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Short Takes: Tori Amos and Yellowjackets give audiences strong sets

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Tori Amos

R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe once asked Tori Amos if he could borrow her audience.

It's no mystery why. Walking into a Tori Amos show is like interrupting a love affair between her and her fans. They adore everything she does and, better yet, they come to listen. Even Rhett Miller, who opened for Amos Sunday night at the Palumbo, remarked on how receptive they were.

Amos spent a busy day in Pittsburgh Sunday, first playing a radio gig for WYEP, but she had plenty left for the stage. She strolled out looking like a gypsy fortune teller and took her place between an assortment of four or five keyboards and her two favorite musicians, bassist Jon Evans and drummer Matt Chamberlain.

They provided heavy muscle on the bottom, playing as if they were in a jazz fusion band, and Amos put the top on it with her sexy siren voice and elegant piano lines. She drew heavily from her new record, "Scarlet's Walk," but didn't leave any of her former records untouched, pulling out favorites like "Cornflake Girl," "God," "Girl" and a version of "Bliss" that shook the rafters.

Among the new songs, "A Sorta Fairytale," "Amber Waves" and "Sweet Sangria" all had a welcome pop drive, and "I Can't See New York," with its poignant subject and Zeppelin-inspired organ, was a showstopper.

Miller was in charge of the rock 'n' roll portion of the evening, and the singer for the Old 97's did it effectively with just his rangy voice, boyish charm, clever songwriting and furious strumming on his acoustic guitar.

Review by Scott Mervis, Post-Gazette Weekend Editor


Fifteen or so years ago, the Yellowjackets moved away from its roots in R&B and toward a more atmospheric, contemplative, esoteric sound.

Don't assume, however, that the L.A.-based jazz group has forgotten how to funk.

The quartet brought its entire arsenal, complete with dazzling technical dexterity, dense compositions and enough chemistry to blow up a lab to Dowe's on 9th for two seemingly too-short shows Friday night. With more of an emphasis on melody than some of the early fusion bands that inspired them, the 'Jackets did more than show off their formidable chops.

"Monk's Habit," a tribute to the late piano legend, offered dissonant backgrounds behind drummer Marcus Baylor's solo, and the ballad "Geraldine" featured a delicate rhythm figure from pianist Russell Ferrante.

Saxophonist Bob Mintzer broke out his Electronic Wind Instrument on the Latin-funk number "Mofongo," playing rapid-fire unison lines with bassist Jimmy Haslip. The highlight of the evening was the tradeoff between Baylor and Haslip on the off-beat "The Evening News."

But even though the Yellowjackets have pretty much abandoned their old repertoire, they surprised the audience with an instrumental encore of "Revelation," a gospel-blues number that the band had originally recorded in the mid-1980s with the vocal group Perri.

"You never know quite what we're going to do next, and that's just the way we like it," said Mintzer.

By Rick Nowlin, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

Edwin McCain

Folk-pop troubadour Edwin McCain goes all-acoustic on "The Austin Sessions," sounding in his better moments like a cross between John Mellencamp and Tom Waits at his least eccentric.

McCain is appearing tonight at Rosebud in support of the album with opener Jeffrey Gaines, whose own new album, "Toward the Sun," is a soulful if low-key affair produced by Mitchell Froom. The show begins at 7:30. Tickets are $16.50 in advance; $18.50 at the door. To order your tickets by phone, call 412-323-1919.

Preview by Ed Masley, Post-Gazette Pop Music Critic

Dance Alloy

Choreographic relationships usually dominate Dance Alloy's "Partners in Dance." And on Friday at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty, Alloy members worked with the spunky teens at "Red, Hot & Rogers" Middle School for the Creative and Performing Arts and assembled a psycho-dance for the University of Pittsburgh group ("Free Floating Anxiety").

Company member Lisa Jones brought along Darby Iva Pack for a creamy duo, "Subconscious Faults," made more impressive by the pair's polished look-alike style. And Labco resurrected Gillian Beauchamp's "A Waltz for Angels and Monsters."

But it was a bittersweet night, a time to reminisce. For this was Alloy artistic director Mark Taylor's final local appearance with the company. And he made it one to remember.

Taylor, who has not danced publicly in years, concocted "Milonga Triste," a solo that was "tongue-in-cheek." It was actually a piece of face choreography where Taylor sat in a chair and provided a pastiche of slowly morphing, rubberized expressions. Who knew that the usually placid Taylor could rival Jim Carrey for a face map of laughter, frustration, anger, happiness and more in this pointed summary of his years with the Alloy?

Taylor was also up to the task in an over-the-topsy-turvy rendition of "Swan Lake, Act II," where his Prince Siegfried was ever so slightly fey and the feminist Swan Queen (Beauchamp) surely capable of her own lifts.

Review by Jane Vranish, Post-Gazette Dance Critic


Karen Huffstodt will sing the role of Chrysothemis in the remaining three performances of Pittsburgh Opera's "Elektra." She replaces soprano Margaret Jane Wray, who has withdrawn due to illness.

Remaining performances take place today, Friday and Sunday at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts. Tickets at 412-456-6666 or online at www.pittsburghopera.org.

(Brian Hyslop)

Squonk Opera

There's a line from a plainspoken folk song that quaintly puts artsy Squonk Opera in perspective: "You are what you are and you ain't what you ain't."

Last weekend at The Rex, during a concert spotlighting the release of the group's new album, Pittsburgh saw the two faces of Squonk. Set 1 was performed in costume and showcased musical excerpts and snippets of storyline from the group's latest production, "Squonk Opera's Inferno," a narrative-laden stage show that moved Squonk clearly into the realm of experimental theater. The second 45-minute set was all about the music. The group toyed with only a few Squonky props and performed out of character, emphasizing music from its nonnarrative Broadway show and including at least one song from the group's 1993 recording debut.

The fact that much of the already thin crowd didn't return for Set 2 said loads. Maybe they had to rush home to relieve their babysitters. Maybe the music crowd wasn't used to the group's theatrical side. Or perhaps the group's artistic pendulum has swung so far to the theater side that its members can't viably perform the theater elements of their own show.

It's too bad the crowd didn't stay. Freed of the thespian duties of communicating through movement, narrative and character interaction, Squonk soared with a big smorgasbord of classical and jazz-inspired music. They were obviously having fun and had no trouble communicating that. New singer Christina Honeycutt sparkled with personality. New bassist Jeff Beck made smart choices from a full range of bass capabilities.

Squonk Opera is an accomplished progressive art band that augments its musical statements with movement and prop comedy. It is not a theater troupe that also plays its own music. As soon as the group, and its audience, get that straight, Squonk will be able to evolve to its full potential.

Review by John Hayes, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

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