Local Rhythms – “Spectacle” Is Anything But (That’s Good)

picture-81I don’t care what celebrities wear, who they date or where they dine. TMZ.com leaves me cold, Perez Hilton needs to be voted off the island, and the sight of Barbara Walters’ making a big star cry makes me wince.

But I find the backstory of creation fascinating. “Inside the Actors Studio” embodies this; host James Lipton is a master at revealing the process of art coming to life.

Much to my surprise, Elvis Costello shares this talent with Lipton. On Sunday, I skipped the Oscar red carpet party to catch up on “Spectacle,” Costello’s artist-to-artist interview show on the Sundance Channel.

Over a 13-episode run, which ends this week, rock’s former angry young man has conversed with everyone from Elton John to Zooey Deschanel. He discussed saxophone playing with Bill Clinton.

One particularly memorable show featured a “song pull” with Kris Kristofferson, John Mellencamp, Norah Jones and Rosanne Cash. Costello remarked that Rosanne’s father Johnny Cash pretty much invented the concept of musicians passing around the guitar, each trying to outdo the other. What was that like, he wondered.

She talked about hearing Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” and Kristofferson’s “Me and Bobby McGee” for the first time in her father’s living room.

Costello is privy to all sorts of rock and roll nuggets. I had no idea Lou Reed wrote schlock songs for a budget label (the musical equivalent of the Dollar Store) early in his career, or that rock’s Prince of Darkness grew up on doo-wop 45s before forming the Velvet Underground.

Speaking of influences, I’d never noticed the line connecting the singing styles of Bing Crosby, George Jones and recent guest James Taylor until Elvis mentioned it. The sensitive Taylor even let it slip that he’d taken Costello’s “sticky Valentine” line in “Allison” personally when he heard it in 1977.

“Spectacle” is full of such unguarded moments, and it’s easy to imagine these relaxed conversations happening off-camera. As someone who would have given anything to be a fly on the wall in Johnny Cash’s living room, I live for this stuff.

So while you watch the E! Channel dish on Mickey Rourke’s dog hair accessorizing, or poor movie stars reduced to dining on chicken potpie, I’ll be watching “Spectacle.”

Though I have to wonder – were there really only three Oscar-worthy songs written in 2008?

Oh well, there’s more than that in the live music calendar:

Thursday: Arthur James, Salt hill 2 – An open jam session, with amps and microphones provided, is hosted by area bluesman James, who usually rocks it up with his band Northbound, but calls tonight’s ensemble “Unacoustic Mayhem”. This is a standard open mike affair, with a bluesier touch. It beats American Idol by a country mile.

Friday: Juke Joynt, Seven Barrel Brewery – Take one part Foghat and one part Buddy Guy, mix it with a bodacious X factor that results from the chemistry of three players who do itinerant musical work all over the area (including tomorrow night’s monthly Gully Boys set, which should make for an easy load-in), and you have this band. Juke Joynt focuses on original music inspired by the blues (when they were real) and classic rock (before it got cheesy).

Saturday: Chris O’Brien & Jenee Halstead, Boccelli’s – When I first heard Jenee Halstead’s evocative “River Grace” last year, I immediately began pushing Ray Massucco to bring the singer-songwriter to Bellows Falls. Tonight is an amazing double bill. Headliner O’Brien, who’s been praised in these pages before, is right at home in this room.

Sunday: Children’s Cancer Lifeline Benefit, Pat’s Peak Ski Area – A show to raise money for an organization formed in 1995 in support of New Hampshire families coping with childhood cancer features Roxanne & the Voodoo Rockers (who kick off the weekend-long event on Saturday), Arthur James and the Fran Calo Band. Great music, worthy cause – that’s a fine combo.

Monday: Hartford Sound Alliance, Dartmouth College – Experimental music from a Connecticut-based trio featuring two laptop computers and several pieces of wood. Today, they perform with composers from the Electroacoustic Graduate program at Dartmouth College, doing multimedia improvisations and shorter electronic pieces. Call the college for show location.

Tuesday: Ed Eastridge, Canoe Club – Tasty licks from the one of the area’s finest jazz guitarists, and he’s a smart singer too. One wag described his music as “like therapy” – and I won’t disagree. There is something quite soothing about his restrained, delicate touch in the midst of life’s vicissitudes.

Wednesday: CORE Ensemble, Redfern Arts Center – A few days past the end of Black History Month, the chamber music-based returns to Keene State College to perform Ain’t I A Woman! The show celebrates the life and times of four remarkable African-American women, with a musical score drawn from the spiritual music of the Deep South, the jazz age, and contemporary music.

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