Tag Archives: Alena Kastin

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Ryan Adams Thrills at Intimate Rough Trade NYC Show

February 21st, 2017

Ryan Adams – Rough Trade NYC – February 18, 2017

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Ryan Adams celebrated the release of his new album, Prisoners, with an intimate, sold-out show on Saturday night at Rough Trade NYC. Without question, the LP’s subject matter is heavy—it’s a breakup album through and through, and some of the lyrics are stark and painful (“Feel like I’m heading for a breakdown”; “I’ve missed you so much I shiver and I shake”). At times, the juxtaposition of the smiling and swaying crowd with such downtrodden sentiments felt almost subversive. Yet, to watch Adams and his band tear through Prisoners songs like “Do You Still Love Me,” “Haunted House” and “Outbound Train,” it was clear that the music and performance were creating a cathartic way for Adams to continue his healing process.

There was still a feeling of joy in room despite the heavy subject matter, mitigated in part by the buoyant, dynamic music that refused to be dragged down by sadness, often stretching into freewheeling extended jams, peppered with Adams’ intricate guitar solos. He was also mindful to break up any lingering tension between songs, and when he noticed the crowd was very quiet after his rendition of “We Disappear,” the singer-songwriter joked to his band in a stage whisper, “What if they’re texting each other?”

In addition to the new material, Adams and Co. dipped into his prolific back catalog for the second half of the show, treating the crowd to a well-loved songs like “Peaceful Valley,” “Magnolia Mountain” and “Let It Ride,” all from the period during which Adams recorded with his band the Cardinals, as well as more recent material like “Kim,” “Dirty Rain” and “Shakedown on 9th Street.” By the night’s end—following a stunning, jammed-out “Cold Roses” closer—Adams had accomplished the feat of sharing some of his feelings of misery without letting them bring down the mood, and although the crowd may have left with a better understanding of his inner turmoil, there was also the larger sense that Adams will be OK because his music will continue to lift him up. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

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Cate Le Bon Shows The Bowery Ballroom a Good Time

January 27th, 2017

Cate Le Bon – The Bowery Ballroom – January 26, 2017

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Welsh musician Cate Le Bon has a unique sound—a voice not unlike the rich throb of Nico’s, with the addition of some amped-up exuberance and a penchant for jangly guitars. Last night at The Bowery Ballroom, Le Bon and her band brought a focused energy to their performance, highlighting songs from 2016’s Crab Day, as well as crowd-pleasing material from its predecessor, Mug Museum.

Le Bon and her band’s precision and cohesion came through in particular during their version of Crab Day’s “How Do You Know?” a song that culminated with the singer-songwriter staring out at the crowd, rhythmically nodding her head, almost robotically, to the beat, as she and her bandmates strummed a repeated riff, slowing down bit by bit. As the speed decreased, so too did Le Bon, mimicking a machine shutting down and eventually stopping, head and body limply hunched over her guitar. Moments later, she was suddenly upright again, launching into the jaunty “I Can’t Help You” and even letting out a few excited yelps at the end.

After performing some new material and bringing out the night’s opener (and Le Bon’s frequent musical collaborator), Tim Presley, to accompany the band on a few songs, Le Bon treated us to Mug Museum’s “Are You With Me Now?”—an eminently catchy crowd-pleaser that featured lovely backing harmonies from the band. It was a sweet nightcap, and if I had to answer the song’s question based upon crowd response, I’d give it a resounding yes: We are with you, Cate Le Bon. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

 

 

 

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Big Thief Play Sold-Out Hometown Show at The Bowery Ballroom

January 9th, 2017

Big Thief – The Bowery Ballroom – January 7, 2017

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With the release of their well-received first album, Masterpiece, last year, Brooklyn’s Big Thief had a big 2016. On Saturday night, the band played a hometown show at The Bowery Ballroom, treating the sold-out crowd to well-loved songs from their debut as well as new material from a second record that Big Thief frontwoman Adrianne Lenker said is “close.” In a word, Big Thief’s music might best be described as emotional—Lenker channels a great deal of feeling through her evocative voice, ranging from sweet and delicate to plaintive to a near-shout or wail. Songs like Masterpiece’s “Real Love” and “Parallels” each illustrated this emotional landscape, with moments of sadness, anger and yearning simmering beneath Lenker’s voice and lyrics. The new material lingered in the same satisfying emotional sweet spots.

Big Thief also treated the crowd to a performance from special guest Sharon Van Etten, who knows a thing or two about emotional melodies herself, and who joined to sing on some of the new material, beautifully weaving her voice around Lenker’s. At various moments throughout the show, Lenker poked fun at her own guitar-tuning perfectionism, taking short pauses between some songs to ensure she had it just right. But despite her self-awareness, this attention to detail served Big Thief well: Their warm, spare instrumentation, the vivid lyrics and the conviction behind each verse and chorus are what have drawn admirers to them, and why the new album on the horizon stands to resonate with fans once again. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

 

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A Lenny Kaye Birthday Party with Patti Smith at The Bowery Ballroom

December 28th, 2016

Patti Smith and Her Band – The Bowery Ballroom – December 27, 2016

(Photo: Dina Regine)

(Photo: Dina Regine)

Lenny Kaye has worn many hats over the course of his impressive career, including guitarist, songwriter, producer and author—but he is best known for being a founding member of the Patti Smith Group. In tribute to their long and fruitful partnership, they threw Kaye a rocking 70th birthday party last night at The Bowery Ballroom, featuring Kaye and a slew of fellow musicians and friends performing for a sold-out crowd.

Kaye laughed with a sense of disbelief as he prefaced a performance of his song “Crazy Like a Fox,” with the fact that he’d recorded it 50 years ago. As he and the rotating backing musicians, including Tom Clark and Tony Shanahan (also of Patti Smith Group), tore through a set of nostalgic cover songs and originals, Kaye reminisced about growing up in New Jersey, his love of the Lower East Side and his fondness for the opportunity to work with a variety of different artists and genres during his days as a record producer.

Smith later joined the band to perform songs like “Free Money,” “Pissing in a River” and “Mercy Is,” lending her powerful stage presence in tribute to her longtime friend and collaborator. “Hey, Patti,” yelled someone in the crowd. “Tell us a story about Lenny from the old days.” Without missing a beat, she retorted, with a wink, “Those were the new days, these are the old days.” But judging by the great music and big smiles onstage from Kaye and Smith (who turns 70 herself in just a few days), the “old days” seem quite promising. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

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Margo Price Delights The Bowery Ballroom with New Music

November 16th, 2016

Margo Price – The Bowery Ballroom – November 15, 2016

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“The first time I played New York, there were about seven people there,” announced country singer Margo Price from the stage at The Bowery Ballroom last night. Surveying the sold-out crowd that had turned out to see her perform, she smiled and said, “This feels good.” Since the release of Price’s debut album, Midwest Farmer’s Daughter, earlier this year, it’s safe to say there is no going back to the days of sparsely attended shows. Price’s sound, a blend of traditional country music with lyrics that feel decidedly modern, is capped off by her smooth, soaring voice, capturing the raw emotion of her subject matter. Like any legit country artist, the topics of depression and drinking make an appearance throughout Price’s material, most notably on songs like the aptly titled, “Desperate and Depressed,” “World’s Greatest Loser” and “Since You Put Me Down.”

Price and her band fleshed out songs from the album with covers of artists like Merle Haggard, Kris Kristofferson and Karen Dalton, and, as the show fell on the week-anniversary of the presidential election, she made several references and allusions to our current state of politics (for the record, she is, to quote her own song, “desperate and depressed.”) As Price revisited numbers written about some of her darker moments, she maintained an upbeat attitude, offering, “I’m gonna sing a song about the time I went to jail accidentally,” as an introduction to “Weekender.” “Wasn’t the first time, but hopefully will be the last,” she added winking. Closing the show with “Hurtin’ (On the Bottle),” another crowd-pleasing drinking anthem, Price cheerfully jumped down into the audience, singing and dancing along with the revelers, a pure expression of the resilience she clearly seems to find in her music. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

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Omara Portuondo Shows No Signs of Slowing Down in Brooklyn

October 20th, 2016

Omara Portuondo – Brooklyn Academy of Music – October 19, 2016

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Legendary Cuban singer and dancer Omara Portuondo treated last night’s audience at the Brooklyn Academy of Music to a vivacious and spirited performance as part of her 85 Tour, a number which also happens to be her age. Having begun performing in 1940s Cuba, Portuondo has had an accomplished career—accompanying Nat King Cole and participating in the popular Buena Vista Social Club project, among many other accolades.

Addressing the audience in Spanish, Portuondo enlisted pianist and bandleader Roberto Fonseca to translate her greetings to the crowd, and he informed us at the beginning of the show that Portoundo instructed us to “dance, scream and get crazy.” True to her request, she had us out of our seats, swaying and clapping along by the first song, “Lágrimas Negras.” Although a chair was provided for her, Portuondo rarely sat, preferring to subtly shake her hips and clap along to the music as she sang. Portuondo has invited special guests to accompany her on this tour, and clarinetist Anat Cohen and violinist Regina Carter joined the band on several numbers, showcasing their incredible skills and garnering their own standing ovations from the crowd.

After treating us to other such favorites as “La Ultima Noche” and “Guantanamera,” Portuondo and her fellow musicians took their bows, and as satisfied audience members began to stand, stretch and get ready to leave, Portuondo seemed to just be getting started. She sat down in her chair and consulted with Fonseca, inviting audience members to shout out requests for an impromptu encore. Portuondo closed the performance with two favorites, “Dos Gardenias” and “Besame Mucho,” as the crowd obligingly and cheerfully sang along. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

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Big Thief Celebrate Debut Album’s Release at Mercury Lounge

June 6th, 2016

Big Thief – Mercury Lounge – June 5, 2016

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Big Thief, the formidable foursome helmed by Adrianne Lenker, celebrated the release of their cleverly titled debut album, Masterpiece, with a sold-out show at Mercury Lounge last night. After welcoming the crowd and expressing genuine gratitude, Lenker announced, “This is a great moment to be in,” and then the band proceeded to perform the new LP in its entirety, from start to finish. Album-opener “Little Arrow,” an intimate, lo-fi number on the record, focused the audience’s attention, drawing everyone closer as Lenker’s emotive voice lingered in the song’s confessional, stark delivery. The palpable energy that was conjured helped to prime the crowd for release as Big Thief switched gears for the title track, the drums and bass kicking in, and the band settling into a catchy, upbeat groove.

Big Thief performed fiercely, most notably on songs like “Real Love,” featuring Lenker’s screeching guitar solo, and “Interstate,” which she peppered with delicate shrieks during the chorus. The band’s decision to perform their album from start to finish worked exceptionally well, for Masterpiece is a well-paced, cohesive vision—the kind of album that doesn’t warrant skipping from song to song. The material feels both personal and universal in tales of love and memories and dotted with details and evocative images that range from everyday to fantastical. “If you liked what you heard tonight, the record is exactly this,” laughingly commented Lenker at the conclusion of “Parallels,” the final song on the record. “Play the album again!” shouted someone. It might’ve been a joke, but no one in attendance would have objected to another spin of Big Thief’s Masterpiece. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

(Big Thief open for Lucius at SummerStage on 9/23.)

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Lucius Celebrate New Album at Home at Music Hall of Williamsburg

April 1st, 2016

Lucius – Music Hall of Williamsburg – March 31, 2016

Lucius – Music Hall of Williamsburg – March 31, 2016
The stage at the sold-out Music Hall of Williamsburg last night was dressed with a shimmering backdrop proclaiming LUCIUS. Although it was a lovely effect, even without any identifying stage dressing it would be hard to mistake Lucius for any other band—from their songs’ rich harmonies and infectious energy to the distinctive look of singers Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig, with their matching copper-colored hairdos and green cape dresses, Lucius have a unique visual and sonic impact.

Performing the bouncy “Almost Makes Me Wish for Rain,” from their new alum, Good Grief, Wolfe and Laessig stood center stage, facing each other as they belted out the lyrics and pounded on a synth and keyboard. Later, they shifted stage right to share a microphone for the sentimental “Dusty Trails”—which elicited spontaneous audience applause after some especially powerful harmonies—and then moved stage left for a rendition of the intense, dynamic number “Gone Insane,” proving that not only are they talented, but they’re also very democratic with their sight lines.

This democratic spirit continued moments later, when, after a quick costume change, Lucius appeared in the crowd, singing the lively “Almighty Gosh” as they wove in and out through a sea of amazed revelers attempting to capture the moment with their phones.  For those who failed to document the experience digitally, the concert also happened to be filmed for live streaming online, so no FOMO necessary—at least not too much. Of course, for everyone present, it was a treat to witness Lucius live, to hear the intricacies of all those belted harmonies and to sing along. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

Photos courtesy of Pat Tabb | pattabb.com

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LNZNDRF Are Otherworldly Yet Familiar at Mercury Lounge

March 7th, 2016

LNZNDRF – Mercury Lounge – March 5, 2016

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The first thing you may have noticed as LNZNDRF assembled onstage at Mercury Lounge for the first of two sold-out shows on Saturday night was their matching tie-dyed long-sleeve coveralls. With the stage’s backdrop lit to resemble the cover of their self-titled debut album, a large planetary sphere, the band members resembled some sort of scrappy but very chill NASA technicians. The scene set the tone for the music, originally conceived through a whirlwind session of extended musical improvisations by Ben Lanz (of Beirut) and Scott and Bryan Devendorf (of the National).

The resulting album captures snippets of these jams and delves into darker, louder and even spacier territory than what you would likely expect from their other bands. Songs like “Kind Things” and “Future You” contained intricate moments of almost disorientating feedback alongside minimal guitar lines on Saturday night. And Bryan Devendorf’s powerful drumming soon punctuated the lulling, hypnotic quality with the ability to transform the material into catchy head-nodders.

At moments, LNZNDRF brought to mind the likes of New Order, the Jesus and Mary Chain and even Brian Eno (particularly during Lanz’s vocals on “Monument” and “Beneath the Black Sea”). But despite these comparisons, LNZNDRF also seem unconcerned with fitting into any particular sound or style, instead using their live show to channel the loose, experimental atmosphere of those initial jam sessions—an immersive experience, otherworldly yet familiar. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

(Beirut play the Capitol Theatre on 8/1 and Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell on 8/2)

 

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Eleanor Friedberger’s New View on Display at The Bowery Ballroom

February 19th, 2016

Eleanor Friedberger – The Bowery Ballroom – February 18, 2016

Eleanor Friedberger – The Bowery Ballroom – February 18, 2016
Eleanor Friedberger and her band kicked off last night’s show at The Bowery Ballroom with the opening three songs from her third solo album, New View: “He Didn’t Mention His Mother,” “Open Season” and “Sweetest Girl,” a breezy 1970s ambiance cloaking Friedberger’s clever, sharply drawn lyrics. The “new view” referenced by the album’s title is in part a nod to the artist’s relocation in recent years from Brooklyn to the more peaceful surroundings of upstate New York.

In contrast to her new, largely mellow material, Friedberger’s performance of older songs like “Stare at the Sun,” “My Mistakes” and “Roosevelt Island,” each packed with New York City references (sleeping on the train, riding the Cyclone, turning off the TV in the back of a taxi) all felt imbued with a certain frenetic energy. Although she seemed to relish revisiting these songs and memories, Friedberger’s new work is clearly close to her heart,  and she noted that “Your Word” was her favorite and then later added, “This is my other favorite song,” (“Does Turquoise Work?”) dedicating it to brother Matthew, her longtime bandmate in the Fiery Furnaces.

Last night’s crowd also clearly embraced the new material, rapt by Friedberger’s intense, direct delivery of “Because I Asked You” and charmed by the catchy “Cathy with the Curly Hair.” Eleanor Friedberger remains an understated yet engaging performer and an excellent lyrical storyteller, and her new view has also given new dimension to her sound, which we would certainly be happy to take in again. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

Photos courtesy of Charles Steinberg | charlesosteinberg.com

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Julia Holter Is Impossible to Pin Down at Rough Trade NYC

October 26th, 2015

Julia Holter – Rough Trade NYC – October 24, 2015

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Onstage Saturday night at her sold-out show at Rough Trade NYC, Julia Holter opened with “Horns Surrounding Me,” her strong voice evoking a touch of Debut-era Björk, punctuated by flourishes of saxophone, violin and a driving drum beat, and she scanned the crowd with an intense gaze as she sang, as if to make eye contact with as many people as possible. There is a powerful force contained within Holter’s music, with lyrics both straightforward and enigmatic, and a stage persona that oscillates between these extremes. For example, in prefacing “Silhouette,” from her latest album, Have You in My Wilderness, Holter stated matter-of-factly, “At the end I go crazy—like insane.”

To be fair, this manifested in a quite measured, subtle way, through the repetition of layered vocals and violin crescendo, with the true insanity perhaps contained somewhere beneath the surface. Later on, Holter used equally evocative language to describe “Lucette Stranded on the Island,” (“a horribly tragic nightmare song”) and “Have You in My Wilderness” (“another sad song about losing my mind”). So, yes, there is a healthy sense of drama and intrigue contained throughout Holter’s music, and it’s clear why she draws comparisons to experimental artists like Laurie Anderson, Kate Bush and Joanna Newsom.

Yet, it is also understandable why she took offense to a journalist’s recent question about whether “she whistles when she is alone,” as Holter recounted from the stage last night. “How patronizing,” she commented, as if by her lyrics or music style she could be pegged as some sort of whimsical/quirky archetype. Closing the show with a powerful pair of songs, “Betsy on the Roof” and “Sea Calls Me Home,” Holter further proved that her compositions and style of performing are at once singular, strange, beautiful and impossible to pin down. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

 

 

 

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Panda Bear Puts On a Balancing Act at The Bowery Ballroom

October 14th, 2015

Panda Bear – The Bowery Ballroom – October 13, 2015

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The most captivating part of Panda Bear’s performance last night at The Bowery Ballroom (the first of three sold out shows) was not Danny Perez’s incredible video art— mesmerizing as that was, morphing from images of gummy worms to retro cartoon snippets to gyrating women dressed as reptiles—but instead the intricate interplay between Noah Lennox and his musical equipment.

While Lennox may have possessed a modest, unassuming presence as he settled in behind a table filled with his samplers and synthesizers, once he got the elaborate setup humming and began to sing, it became clear that Lennox was masterminding a dizzying process to create his sound. With songs like “Mr. Noah” and “Crosswords,” he sang with utmost focus, simultaneously looping and singing over his own vocals. It’s a unique process that boggles the mind of those less familiar with audio-production techniques, and despite the array of colors and both beautiful and unsettling images projected behind him, it continued to draw attention back to Lennox.

In addition to performing many pieces from his latest full-length release, Panda Bear Meets the Grim Reaper, Lennox performed some rare treats for discerning fans, including “This Side of Paradise” and “Untying the Knot,” from the Mr. Noah EP, as well as “No Man’s Land,” off the Crosswords EP. Up until the very last note of “Surfer’s Hymn,” during the encore, Lennox’s concentration didn’t appear to waver, caught up in the trance of crafting his music live, a balance of great technical skill while still connecting deeply to his songs’ emotional core. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

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Albert Hammond Jr. Takes Center Stage at The Bowery Ballroom

September 22nd, 2015

Albert Hammond Jr. – The Bowery Ballroom – September 21, 2015

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In his tenure as a member of the Strokes, Albert Hammond, Jr. has always been a reliable sight onstage—standing off to the side, a curly mop of hair bent over his guitar. However, performing at a sold-out Bowery Ballroom last night in support of his third solo release, Momentary Masters, he seemed to enjoy distancing himself a bit from his Strokes persona. Confidently standing center stage, Hammond began with “Rude Customer,” singing with a sense of urgency befitting the song’s driving tempo. Perhaps most shockingly, his fingers didn’t even graze his guitar strings until halfway through the next number, “Cooker Ship,” leaving the heavy lifting to his skilled band. It became clear very early on during last night’s show that Albert Hammond Jr. is enjoying the freedom of being center stage.

Of course, Hammond’s Strokes connection cannot be fully forgotten, for many of his songs (“Back to the 101,“Touché,” “Razor’s Edge”) contain the band’s signature melodic, catchy core, although perhaps with a bit less of the Strokes’ snarl and a bit more range and complexity. He also enjoys veering into a more retro, poppy sound, particularly on numbers like “Born Slippy” and “Losing Touch.” Over the course of the night, Hammond seemed to enjoy stretching his showmanship muscles as a lead singer while still taking the time to impress us with his distinctive guitar style—and the best moments managed to highlight a bit of both. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

(Albert Hammond Jr. plays The Bowery Ballroom again tonight.)

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Willie Nelson Brings Rowdy Outlaw Country Music to Brooklyn

August 13th, 2015

Willie Nelson & Family – Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell – August 12, 2015

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Willie Nelson & Family brought outlaw country music to Brooklyn last night, performing for a rowdy, sold-out crowd at Celebrate Brooklyn at the Prospect Park Bandshell. With the opening notes of his 1973 song “Whiskey River,” an enormous Texas state flag unfurled behind the band, a tribute to the artist’s roots. With the Lone Star blazing behind them, Willie Nelson & Family tore through many of his most distinctive hits, including “On the Road Again” and “Always on My Mind,” with a loose, freewheeling energy.

“Let’s do one for Waylon,” announced Nelson, paying tribute to fellow outlaw countryman Waylon Jennings, as he performed “Good Hearted Woman,” encouraging the crowd to sing along during the chorus in a lively call-and-response. Jennings wasn’t the only artist to get a nod from Nelson, who also paid tribute to the likes of Hank Williams with a rendition of “Hey, Good Lookin’,” Merle Haggard with “It’s All Going to Pot” and Tom T. Hall with “Shoeshine Man.” Of course, Nelson, the longtime marijuana-legalization activist, couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do “Roll Me Up” (a song that instructs: “And smoke me when I die”) to an overwhelmingly approving crowd.

Encouraging everyone to clap along, Nelson & Family finished the show with a version of the gospel hymn “I’ll Fly Away” before tossing his hat into the crowd and leaving. With Nelson’s talent and an abundance of outlaw spirit, it seems almost irrelevant to mention that he also happens to be 82, but then it makes him all the more impressive nonetheless, and Brooklyn was that much cooler in his presence. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK

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One More Night with Garrison Keillor in Brooklyn

August 5th, 2015

Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion – Kings Theatre – August 4, 2015

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In anticipation of stepping down as the host of the long-running popular public-radio variety show A Prairie Home Companion next year, Garrison Keillor and his band rolled into Brooklyn’s Kings Theatre last night. As part of their America the Beautiful tour, Keillor treated the crowd to a night of his signature stories and songs, spryly mixing in some Brooklyn-centric jokes and references alongside classic features like his fictitious News from Lake Wobegon. “Brooklyn, for better or worse, has become hip,” commented Keillor as the night began, going on to decry the rising costs of rent (and coffee) and continuing to remark, “So we come as an antidote.”

With his dry humor as a through line, Keillor reminisced about his first trip to Brooklyn, with his father in 1953, and later wondered aloud whether there are garages in Brooklyn. (“In Bay Ridge!” shouted an audience member.) Keillor and his band also wove in a variety of songs throughout the evening, including the gospel piece “Lead Me to the Rock” and folk songs like “The Cheapest Kind” and “Red River Valley.” The audience was especially delighted by the appearance of Keillor’s character Guy Noir, a riff on hard-boiled private detectives (and a staple of the radio show), which last night took aim at the recent controversy of the Minnesota dentist who paid to hunt an African lion.

Fred Newman, whose impressive vocal sound effects are another classic element of A Prairie Home Companion, was also on hand, replicating everything from dolphin calls to exploding buildings to a very realistic rendition of screeching subway brakes—all with nothing more than his own pipes. Although Keillor shared some poignant reflections on his life and career trajectory amid the jokes and music, the tone of this self-described farewell tour was celebratory and lighthearted, the sense of a skilled performer and storyteller enjoying the chance to present his show to the community of fans he has built, while looking forward to the future. —Alena Kastin | @AlenaK