The coolest part of watching Plan-B Theatre Company’s near-annual Radio Hour productions in person is seeing the physical performances of the voice actors as they contort their bodies and faces to bring the script to life–actions the listeners tuning in to the live broadcast on KUER don’t get to witness.
That remained true for this year’s edition, Fairyana, with fine and funny performances from Jay Perry, Teresa Sanderson and Jason Tatom, together delivering a wicked, hilarious script from Eric Samuelsen about the writers of a children’s show trying to come up with a truly special Christmas episode–at any cost.
All three actors are veterans of the Radio Hour series, and bring remarkable vocal dexterity to their roles. Perry’s Stan goes from befuddled lackey to confident loudmouth by hour’s end. Sanderson, so remarkable in Plan-B’s Eric(a) last season, deftly handles the voice of grizzled writer Viv, as well as the children show’s adult star, Amber. And Tatom is excellent as Max, the show’s producer, who’s narration gives the show a noir vibe that just adds to the laughs as the characters resort to increasingly over the top plans to come up with a script acceptable to Amber.
I won’t spoil the plot much here, since the curious can listen to a rebroadcast of the show Wednesday at 11 a.m. during RadioWest’s normal slot, or online at KUER.org through the month. Suffice to say, the absurd lengths Max goes to get a script out of Viv and Stan make for non-stop laughs during the hour. During the “season of Eric” that Plan-B is undertaking, producing a season of scripts penned by Samuelsen, it was fun to hear him deliver comedic dialogue with plenty of dark twists and witty one-liners.
The production includes original music composed and performed by David Evanoff, and sound effects from foley artist Michael Johnson that greatly add to the atmosphere. Take the time to give Fairyana a listen–it might not exactly put you in the holiday spirit, but it’s a hour of laughs that can only help your mood during the busy Christmas season.
Radio Hour Episode 8: Fairyana will rebroadcast on KUER 90.1 FM Wednesday at 11 a.m., and will be available on KUER.org through the holiday season. (Photo by Rick Pollock)
GREEN DAY’S AMERICAN IDIOT, KINGSBURY HALL, Tuesday, Dec. 3-Thursday, Dec. 5, 7:30 p.m., $42/$52/$64.50/$15 students
When pop-punk trio Green Day released their American Idiot album in 2004, it marked an ambitious release from a band that many viewed on the downside of its career. Instead, the rock opera about childhood friends’ respective paths in post-9/11 America proved a creative and commercial high point for rock music in the ’00s, as well as a rebirth of sorts for the trio of Billie Joe Armstrong, Tre Cool and Mike Dirnt. The album sold millions, and the story of St. Jimmy and his friends earned Green Day millions in sales and the ability to push the concept even further on their 2009 follow-up, 21st Century Breakdown. In a move that one could argue solidifies the band’s punk street-cred–or solidify one’s view of the band as sell-outs, depending on your perspective–Armstrong and Co. adapted the American Idiot story into a brash, bombastic Broadway musical that gained accolades for its energy and atypical approach to musical theater. I saw this touring production about a week ago, and I can vouch for its creative choreography and visual appeal. And as a fan of Green Day’s source material, I could enjoy the fact that the show is short on dialogue and told primarily through the familiar lyrics of the band’s songs. Anyone unfamiliar with the music or the album’s story lines, though, might find themselves struggling to keep up with the various characters as they strain to catch the lyrics coming through the rock and roll soundtrack.
It seemed like half of Salt Lake City decided to take in Built to Spill’s headlining show at The Urban Lounge on Thanksgiving eve, and I’d guess they were thankful they did.
Doug Martsch and the four guys in his band delivered a thrilling set on the final night of their fall tour, a show full of unexpected covers, a few super-sized guitar jams and some of the best songs the band’s back catalog has to offer. The audience was clearly thrilled with the proceedings, and one could even spy an occasional smile on Martsch’s face through his scruffy beard as the gig moved along.
Built to Spill opened with two songs from their You in Reverse album, starting with the sprawling “Goin’ Against Your Mind,” a lengthy tune they often close shows with, and following up with the gorgeous “Liar.” “Untrustable/Part 2 (About Someone Else),” “Living Zoo” and “Reasons” led into a monstrous take on “Center of the Universe,” one of Martsch’s most undeniably poppy gems.
That burst of songs led to the first surprise of the night, a note-perfect cover of Pavement’s “Here.” Martsch proved the ideal voice to take on the delicate ballad, and it made for a nice segue to the bombastic tune “The Plan.”
Guitarist and backup singer Brett Netson took over lead vocals after a run through “Mess with Time,” taking on what the Internet reports was a cover of Captain Beefheart’s “Abba Zaba.” I’m no Beefheart authority, so I’ll assume that’s right–and add that Netson added a little Donny and Marie scatting to the end of the tune before Martsch took the reins again.
The band closed out the set with a run through “Big Dipper,” “Velvet Waltz” and “Carry the Zero” before having members of the opening bands Slam Dunk and Genders join the band on stage for some cowbell assistance on encore covers like Blue Oyster Cult’s “(Don’t Fear) the Reaper,” The Clash’s “Train in Vain” and The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?” It was a joyful way to end the show, and the musicianship on stage made for incredible takes on those old classics.
We get spoiled with the number of Built to Spill shows that happen in SLC, thanks to the band’s Boise home base, but this Thanksgiving eve show in 2013 will certainly be remembered among fans as one of the best. That’s how I’ll remember it.
PLAN-B THEATRE COMPANY’S RADIO HOUR: FAIRYANA, ROSE WAGNER PERFORMING ARTS CENTER, Tuesday, Dec. 3, 7 p.m., $20/$10 students
In the past few years that I’ve regularly been seeing theater productions in and around Salt Lake City, the almost-annual Radio Hour productions jointly offered by Plan-B Theatre Company and KUER’s RadioWest have become some of my favorites. Past editions have included adaptations of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, fairy tales and scary stories, and no matter the subject matter, watching the voice actors, live musicians and foley artists bring the radio plays to life has always been a treat. I expect no different this year as the show moves to the Christmas season and is part of Plan-B’s “Season of Eric”–the year-long series dedicated to the craft of playwright Eric Samuelsen. For Fairyana, Samuelsen has penned a holiday show about a holiday show, with the writers of a children’s TV show possessed by their own fictional characters. It’s part-spoof of saccharine holiday entertainment, and part-noir detective story, and should make for a fine time. I encourage you to get tickets to the live production on Tuesday night at the Rose Wagner, but if you can’t make it, be sure to tune in to the live radio broadcast on KUER 90.1 FM .
As an unabashed Meat Puppets fanatic, the show at The State Room on Tuesday night was just what I was looking for–a mix of old-school punk classics, unexpected weird-out jams and new songs that don’t get nearly enough play.
The brothers Kirkwood have been visiting SLC for years, from their early SST Records’ “punk” days to more recent sonic excursions accompanied by stellar live shows, and Tuesday night’s gig at The State Room certainly qualifies as a memorable one. Brothers Curt Kirkwood (guitar and vox) and Cris Kirkwood (bass) led drummer Shandon Sahm (scion of Austin music legend Doug Sahm) and guitarist Elmo Kirkwood (son of Curt) through a set of sprawling indie-rock jams that let all in attendance know that age and time have done nothing to take the edge off the Meat Puppets’ sound.
The band spent the first few minutes sans vocals, including a stellar take on “The Whistling Song,” before delving into a set spanning their career. “Touchdown King” and “Plateau” led into an inspired take on “Up on the Sun,” complete with a lengthy instrumental jam.
The Salt Lake City show did include some new material from the band’s latest release, Rat Farm, and the show was the better for it. “Waiting” was a highlight, with all musicians on stage playing along while Curt sang, “Everything’s cool. Everything’s fine.” After the frenzy of old songs and sped-up presentations of familiar favorites, the relatively languid “Waiting” was welcome.
After that, it was a blaze through “Sam,” with the brothers speed-rapping in unison, as well as the classic “Lost” and the sorta hit “Backwater.” Curt Kirkwood continuously ripped out tasty lead solos while the rest of the band settled into winning grooves on songs like the Beach Boys’ cover “Sloop John B” and “Lake of Fire.”
The encore included the excellent “Open Wide” from the under-appreciated gem of an album, Forbidden Places, and by the end of the night, the Meat Puppets seemed to have created some new converts to their sound. That’s no easy task for a band that’s been kicking around for more than 30 years, but few of the band’s peers can equal the Meat Puppets’ ability to showcase serious instrumental chops and acid-fried philosophical and lyrical gymnastics.
BUILT TO SPILL, THE URBAN LOUNGE, Wednesday, Nov. 27, 8 p.m., $20
For years I considered Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch a sort of indie-rock Neil Young, a songsmith capable of producing epic beauty or noise-filled guitar jams with equal ease. I’m sure Martsch’s cover of “Cortez The Killer” was a heavy influence on that line of thinking. Lately, though, Built to Spill is reminding me more of Boston, the classic rockers who became legendary for taken years and years between releases. So it’s been of late with Martsch and Co., who haven’t released any new music since 2009′s There Is No Enemy. After being relatively prolific early in the band’s career, they have only put out two sets of new music since 1999, and a lineup shift less than a year ago seems to have slowed the band’s pace; when I saw Built to Spill roughly a year ago, there was talk of new music in 2013. Looks like that will have to wait til next year, but I’m not complaining. The Boise-based band, regular visitors to Salt Lake City, has the kind of excellent back catalog that makes for an excellent show no matter what year it is, or whether or not there are any new tunes in the set. Slam Dunk and Genders open the show.
THE MEAT PUPPETS, THE STATE ROOM, Tuesday, Nov. 26, 8 p.m., $17
There’s no mincing words when it comes to my feelings about the Meat Puppets. Simply put, they are one of my Top 5 all-time favorite bands, a desert island pick, a must-listen every time they put out a new album–and they have been all that for me for more than 20 years. And even though I started listening to them heavily while I was in college, even then I felt like I was late to the party because they were one of the important American punk bands on SST Records in the early ’80s, touring alongside The Minutemen, Husker Du and Black Flag, and had already delivered their acknowledged classic, Meat Puppets II. Some of the songs from that album were covered by Nirvana on their Unplugged in New York set, accompanied by the Puppets’ Kirkwood brothers, and the band had some mainstream/MTV success when “grunge” exploded thanks to that Nirvana assist and the catchy-as-hell “Backwater.” I’m of the opinion that Curt Kirkwood is one of the best rock guitar players I’ve ever seen, and albums like Up on the Sun, Too High to Die and the more recent Lollipop and this year’s Rat Farm show that II was no one-shot classic. I go see the band every chance I get, and I suggest if you’ve never seen them, The State Room is the perfect place to change that. The might fine local cat Cory Mon opens the show.