in performance: festival of the bluegrass

NewTown: Jr Williams, Kati Penn, Travis Anderson and Mitchell Cannon.

It doesn’t matter how glorious the music becomes or how blissful the outdoor setting might be. Being a patron at a music festival in the rain can be an exercise in misery.

Given Friday’s near ceaseless showers, some compromises became necessary for a visit to the Kentucky Horse Park for the Festival of the Bluegrass.

That meant a later than usual arrival time (apologies to evening opener Turning Ground) and an earlier than expected departure (sorry, headliner IIIrd Tyme Out). But the climate control also brought about an unanticipated opportunity to view exclusively two 80 minute sets by a pair of Kentucky acts that made braving the elements worthwhile.

When Dave Adkins took to the stage around 7:45 p.m., the rains were subdued but steady, so the Elkhorn City singer faced an uphill battle. Full of country boy vigor and a deep tenor vocal command that sported a gutbucket bottom end, the singer presented himself as something of a vintage country jukebox.

His 18-song set may have been bluegrass in its instrumental design. But the repertoire went reeling through vintage country eras beginning with an animated take on the 1965 Harlan Howard-penned Lefty Frizzell hit “(She’s) Gone, Gone, Gone.” It quickly worked backward. The hit parade then hit the ‘50s (Roy Acuff’s “Once More”) and even the ‘40s (Bill Monroe’s take on the gospel confessional “Cryin’ Holy Unto the Lord”).

But the lead inspiration in Adkins’ set was clearly Merle Haggard. Adkins went to the well for three late ‘60s Hag staples – “Sing Me Back Home,” “Today I Started Loving You Again” and, best of all, the giddiest take on “The Fugitive” you’re likely to hear without electric instrumentation.

There were a few instances where Adkins’ sheer jubilance got the better of him, making his booming vocals seem a touch overcooked. But his good-natured performance demeanor and expansive understanding of making vintage country songs thrive in a traditional bluegrass setting nicely compensated.

The rains subsided when NewTown followed with a radically different jukebox strategy. Like Adkins, the band – fronted by Lexington-based fiddler Kati Penn and husband, banjoist and co-vocalist Jr Williams – didn’t favor original material. But NewTown’s collective ear for outside music has proven especially keen in establishing its considerable stylistic, instrumental and vocal dexterity. Curiously, the source material came largely from a team of contemporary writers led by Lawrence County Americana sensation Tyler Childers for a sound that often possessed a traditional air. And by traditional, we mean music that it bypassed bluegrass’ regional roots in favor of the music’s overseas ancestry.

There were numerous instances Friday evening when Penn’s fiddle lines exhibited an antique and almost Celtic flavor. There were even more song examples (Martin Gilmore’s “Laura Lee” being one) where ancient imagery boldly upheld the rustic instrumentation. No wonder NewTown’s most recent album was titled “Old World.”

The defining moments of the 16-song set came early when Penn and Williams guided NewTown through three masterful Childers tunes intercut with a sublime take on the late Guy Clark’s “Dublin Blues” (one of the more human snapshots of Ireland offered by an American songsmith). The brewing destitution in the aptly titled “Hard Times,” sung with chilling candor by Williams, was quickly established by a Childers-penned checklist at the song’s onset (“I bought a house at the mouth of the holler, a ring at the pawn shop and a crib for the kid”). Then came the Clark tune, followed by Penn’s dizzying take on “The Crows and the Jakes” and the sobering, ancient tones of “Harlan Road” (which served as the title tune to a 2016 NewTown album)

Fortifying all this was an ensemble sound that revealed itself though taught, efficient instrumental breaks until “Gonna Take a Train” allowed all five band members extended solos that veered outside bluegrass convention into more jazz-like fields of improvisation.

It was a splendid outing by a Kentucky band that sounds more engaging and adventurous every year at the Festival of the Bluegrass.

With that, we bid adieu for the evening. Good thing, too. Within minutes of Newtown’s stage exit, the skies opened again.

dr. john, 1941-2019

Dr. John (Mac Rebennack).

It was in the early 1970s, on that great televised seminar of contemporary music known as “Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert,” that I was introduced to Dr. John.

Initially, he was a name among many – one of those artists a pre-teen kid was supposed to know about if he was serious about his devotion to rock ‘n’ roll. Well, here Dr. John was, making a house call to my living room TV dressed in layers of scarves and necklaces, tossing glitter in the air, playing piano like a rock-funk renegade and singing like the voodoo shaman he very much envisioned himself to be. In another month or two, Dr. John, born Mac Rebennack, would be all over rock radio with a blast of New Orleans funk called “Right Place, Wrong Time” and again a few months later with the vastly sunnier follow-up “Such a Night.”

The album those singles came from, 1973’s “In the Right Place,” was my first Dr. John record purchase. But what it became was a passport to the city of New Orleans and the world of music it contained. This wasn’t the Dixieland/Al Hirt jazz my father’s generation viewed New Orleans music to be or even the Jelly Roll Morton-schooled ragtime and swing that serious jazzers considered as the defining voices of Crescent City music. No, Dr. John was different. His music was darker, thicker and, in every purposeful way, trippier – hence the addendum to his performance moniker: The Night Tripper. As such, “In the Right Place” was a new-generation New Orleans summit that featured the city’s premier song stylist Allen Toussaint as producer and co-keyboardist and its coolest funk troupe, The Meters, as the record’s primary band. It was outrageous – an 11-song road map through the more subterranean, voodoo-infested avenues of Crescent City funk that sounded unlike anything I had heard.

But the enduring magic of Dr. John, who died Thursday at the age of 77, was how vast his musical reach was. In subsequent decades, he would cut albums of Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong compositions, pop standards and solo piano meditations while gigging with everyone from The Band (he sang an uproarious “Such a Night” for “The Last Waltz”) to Art Blakey.

Still, nothing satisfied more than when Rebennack was in full Dr. John mode, whether it was though the seven Atco albums cut between 1968 and 1974 that shifted from heavily psychedelic variations on New Orleans funk (the 1968 debut “Gris-Gris”) to scholarly nods to Crescent City forefathers like Professor Longhair and Huey Smith (1972’s “Gumbo”) or forgotten later albums like “City Lights” (1978), “Creole Moon” (2001) and the Dan Auerbach-produced “Locked Down” (2012).

I got to interview Dr. John twice ahead of Lexington concerts in 2009 and 2015. His mood was strikingly different during the conversations, although his demeanor was consistently polite.

The 2009 interview came four years after Hurricane Katrina and the floods that erupted in its aftermath had forever changed the face of his homeland. Infuriated that the rest of the country had mistakenly thought New Orleans had magically healed itself from the wreckage, Rebennack released an album called “City That Care Forgot” that embraced the resilience of those who continued to work through the devastation of Katrina.

“Let’s put it this way,” he told me in 2009. “I ain’t giving up. We’re a people of a good spirit. These are people I trust with my life. They’re resilient.”

His tone was lighter in 2015, when the New Orleans inspiration that created such a variety of depth and color in his music, seemed almost redemptive in its intensity, as was his optimism at still being able to perform in his early 70s. The word he used repeatedly to describe his touring band, his audience reception and his entire sense of performance vigor was “slammin’.”

“I think that no matter what you go through in life, you got to roll,” he said in 2015. “You got to roll like a big wheel in the Georgia cotton fields.”

in performance: todd rundgren

Todd Rundgren. Photo by Lynn Goldsmith.

Todd Rundgren may be one of the very few pop/rock stylists with an extensive artistic career for whom the concept of a retrospective concert program is a novelty. Even the greatest survivors of the 1960s still touring with an ounce of performance credibility and drive tend to favor the familiar. Rundgren, ever the experimentalist, only sporadically looks to the past onstage. In recent years, his concerts have favored evenings full of new music, from the garage rock essentials explored on the 2008 album “Arena” (which he played in its entirely on a subsequent tour) to a 2013 repertoire that discarded his more accessible music for the electronica saturated songs from the completely divergent “State.”

So it was a curiosity that Rundgren, 70, reverted to a somewhat more audience friendly format on Wednesday evening at the Taft Theatre in Cincinnati. The evening flipped the philosophy of recent tours by forsaking new material to focus on his extensive back catalogue of pop, soul, rock and prog delicacies. As the current tour is a tie-in promotion to his recently published autobiography “The Individualist” (which was also the title to a his sublime 1995 solo album), Rundgren interspersed the early portion of the program with stories and anecdotes from his 50-plus year career (including a labeling of the clavinet as “a sissy hybrid of keyboard and guitar”). The summation, he jokingly but accurately stated, was a concert presentation that was “all about me.”

For longstanding as well as novice fans, all this translated into Nirvana. Having a band full of longtime pals (Utopia bassist Kasim Sulton, Cars keyboardist Greg Hawkes and Tubes drummer Prairie Prince) at his side and his own durable level of stage stamina at his disposal, this was a program that seemingly couldn’t miss. Sure enough, it didn’t.

You don’t appreciate the sense of efficient pop songcraft that has always been a Rundgren trademark until you hear him perform three of his earliest and most popular singles – “Hello It’s Me,” “We Got to Get You a Woman” and “I Saw the Light” – in quick succession as he did near the show’s onset. But you also have to understand the eccentricities of the many stylistic offramps Rundgren’s shows have traveled through the years to realize just how rare such an obvious grouping of songs in his concerts can be. As an audience icebreaker, the tunes proved endearing. As an insight to the career story Rundgren was telling, they were pivotal.

While hearing the hits appeased the masses, it was the many comparative obscurities Rundgren uncorked that painted a fuller, more uncompromising career portrait. Perhaps none were more unexpected that “Fair Warning,” a blast of Philly soul laced with psychedelia, and “Eastern Intrigue,” an aptly named intercontinental slice of pop spiritualism, that nicely blurred the lines between abstract and accessible. Both tunes were pulled from one of Rundgren’s most overlooked albums, 1975’s “Initiation.”

There was also ample rock ‘n’ roll that showed off some still-vital guitar musicianship (“Black Maria,” “Black and White”), a stunning a cappella pronouncement sung with Sulton and co-guitarist Jesse Gress (“Honest Work”) and a neatly orchestrated affirmation that was perhaps the evening’s most lovely and complete pop presentation (“Kindness”).

All in all, a retrospective evening that was fun enough for to satisfy an audience’s basic appetite and, hopefully, the greater creative need of the pop individualist at the helm. It was, as Rundgren states at the end of his autobiography, a “balance between what I wanted to say and what I would be expected to reveal.”

in performance: paul mccartney

Paul McCartney performing last night at Rupp Arena. Herald-Leader staff photo by Alex Slitz.

Paul McCartney had the sold-out audience of 19,000 before him sized up pretty well as his tireless and irrepressibly fun concert headed into the home stretch Saturday evening at Rupp Arena.

Noting that performances of his Beatles classics usually triggered “a galaxy of stars” through the glow of cell phones from eager fans while the delivery of new songs amounted, in terms of expectation and interest, to “a black hole,” he unapologetically launched into “Fuh You,” the third of three tunes from his 2018 album “Egypt Station.”

Maybe the audience showed a sliver of sympathy for the seemingly orphaned tune or perhaps they were taken by the its bright pop melodicism which sounded like the direct descendent of a Beatles gem. Regardless, the cell phones came out and lit up Rupp like a Christmas tree.

My guess is something different – specifically, that the Rupp crowd took Sir Paul’s bait and illuminated the tune after the rock icon’s none-too-subtle hint.

The moment was one of many highlights in an evening that was, from beginning to end, a marvel. But it proved especially insightful in explaining what made the performance so special. It underscored how the concert, for all its unavoidably nostalgic lure, didn’t stay buried in the past. Oh sure, the better part of the program – a stunning setlist of 37 songs delivered in a 2 ¾ hour performance with no intermission – went heavy on Beatles favorites as well as popular relics from McCartney’s ‘70s albums with Wings. But there were also surprises. Lots of them.

For starters, there was “Letting Go,” a gritty, hook heavy slice of forgotten rock ‘n’ roll from Wings’ 1975 album “Venus and Mars” that ushered in a three-man horn section. The trio entered not from backstage, but down the lower arena stairs and played the entire tune in the lap of the audience.

Later came “I’ve Got a Feeling,” a similarly gritty (and overlooked) mid-tempo rocker from the Beatles’ 1970 swansong album “Let It Be” that still reveals an earthiness in tempo and groove. It was also cool to hear guitarists Brian Ray and Rusty Anderson, along with drummer Abe Laboriel, Jr. (who proved a powerhouse player, vocalist and all-around spirit for the entire performance) taking over the refrain originally sung by John Lennon.

Equally unexpected was “Queenie Eye,” a comparatively recent entry off of McCartney’s 2013 solo album “New” that, like “Fuh You,” was delivered with a keenly retro sense of fun spearheaded by the headliner’s natural sense of playfulness.

As for McCartney directly, he remains something of a wonder onstage. Two weeks shy of his 77th birthday, he looked fit, sang with surprisingly unblemished gusto (yes, a few cracks of age appeared, but nothing more than what most rock singers half his age reveal in performance) and flowed with the program’s length and drive as it were a casual stroll. A testament to his stamina was the encore segment, which had him ripping through a reserved but still immediate version of “Helter Skelter,” one of the Beatles’ most savagely electric works, after navigating a full 2 ½ hour set. McCartney didn’t look even remotely winded afterward either.

Undoubtedly the biggest audience expectation of the evening was how such a master song stylist would do justice to one of the most honored song catalogues in rock and pop history. To that end, McCartney didn’t disappoint, from the show opening glee of “A Hard Day’s Night” to an eloquent solo reading of “Blackbird” to a lean and effectively rootsy “Love Me Do.”

Curiously, the most poignant moment of the performance didn’t even involve one of McCartney’s own songs. Instead it was a take on late bandmate George Harrison’s “Something.” It began with an almost ragtime-ish feel on solo ukulele (a favored instrument of Harrison’s) before McCartney and the full band slowed the song to its familiar ensemble arrangement as a parade of video screen photos featuring the two Beatles, ending with a series of them laughing together in a studio, illustrated the memorial.

The concert concluded as it began with, coyly enough, the “Abbey Road” non-hit coda tune “The End.” A recorded snippet of the song brought McCartney to the stage. A full performance version sent the audience home with its lone verse reading like a time-honored mantra.

“And in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” Those are words that defy age and trends to enforce a sense of pop affirmation McCartney’s program overflowed with.

leon redbone, 1949-2019

Leon Redbone. Photo by Patricia De Gorostarzu.

To appreciate the sensibility of a performer like Leon Redbone, you need only read the obituary posted currently on his website. For all the shades of vintage folk, blues, jazz and antique pop that colored his music and the similarly vintage parlor airs he maintained during his performances, the singer possessed a wicked sense of humor. With notices in the press around the globe announcing his death on Thursday came the revelation of his age – something the mercurial Redbone never revealed during his life. He was 69. But the website obit tossed fact and reason to the wind, stating he had “crossed the Delta for that beautiful shore at the age of 127.”

My first reaction to reading this, aside from immediate laughter, was that Redbone had undoubtedly penned the tribute himself long the hour came to bid adieu.

All this enforces as unlikely a profile as you will find in a pop artist – one that bowed not only to the songs and sentiments of a seemingly ancient stylistic age but to the entertainment traditions that superseded them. He may have serenaded us with the songs of Jelly Roll Morton, Fats Waller, Johnny Mercer and other classicists in a vocal style best described as a mumbling croon. But Redbone was pure vaudeville in most other performance respects, whether it was through the playful gasps, shouts and train wreck scatting that adorned his version of “The Sheik of Araby” (from perhaps his best known album, 1977’s “Double Time”) or the instance when he played the long-defunct Breeding’s on New Circle Road during the early ‘80s and snapped a photograph of the crowd in front of him. “I’m doing this so I can remember each and every face.”

What made Redbone’s pop celebrity status especially odd was, what else, timing. The fact his artistic mindset seemed rooted in the ‘20s and ‘30s was one thing. But he became a performance regular on the early seasons of “Saturday Night Live” and turned archaic masterworks like “Shine on Harvest Moon” into a rock radio staples at a time when the punk revolution was at its peak. In fact, Redbone’s commercial apex – from 1975 to 1979 – mirrored the heyday of punk’s zenith almost completely.

Mainstream fascination with Redbone faded somewhat from the ‘80s onward, although he remained a prolific recording artist and performer until failing health brought on retirement in 2015. During the latter half of his career, he would play Lexington numerous times, especially the Kentucky Theatre. Redbone’s manner was always elegantly reserved with an artistic stance that paid full reverence to the vintage songs he was interpreting. But he also remained open enough for plenty of kitschy fun.

“Basically, I just try to capture a sentimental, melancholy moment,” Redbone told me in an interview prior to a 1999 concert at the Kentucky. “Most of the tunes I do are pretty much steered to that. Early Jimmie Rodgers recordings, for example, which also capture that mood, have inspired me in that regard. But the sense of timelessness has ultimately become unnecessary in modern music. That sort of subtle and genteel moment is nearly disappearing. So, consequently, music doesn’t really have that kind of sentiment anymore.”

in performance: orchid quartet

Orchid Quartet. From left, Desiree Hazley, Molly Rogers, Kiara Ana Perico and Leah Metzler.

As an initial Friday evening greeting to a homecoming audience, Frankfort native Molly Rogers cued up some solo Bach on the violin as the other members of the Orchid Quartet sat armed and ready to join in at the Grand Theatre.

An artist infatuated for much of her career with film scores and themes (her many credits include touring with Oscar/Grammy winning composer Hans Zimmer), it was a good bet Rogers chose Bach’s familiar “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor” not for its classical heritage but for its dual life as an aural moodpiece in a healthy number of ‘70s era horror flicks. Regardless, the opening passage, which Rogers tackled alone, had little in common with classical tradition or Hollywood. It instead was played with a giddy, gypsy air, revealing a loose but pronounced sense of folk drama. As the other members – co-violinist Desiree Hazley, violist Kiara Ana Perico and cellist Leah Metzler – entered, a more expected spirit of Bach took hold with an assured classical ensemble feel. But for that opening moment, Rogers was into something different altogether.

As the evening unfolded, the Orchid Quartet flexed its stylistic muscle generously. For instance, what do you follow Bach with? Why, Guns N’ Roses, of course – specifically, a stately cover of “Sweet Child O’ Mine” that transformed Slash’s trademark guitar riff into a largely minimalist string arpeggio that recalled, of all groups, Penguin Café Orchestra.

There were television and film themes galore sliced and diced into playful medleys, including one with a suitably dark mashup of the themes from “The Walking Dead” and “The Nightmare Before Christmas” to cement the program’s agenda. But what one was mostly left with in listening to the Orchid Quartet wasn’t so much the relationship between classical music and contemporary scores but a rather less obvious link between classical and folk.

The evening’s most generous classical offering, Dvorak’s “String Quartet in F Major,” underscored the work’s generous nod to folk melody and structure (hence the piece’s subtitle “American Quartet”) by echoing, in places, the Gershwin staple “Summertime.” That proved a curious reference as the group tackled “Summertime” directly and separately in the program’s second set, replacing the tune’s bluesy resignation with a ghostly folk dexterity. And what better song arsenal to pull from for this classical-folk skirmish than an elegant one-two punch of “Danny Boy” and “My Old Kentucky Home.”

Of course, all of this couldn’t help but play second fiddle (pun intended) to Rogers’ return to Frankfort. Now based in Los Angeles, she had it all on Friday – homecoming queen honors and the teamwork of three daring pals that transformed string quartet expectations into an inviting classical-folk travelogue.

in performance: brian krock’s liddle

Brian Krock. Photo by Desmond White.

Brian Krock wound down the live version of his quartet liddle at J. Gumbo’s Lex on Wednesday evening with the same kind of elegant exhaling that distinguishes the band’s newly released, self-titled album. Not coincidentally, it was the same composition that fueled the finish. The tune was “Please Stop,” a work that utilized a loop-like ambience from guitarist Olli Hirvonen that astonishingly recalled the mid ‘70s experimentation of Robert Fripp. With the electric atmospherics setting the mood, Krock soloed on clarinet with prayer-like spaciousness that made the piece sound like a requiem. Then bassist Marty Kenney joined in, bolstering the soundscape with an almost proggish feel.

It was a sumptuous conclusion to the performance, but also a mere snapshot among a two-set scrapbook of tunes liddle showcased on the J. Gumbo’s patio as the chill of a late spring evening set in.

Much of the liddle music came from the “liddle” album, including a fascinating take on Anthony Braxton’s “Composition No. 23b,” which began with surprisingly boppish animation before the playing gleefully splintered. Then there were the cyclical riffs Krock created on alto sax during “Knuckle Hair” that served as momentary fireworks before the ensemble sound deconstructed. That’s when Hirvonen took the wheel to summon the spirit of another guitar giant, the great Norwegian composer and improviser Terje Rypdal. The resulting music all but surrendered to rock-inspired mischief.

There were several new, unrecorded compositions, as well, which Krock said he hopes to incorporate into a live recording at the end of liddle’s current tour. Among them was “I Am a Worm,” a treatise on clarinet/guitar-led grooves that neatly dissolved into a series of band skirmishes deflating under keen bowed bass lines from Kenney.

Curiously, the performance also began with the same music that introduces the “liddle” album – namely, a giddy tune titled “(flip)” that bounced about the patio with Zappa-like abandon before briefly relaxing enough for the music to shift between Krock’s tightly efficient improving on alto and Hirvonen’s arsenal of jazz-friendly power chords.

All in all, a fun and engaging evening of forward-thinking jazz in an inviting new venue setting.

in performance: california guitar trio and montreal guitar trio

California Guitar Trio and Montreal Guitar Trio, from left: Bert Lams (CGT), Sebastien Dufour (MGT), Marc Morin (MGT), Hideyo Moriya (CGT), Glenn Levesque (MGT) and Paul Richards (CGT).

On paper, the blend of the California Guitar Trio and the Montreal Guitar Trio would seem an oil-and-vinegar proposition. The CGT is a classically disciplined and stylistically adventurous group whose often Zen-like stage persona mirrors a natural musical curiosity triggered decades ago under the tutelage of King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp. The MGT is more purposely brash, seemingly inspired by the percussive might of flamenco and myriad folk inspirations (its newest album, “Danzas” is essentially a meshing of all that with an occasional jazz flourish).

But onstage, and on the fine new “In a Landscape” recording, a rich, playful and ultimately complimentary camaraderie emerges. On Friday evening at Headliners Music Hall in Louisville, the two (mostly) acoustic trios began by playing separately to introduce their specific musical platforms. The MGT went first with the dramatic, dizzying meshing of Al Di Meola’s “Mediterranean Sundance” and Paco De Lucia’s “Rio Ancho” with the CGT countering with a typically effortless genre-hopping excursion that took the group from the Dick Dale tribute within “Misirlou” to the contemplative Paul Richards original “Euphoria” to the classical majesty of Bach’s “Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.”

But it was the closing set where both trios teamed that the sparks really flew. Aside from the almost Croatian sounding “Breizh Tango” (with MGT member Glenn Levesque briefly switching to mandolin) and a profoundly giddy, folk dance-informed take on Ennio Morricone’s theme from “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” (with MGT members Sebastien Dufour and Marc Morin switching to charango and accordion, respectively), the collaboration focused on music from “In a Landscape.” And, musically, the resulting landscape was vast and varied.

Levesque’s “New Horizons” possessed a reserved, cinematic grace with a chattering percussive foundation while CGT mainstay Hideyo Moriya offered the dark textures and fierce, rolling tempos of the original “Fortune Island” (along with a stark spoken intro explaining his personal investment in the song’s inspiration that brought immediate quiet to the audience).

Both trios have reputations for mutating cover material to fit their string-savvy means. Here, there did so again, but in very respectful fashion with a serene yet modestly melancholy version of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes” and a faithful, show-closing update of the David Bowie staple “Space Oddity.” Both tunes added strong vocal leads from  Levesque, to make this adventurous six-man guitar squad part fusion band, part pop/folk group and part classical ensemble. The blending of those traits, along with the trios’ wonderfully disparate onstage personalities, made the program something of a boundless guitar joyride.

in performance: pink

Pink, during an earthbound moment Thursday night at Rupp Arena. Herald Leader photo by Alex Slitz.

Oh, that Pink. She thinks she is sooooo above everyone else.

Well, for an impressive portion of a carnival-worthy performance Thursday evening at Rupp Arena, she was – about 30 feet above. No sooner did a set of massive curtains part (take a wild guess what color they were) than the pop juggernaut was seen swinging on a makeshift chandelier, crawling up, down and upside down with the agility of a spider as an eight member band and a very physically fortified dance squad kicked the program off with, fittingly, “Get the Party Started.”

What Pink executed from that point on was a spectacle that was almost continually in motion. Set pieces, including a pack of warped streetlights that looked like were hoisted from a Salvador Dali painting, were tugged about the set during “Beautiful Trauma,” a four poster bed again set the singer airborne for the monster hit ballad “Just Give Me a Reason” and a creepy excursion through the nocturnal outdoors during “Try” became the visual blend of “Into the Woods” crossed with Jean Cocteau’s “La Belle et la Bette.” Yes, it was that strange and stunning.

All of this, though, only provided a taste of how the production aspect of the concert played out. In many ways, Pink herself was the show’s keenest special effect by serving as ringmaster for this very engaging pop circus, exhibiting a Herculean level of physical stamina in the process. She also, when the show decelerated enough from the visuals to let you focus squarely on the music, emerged as a vocalist with equally tireless bravado.

In fact, it wasn’t until late in the evening that Pink took enough of a breather to actually converse with the audience of 17,000. That fell in the middle of an extended run of tunes from her 2017 album, “Beautiful Trauma” – in particular, “For Now” and “Barbies,” works she co-penned with show opener Julia Michaels. The later sported a stripped-down quartet version of her band backing her on the lip of a ramp that circled through the arena floor.

There was also the matter of the persona Pink presented onstage. At work here was a mother of two who will turn 40 later this year, so there was no mistaking the very real empowerment she was representing. Sure, there was a sexual element to some of the show, as in yet another aerial sequence that sent the singer and a male dancer into a series of gymnastic embraces in mid-air during “Secrets.” But that was just one element of many. Just as commanding was a film clip sandwiched between “Just Like Fire” and “What About Us” that spoke about gender and social equality in very matter-of-fact terms.

But there was humor, too. “Revenge” was prefaced by another film, a claymation clip for a nightmarish theme park called “Revenge Land” that was great fun. Then as the song played out, a towering puppet version of Eminem (Pink’s collaborator on the recorded version of the song) journeyed down the stage runway. That sent the singer, where else, back into the air so she could punch the Kong-sized rapper right in the kisser.

Wrap all this up and what you had, aside from an immensely entertaining production, was a very distinctive slant on the conventional female pop star. With a touch of age and worldliness working very much in her favor, Pink was far removed from the typical, video-savvy dance-pop pin-up. Instead, she came off more as the cool mom – the kind that let you stay up late and maybe told a saucy joke but never took her eyes off you.

in performance: regina carter and xavier davis

Regina Carter.

The depth and imagination of Regina Carter’s playing Friday evening at First Presbyterian Church came not in her stunning technical command on violin, her equally arresting tone or even her extraordinary phrasing – although all of those attributes certainly propelled this final performance in the current seasons of the Music for Mission program and Origin Jazz Series.

No, what fascinated above all was the communication she established with longtime pianist Xavier Davis. Near the duo program’s intermission, the two slipped out of their otherwise traditional and complimentary roles of featured artist and accompanist by engaging in a level of sparring where each player pushed the other. There were hints of gospel and swing, but mostly it was an exchange of immediacy – a series of skirmishes, skips and slaps that established a playfulness and communal spirit that countered the concert’s abundant musicality. Carter and Davis seemed thrilled by the dialogue with each beaming broad smiles as the set closed.

Such conversing took on many forms throughout the performance. On Astor Piazzolla’s “Oblivion,” the duo’s mutual lyricism grew achingly subtle with classical, gypsy and, of course, tango flourishes. For the Stevie Wonder staple “Higher Ground,” the music grew out of funky left hand piano rumbles by Davis that distantly echoed the mischievousness and bent rhythms of Bud Powell while Carter went on a field trip, incorporating an almost Eastern accent at times into the groove. And on the show-opening take on “When I Grow Too Old to Dream” (inspired by Nat King Cole’s 1957 version with violinist Stuff Smith), the duo format for the evening was discreetly established in the luxurious pace and tone of Carter’s playing along with the remarkably keen and complimentary support Davis supplied in his comping.

Want more? How about a summery and suitably conversational version of Hoagy Carmichael’s somewhat obscure “Judy” that Carter introduced by playing a recorded snippet on her phone of the composer singing the tune. The song later faded to a beautiful piano whisper from Davis that set the stage for Carter’s reentrance with a delicate, distant tone that resembled a whistle more than a violin.

Oh, and how about a gentle and spacious reading of “Softly As In a Morning Sunrise” that ended the show by gliding into a requiem-like “Danny Boy” and a beautifully stoic “Amazing Grace” where the pastoral quiet of the church served as a silent but profound participant. You get the picture, right?

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