arrive in Iowa. The fields and farmhouse à la Bridges of Madison Country appear to jump out of the backdrop as the gorgeous sky changes from vivid turquoise and lime, to blue and yellow, to purple and magenta (spectacular lighting by Tyler Micoleau.)

Perhaps “Iowa” is a disorienting commentary on the plight of modernity and the fact that instead of being progressive, what we consider to be advancements are actually regressive and backwards. As well as the fact that we are losing the ability to effectively communicate and connect with others, because “Iowa” certainly already has (distraught face.)

Caroline Cunfer is the theater/books editor. Email her at ccunfer@nyunews.com.

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