The Salt Lake Area Music & More issue, Salt Lake City Weekly’s annual tip of the hat to local performing artists, looks funny this year—a comedian in Kiss makeup will do that. Wiseguys Comedy Café honcho and comic Keith Stubbs donned the Demon’s greasepaint for our 2003 cover, then left it on for his own feature’s photo even after the hot redhead was long gone. That’s dedication. Or something.
In these SLAMMy pages you’ll learn who measures up in local music, theater and dance in the eyes of City Weekly’s editorial staff and our discerning readers (Note to a handful of “voters”: Spend more time on your craft and promotion and less on poor attempts at stuffing our ballot box—it’ll pay off better in the long run).
This year’s big SLAMMy celebration goes down at the Zephyr Club on Thursday, Sept. 4, with live performances by a diverse group of said ballot’s winners. Until then, read on and mind the tongue.
Tales of the Tape
Utah’s Acroma and Silvercrush: What the hell happened?
BY BILL FROST firstname.lastname@example.org
Love ’em or over ’em, Orem screamo sons The Used remain Utah’s biggest contemporary-rock success story. The band just wrapped their second summer stint on the Vans Warped Tour. Their June 2002 Reprise/Warner Bros. debut, The Used, was certified gold (500,000 copies sold) last month. A week later, Reprise released Maybe Memories, a keep-the-fans-happy stopgap CD/DVD of studio leftovers and live material. Singer Bert McCracken’s scruffy mug has been all over TRL, Conan, Kilborn, The Osbournes and other TV staples; The Used’s singles have logged so much radio time that their past punk selves might teleport through the Terminator time machine any day now and whack their present rock-star selves. It’s gotten that weird.
Meanwhile, Salt Lake City’s Acroma, who signed with equally huge label Republic/Universal last year and dropped their long-long-long-delayed debut Orbitals four months ago, are back to working day jobs. No cocktails with Carson Daly, no dates with Kelly Osbourne, just coffee with a local newspaper hack. It’s gotten that boring.
“I run an MBS 3200, or something,” dry-witted bassist Tom Collins says of his undisclosed machine-shop gig. “It’s pretty tedious, like any other job, but it pays the bills.”
If The Used were the primo example of the right band in the right place at the right time, Acroma were wrong, wrong and wrong. Wooed in 2001 by a handful of majors on the strength of demos that combined the dark bombast of Tool with radio-rock hooks, the band then known as No Release signed with Republic, a boutique subsidiary of corporate megalith Universal. Since then, the label’s promises of “artist development” and other vagaries, says singer Jeremy Stanley, have amounted to “bullshit.”
Between the recording of Orbitals and its eventual street date, Acroma didn’t return to the workforce because they were expecting to go on the road: The album might come out next month, so be mobile to promote it. The small advance from the label—which could have gone toward touring and independent promotion—was spent on living expenses as the originally fall-slated Orbitals was pushed back, and back, and back. They dropped the name No Release, now the term had come back to bite them in the ass.
“Our label, like the rest of the record industry, is broke right now,” Stanley says. “They’ve pretty much said, ‘If you’re not selling any CDs, we’re not spending any money on you.’ Touring [to promote Orbitals] is not a possibility right now; we don’t have the money to do it ourselves. We need a tour budget, which our label isn’t going to give us.”
The Catch 22: Republic won’t promote an album that’s not selling in big numbers, but this album probably won’t sell big numbers unless it’s promoted. So, how did Acroma get the small road handouts for their handful of two-week mini-tours, most recently with labelmates Ra?
“There are various creative ways: There’s pouting. There’s fighting. There’s screaming. There’s threatening,” Collins deadpans. “All of those have worked in different scenarios up to now.”
“‘Sun Rises Down’ [the first single from Orbitals] had a pretty significant run on radio, but it could have had more,” guitarist Brian Christensen explains. “We were down on the label’s priority list, below Godsmack and the rest. We’re selling some. We sell CDs every week all over the country, just not in the volume we need to get them to throw money at us. They don’t want to spend any money; they want you to have shit magically happen. We haven’t been magical enough for our label.”
Stanley: “Radio people would tell us, ‘We love the track—why isn’t your label getting behind this?’”
Collins, laughing: “Or, ‘Why isn’t your label bribing us to play this?’”
All is not lost, however. Drummer Joshua Zirbel points out that Republic is set to release a second single from Orbitals, an album the band is rightfully proud of, and rock lore is littered with tales of sleeper records that “magically” find audiences long after they’re considered dead. Acroma’s is good enough to become one of them, even without invoking the dreaded indie-hipster “S” word.
“We clearly aren’t sellouts,” Collins says emphatically. “We have no money or success! Don’t sell out, kids—it doesn’t pay!”
Silvercrush, Utah’s other Big Label Deal of last year, at least had the dignity of a proper album release and subsequent tour—a high-profile three-month summer trek with Sheryl Crow and Train, no less.
Singer-guitarist-songwriter Steele Croswhite and his band (then Choice of Reign) signed in 2000 with startup label Redline Entertainment, a company with an “artist-friendly” vibe and the corporate muscle of parent company Best Buy behind it. The re-christened Silvercrush spent most of the following year in studios across the country, hired sidemen to fill out the live sound and released the anthemic, adult-rock Stand in June 2002 to positive reviews and impressive out-of-the-box sales. Then came the Sheryl tour, the luxury rock & roll bus, livin’ the dream, etc.
“Things were great, I was interviewed by MTV and VH1; we were getting radio play all over the country—we were the next thing, or at least heading in that direction,” Croswhite says, visibly reliving the excitement all over again. “We ended the tour strong, and were ready to go right back out. Redline said, ‘Take a month off, we’ll put you back on tour in October.’ They said a tour with Lifehouse was set, we’d have another bus, it was all wonderful.”
Acting as his own manager at that point, Croswhite paid particular attention to the business trades. When he read that Best Buy stock dropped 40 percent in one week, he heard in the back of his mind the giant sucking sound of Redline paying out large piles of cash for artists like the Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson, Pete Townsend, Prince and, of course, Silvercrush.
“I got freaked out!” Croswhite says. “Our album was just breaking, doing well on the Top 40 charts, and we were getting something like 30,000 hits on our Website a week. So I called the president of Redline and he said, ‘Don’t worry.’ Every day I was on the phone, having the head eagle there tell me that. Then October came, Lifehouse went on tour without us, and Best Buy’s stock was going down and down—scary for Redline, scary for me.”
After failing to deliver on tour support, a follow-up single release, video shoots and basic communication, Redline (which has since ceased to exist as a record company) forced Croswhite’s legal hand. “There I was, 24 years old, taking on Best Buy for breach of contract,” he recalls with a mix of pride and anxiety. “But, after seven months on the phone, they let me out of the deal. The miracle is, I got my masters back, so Stand is mine—you don’t hear about that happening often, even if the record company falls apart. I got the Silvercrush name, I got my publishing rights, I’m free.”
Silvercrush the band, however, didn’t survive the drama: Bassist Dave Christensen bowed out, and hired L.A. guns Carl Broemel (guitar) and Mike Flynn (keyboards) have been home since the Redline checks dried up. Drummer Jim Stauffer is still in, and Croswhite has been writing and recording profusely in a Salt Lake studio, as well as feeding demos to a few interested labels not owned by retail chains. He also has irons in the fires of production (working with local artists) and Christian music (working with The Big Guy). Croswhite is far from wallowing in a post-rock-star funk.
“A year ago, I was on tour, things were happening with Silvercrush, everything was wonderful,” he says, reflecting like an old man who just happened to turn 25 a few weeks ago. “I look at my life now, and you’d think people would assume I’d be down, ‘I once had a dream.’ The truth is, the only problem I have is too many options. My head’s on straight and I’m making music for an actual living—I’m more solid than I’ve ever been. I have it all back now.”
Classical, My Ass!
Beethoven plumbs the soul’s depths, Prokofiev soars, Ligeti intrigues and you’re still listening to rock music?
By Ben Fulton email@example.com
One of modern life’s great mysteries is why so many people approach classical music with all the enthusiasm of smelling their feet.
“I just don’t know how to get into it,” a friend once said, as if classical music were a brand of jeans.
For starters, banish the label of “classical music.” Smash it, trash it, get rid of it. “Classical music” is simply music, something everyone understands at some level. It’s just that most symphonic or chamber music lasts a lot longer than the average rock song, and offers a whole lot less in the way of visual crutches: no videos, no corresponding fashion sense, and no arty album covers. On occasion, it contradicts even those assumptions. A Chopin miniature lasts less than a lot of rock songs, and the sight of, say, Anne-Sophie Mutter performing adds a dimension you won’t get from a recording alone. People who least understand it lunge for pigeonholes. “Classical music” is for “elitists, snobs, people with graduate degrees, the wine-and-cheese crowd.”
Like a lot of things people say, that’s partly true, but also false. British composer Benjamin Britten gave us perhaps the best words ever about this genre: “It is cruel, you know, that music should be so beautiful. It has the beauty of loneliness and of pain; of strength and freedom.”
There’s a definite sense that many people attend symphony concerts or listen to symphonic or chamber music only because it’s seen as harmless, and rock music is, of course, bad by default. Both insular rock fans and mainstream audiences who surround themselves with ornaments of respectability miss the boat. People eat organic vegetables or attend church because they think they should. People generally avoid art forms they do not want to, or cannot, understand. Here’s the skinny: If you never listen to a wide swathe of symphonic or chamber music, you’ve basically missed the opportunity of a lifetime.
That paramount fact is compounded this year, a time when the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera have merged, the local Abramyan Quartet has officially retired, and there’s not a single music store specializing in the genre. A whole lot of hand wringing ensues. While the Abramyan’s retirement is certainly disappointing, don’t get too down. There are plenty of wonderful student and professional performances at the University of Utah’s new performance halls. You can still listen live to heavy hitters such as Rostropovich and Kyng Wha Chung when they hit Abravanel Hall. Moreover, the fact remains that this is America, and as red-blooded Americans we’re entitled to buy loads and loads of stuff. That includes music CDs.
This column could take an even weepier turn and let you know that “classical” music constitutes a mere 3.5 percent of worldwide music sales. That just means there’ll be more left over for me. If you don’t exercise caution, this is an endeavor every bit as addictive as gambling, gourmet coffee or trying to decipher the Middle East. Over time it’s a hobby you embrace with the sort of enthusiasm usually reserved for lottery winners. After an initial purchase of Maurizio Pollini’s towering recording of Beethoven’s late piano sonatas (Deutsche Grammophon, catalog No. 419 199-2GH2), I never looked back. After Pollini’s version of the Hammerklavier, it was on to other interpretations by Emil Gilels, Solomon Cutner and Richard Goode. That four musicians could produce such persuasive accounts of one composition shows straight away just how limitless this music is.
The bite bloomed into a fast-spreading infection. It was on to Beethoven’s symphonies, string quartets, piano concerti and sublime violin concerto. Franz Schubert was next on the shopping list, chased by a couple of Chopin discs. Listening to violinist Maxim Vengerov’s wrenching, rapt performances of first violin concertos by Shostakovich and Prokofiev (Elektra, catalog No. 92256) convinced me there is more humanity in one note of his playing than in the collected posturing of Trent Reznor’s infantile head. It still angers me that Vengerov doesn’t make at least twice as much in salary as Tiger Woods. If putting a little white ball into a grassy hole commands more money than performing perfect Prokofiev, something is deeply amiss. Society’s flaws became plain.
Nine months later, all signs were clear to delve head first into the world of 12-tone music. This was one tough launch, and the cause of a few headaches at first. But, oh, what rewards it eventually reaped. Listening to Schoenberg or Webern is more primal and stark than lush and intellectual. Or, as German composer Theodor Adorno said, “The fully enlightened earth radiates disaster triumphant.”
Once the sheer magnificence of this music sinks in, the first question was, “Why in the hell didn’t someone tip me off to this sooner?” The second question is more troubling, “Why in the hell did I spend so much time listening to The Clash, or the whispered whining of Nick Drake?” My advice is this: Don’t waste time compiling questions when the music itself is the answer.
Salt Lake City dance companies offer diverse delights in human fluidity.
By Ashlee Hill
Movement is a natural function of being human, a way of feeling how our bodies, as mechanisms, stretch and respond. Dance is one way of expressing our humanity and our need to move. But expression takes on many forms, requiring just as many styles of dance. Dance can be slow and rhythmic, graceful and classical. It can also be quick and beat-driven, releasing energy or exhibiting strength. It is a reflection of our environment, our microcosms and macrocosms.
Like many other cities, Salt Lake City contains a wellspring of dance forms. Whatever your style, you can find it here. Maybe you prefer a dance-oriented reflection of our modern, chaotic sensibilities? There is cutting-edge modern/abstract dance to suit. Prefer the romantic, courtly disposition of classical ballet? That’s at your fingertips, too.
Ballet West is Utah’s foremost ballet program, internationally recognized and diverse in its programming. For 40 years, Ballet West has provided classical ballet performances and community involvement, like Ballet Under the Stars. It recently launched a speakers bureau to further involve the community into the goings-on and day-to-day activities of the company. Ballet West delivers The Nutcracker every Christmas time for families to enjoy, and for little girls to dream of sugarplums and princes just like their mothers used to.
But ballet ain’t the only game in town; there is also a very strong modern dance current. In 1966, the gods gave us Repertory Dance Theater, which has provided the valley with choreography from Isadora Duncan to present-day virtuosos like Gideon Obarzanek. Thus, RDT becomes a living museum of modern dance history. RDT’s national touring company has been seen in over 300 cities across the United States, as well as in Europe and Canada.
Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company also showcases diverse talent and choreography, including the likes of Anne Carlson, Murray Lewis and Alwin Nikolais. The latter two will be seen later this season as part of an international tour. Joan Woodbury, a founder of the company, is also one if its primary choreographers. Last season, we saw Woodbury’s “Affectionate Infirmaties,” and Shirley Ririe’s “Window Washers.” While some of the company’s dancers grew up in our backyard, dancers have come from all over the world to perform with Ririe-Woodbury. This has contributed to the evolution of their art and technique.
Besides the two big name modern dance companies, Salt Lake also houses some talented, more localized companies, such as Stephen Brown Dance. Last season, Brown and company brought the chaotic grace of The Bucket, a “Dawn of Man,” coming-of-age kind of performance—typical of the company’s many thought-provoking, avant-garde works. If anyone can pull off the absurd with such ease and poetry, it’s Stephen Brown Dance.
Utah not only has very talented ballet and modern dance companies, but there is also the McTeggart Irish Step Dancers. Its members have accompanied the Utah Symphony, Olympic events, and the musical group The Chieftans in providing traditional Irish Step. The dancers compete regionally, and have been featured in many festivals and parades, including the Living Traditions Festival and the St. Patrick’s Day shenanigans. Who needs Michael Flatley when we have McTeggart?
If your tastes for dance go even farther east than Ireland, there is the Kismet Dance Company. Kismet provides Middle Eastern dance shows, festivals, and classes. The company even founded the largest Belly Dance Festival in the nation, which occurs annually in August. Yasamina Roque is the director of the company, which is proud to provide the public with “a brilliant image of danse orientale as a viable art form.”
In the mode of danse orientale, there is also Eastern Arts, a nonprofit organization of dancers, artists, musicians and scholars who present a variety of cultures in their arts, with traditions ranging from Asia, North Africa, Turkey, Mongolia, Afghanistan and more. They provide concerts, workshops and videos, and perform at scheduled events. If you thought “Arabian Nights” was sensual to read, wait until you see these bodies swivel and sway.
The range of dance performances in Salt Lake extends beyond the space available here. They all inspire us with their grace and excites us with their energy. Bottom line: You don’t have to go to New York, Paris, Dublin or Bangladesh to see great dancing. All the world’s variety and beauty are tapping their toes right in our own salty backyards.
2003-2004 Dance Calendar
Ballet West (323-6900)
Sept. 26 - Oct. 4 Giselle
Oct. 31 - Nov. 8 A 40-Year Fascination
Dec. 5 - Dec. 31 The Nutcracker
Feb. 13 - Feb. 21 Sleeping Beauty
April 9 - April 17 Jubilation!
Repertory Dance Theatre (534-1000)
Oct. 2 - Oct. 4 Meridian
Nov. 21 - Nov. 22 D is for Dance
March 4 - March 7 Time Zone
Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company (297-4241)
Sept. 24 - Sept. 27 Alwin Nikolais Retrospective
Jan. 30 - Jan. 31 Objects & Places
April 22 - April 24 Media D
As Salt Lake City grows more cosmopolitan, small theater companies proliferate.
By Scott Renshaw firstname.lastname@example.org
If we’re in an economic downturn, you’d never know it by a boom in a very specialized sector. In Salt Lake City, small theater companies are sprouting up faster than candidates for governor of California.
For years, Pioneer Theatre Company and Salt Lake Acting Company were the only shows in town for local professional theater, with the occasional recent newcomer like Plan-B Theatre Company making some headway. But this season, no fewer than three companies are launching their most extensive Salt Lake City seasons to date. Formerly Ogden-based Pygmalion Productions, which brought The Food Chain and Private Eyes to town last year, will produce three shows for 2003-2004. Tooth & Nail Theatre, which previously produced occasional shows like Santaland Diaries, will launch two productions before year’s end. And Utah Contemporary Theatre, which launched last year with The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, has two shows on tap for this season.
It’s an unusual burst in theatrical output, and the parties involved share many of the same opinions regarding why it’s happening right now. Several see Salt Lake City simply as a growing city that is becoming more cosmopolitan in its tastes, particularly in the aftermath of the 2002 Winter Olympics experience.
“I think it’s part of what seems to be happening in Salt Lake, which is an expansion of what people are interested in seeing, what they’re hungry for,” says Roger Benington, co-artistic director of Tooth & Nail. “In greater numbers, they’re ready for broader experiences.”
Rodney Cuellar, Tooth & Nail’s co-artistic director, agrees. “I think what was interesting to see was the effect the Olympics had on this community, seeing what the possibilities could be. I think seeing that maybe somehow planted some seeds. To see people on the streets downtown, to feel that kind of energy and that kind of buzz.”
“There seems to be a bigger audience,” concurs Kurt Proctor, co-producing artistic director for Utah Contemporary Theatre. “[After the Olympics] I think people in Salt Lake kind of realized they could be part of the national dialogue in things. People had kind of a more global awareness of where we fit.”
While the audience may be there, that audience also needs a place to sit. For a long time, finding an adequate space to produce a show was a serious impediment to new companies taking root. But all parties agree that the recent opening of the Rose Wagner Center for the Performing Arts has been a significant factor in allowing more theater options.
“It’s a beautiful facility, part of a vibrant, growing city,” says Nancy Roth, Pygmalion Productions’ executive producer. “I just feel like, around the Rose, you walk out of the theater and it is alive.”
“It’s been terribly helpful for us, absolutely,” says Cuellar. “Coming out of New York, and having to design shows in spaces there ... I stopped by the Rose for the first time, and I was blown away, because nobody working in New York can generally afford a space like that.”
“What has been particularly good about it,” notes Proctor, “is that nobody has to take on a facility on their own and get people used to the idea of seeing theater in this place. If people can get used to the idea of going to the Rose Wagner, they’ll keep going.”
While the representatives from all three companies are quick to define their own unique visions and commitment to producing quality theater, they also acknowledge that it will be a challenge to grow the audience in such a way that everyone survives and thrives. Small companies often trade advertising in one another’s programs, but other creative ideas may be necessary to avoid a tipping point.
“I think there are some very cooperative people out there [in the local theater community],” Proctor believes. “I would like to ... look at the possibility of a season subscription where people see our two shows, somebody else’s two shows, and somebody else’s two shows.”
“My feeling is that we’re not in competition,” says Benington. “It is an issue, how to bring an audience in. And our thinking is that by choosing works that are personal to us, they’ll find resonance.”
“Which we realize,” Cuellar jumps in with a smile, “is a huge risk.”
“Not everyone is going to like the same show,” adds Roth. “If they don’t like yours, they might like someone else’s. And who cares? There are choices.”
Whether there are enough theater-goers to support all those choices remains to be seen. But for at least one season, there may never have been a better time in Salt Lake City to be a lover of theater.
2003-2004 Theater Schedule
Broadway in Utah (355-5502)
Sept. 16 - Sept. 21 The Full Monty
Oct. 14 - Oct. 19 Seussical
Nov. 18 - Nov. 30 42nd Street
Feb. 24 - Feb. 29 Oklahoma!
April 20 - April 25 Urinetown
Egyptian Theatre Company
Nov. 28 - Dec. 31 Oliver!
Pioneer Theatre Company
Sept. 24 - Oct. 11 Cyrano de Bergerac
Oct. 29 - Nov. 15 Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde
Dec. 3 - Dec. 20 Smokey Joe’s Cafe
Jan. 7 - Jan. 24 Alexandre Dumas &
Lady of the Camelias
Feb. 11 - Feb. 28 Brighton Beach memoirs
March 17 - April 3 The Real Thing
April 28 - May 22 Evita
Plan-B Theatre Company (201-9791)
Sept. 12 - Sept. 28 Bash: Latter-day Plays
March 19 - April 4 Animal Farm
Pygmalion Productions (355-2787)
Oct. 10 - Nov. 2 Snakebit
Feb. 6 - Feb. 29 The Gin Game
April 5 - May 9 Beyond Therapy
Salt Lake Acting Company
Sept. 23 - Oct. 19 Kimberly Akimbo
Nov. 18 - Dec. 14 Bat Boy: The Musical
Feb. 3 - Feb. 29 Hold Please
April 6 - May 2 The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?
June 15 - Aug. 22 Saturday’s Voyeur 2004
SLCC Grand Theatre (957-3322)
Sept. 12 - Sept. 27 Radio Gals
Oct. 31 - Nov. 15 The 1940s Radio Hour
Feb. 6 - Feb. 21 Mornings at Seven
March 19 - April 3 Children of Eden
May 14 - May 29 A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum
Tooth & Nail Productions (652-4091)
Oct. 23 - Nov. 9 Crave
Dec. 17 - Jan. 4 Fully Committed
University of Utah Babcock Theatre
Sept. 20 - Sept. 28 Oedipus at Colonus
Oct. 8 - Oct. 19 Cloud Nine
Nov. 12 - Nov. 23 A Raisin in the Sun
Jan. 28 - Feb. 8 Execution of Justice
April 7 - April 18 T he Duchess of Malfi
Utah Contemporary Theatre
Oct. 17 - Nov. 2 The Weir
Spring Dirty Blond
Wasatch Theatre Company
Sept. 5 - Sept. 20 Putting It Together
Nov. 7 - Nov. 22 The Lesson/The Primary English Class
Salt Lake Top 50
BY BILL FROST & RANDY HARWARD
Another SLAMMy issue, another annual roundup of reviews and recaps. Not every local CD released within the past 12 months is included here, just the 50 that stood out in the stacks that area artists submitted to City Weekly, neatly arranged A-Z. Each of these discs had a Special Something that separates the pretty good from the damn fine—sorry if we didn’t get to yours, but we’re very tired now. Included for consumer shopping convenience is each CD’s Internet contact info.
Majestic, expansive guitar-rock anthems served up loud, melodic, pensive and better than damn near any other band under the Universal umbrella. Thrust your lighter in the air and wave it like you just don’t care! (Randy Harward)
The Long Road ... Time’s Up!
Organic Utah County hip-hop, keeping the beats deceptively lean and subliminally funky over 15 positive-tip tracks and throbbing with grooves recalling Souls of Mischief and beyond. (Bill Frost)
Old school metal up your wazoo; churning rhythms and loud guitars. When Dave Ewart sings “Waiting to die! No motherfuckin’ reason why!” it’s not poetry, but then ... it is. (RH)
Cinematic (not just because of the clever Blockbuster-shelf title), multi-angled rock & roll artistry from one of the best bands on the Salt Lake music scene. You need this record. (RH)
BLUES ON FIRST
The Wasatch’s classiest blues combo burns through a dozen tracks, with Nick Greco’s down ‘n’ dirty harmonica playing counterpoint to Paul Blandford’s coolly measured guitar licks. (BF)
BOOKS ABOUT UFOS
The Ghetto Blaster EP
Delayed due to consequences related to rock star indulgence, this six-song section plate of rock & roll soul food (guitar-bass-drums, loud and live from the garage) was worth the wait. (RH)
Open the Door
A stoned stir-fry of hip-hop, funk, rock, reggae, samples and goofy rhymes (“My Vocab Will Stab You”), Buckettooth’s debut longplayer is a party disc in search of a backyard. (BF)
The Dragon Lies Sleeping
Adult-alternative guitar-rock with dashes of folk, soul and Americana with radio-ready attitude and hooks to spare-thin