- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 11, 2008

Neil Diamond made news recently by offering fans a refund after a Columbus, Ohio, concert was sullied by a case of acute laryngitis.

If the “Sweet Caroline” singer’s noble gesture becomes the industry standard, live performers had better bring their A-game this fall - especially in a town like Washington, where indignation is in the drinking water.

To remind themselves of fitter days, ailing veterans would get a kick out of Eli “Paperboy” Reed. The frenetic Massachusetts-born neo-soul singer - America’s male answer to Amy Winehouse - will be at the Rock and Roll Hotel on Sept. 19.

Alejandro Escovedo has a medical history to make bad knees and laryngitis sound like mosquito bites. The criminally underfamous singer-songwriter from Austin, Texas, collapsed, near death, after a 2003 concert because of complications stemming from hepatitis C.

He’s out this year with one of his finest and best-reviewed solo albums, “Real Animal,” and has a Nov. 9 date at the Birchmere.

Another of Texas’ great cadre of singer-songwriters, Lyle Lovett, will share a bill Oct. 19 at the Warner Theatre with longtime pal John Hiatt.

Is your singer-songwriter jones still not sated?

Here’s a great off-Broadway option: J.D. Souther, the man behind multiple hits by the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt, is at the State Theatre Nov. 4.

Another question: If Randy Newman had an unusually raspy voice, would anyone notice, let alone demand a refund?

The illustrious singer-songwriter and Oscar-winning Hollywood composer - lately found more often on Pixar Animation movie soundtracks than on his own shingle - is touring behind “Harps and Angels,” his first album of new material in nine years. He’s at the Music Center at Strathmore Sept. 24.

If Mr. Newman mated with a synthesizer and had a half-cyborg, baritone-voiced child (hey, a Pixar plot!), the offspring might turn out like the Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt, one of the oddest, wittiest and most musically erudite songwriters working in indie rock today.

Mr. Merritt, who has an unapologetically square distaste for hip-hop and named his dog after Irving Berlin, is to appear at George Washington University’s Lisner Auditorium Oct. 26.

For those of the opinion that, darn it, hip-hop is alive and well, a couple of the scene’s most intriguing performers will drop by the Rock and Roll Hotel: on Nov. 1, Murs, whose galvanizing, politically charged single “Can It Be?” comes out later this month, and on Nov. 5, Brother Ali, the Minneapolis rapper recently cited by Hold Steady frontman Craig Finn as a significant cross-genre influence.

Resurgent rockers the Black Crowes, fresh off a summer appearance at Wolf Trap, are coming back for a three-night stand at the 9:30 Club (Oct. 23, 24 and 25).

If nothing else, the Crowes are peerless rewarders of the tribe: Each night promises a dramatically different set list, with a mixture of fan favorites, deep album cuts and obscure cover songs (Moby Grape, anyone?).

Let’s conclude at the place where all genres melt into one undefinable mush that drives copyright lawyers bonkers - Girl Talk, who’s playing a late show Oct. 10 at the 9:30 Club.

A producer and club DJ who broke last year, Girl Talk (real name Gregg Gillis) is a “mash-up” artist who takes snippets of popular songs and food-processes them into something his own copyright lawyer would call “transformative” - that is, a product distinct enough from its source material to justify the appropriation.

Legal talk aside, the music is simply great fun. There’s the 2006 track “Pump It Up,” for example, which annexes Coldplay’s “Clocks” and somehow manages to drain the familiar hit of its inexorable soporific power.

Mr. Gillis is also a sampler in other aspects of his career: Following Radiohead, he released his latest album, “Feed the Animals,” on a pay-whatever-you-want basis.

This ultra-consumer-friendly pricing scheme is a real headache for music-industry mandarins: Their mission in life is to get Steve Jobs to crack open the rigid iTunes model and charge more for music.

Perhaps the muckety-mucks can call musicians on their bluff and hit them where they live. How about demanding that the likes of Radiohead and Girl Talk let consumers pay whatever they choose for concert tickets, too?

In addition to exposing what is essentially a public-relations stunt, that would really complicate Neil Diamond ticket-refund scenarios, wouldn’t it?

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