The next stage

Live music changes with the season

Much to the relief of live music purveyors reeling from the hardships and challenges of life during a pandemic, weather wasn’t a problem over the last several months. A festive mood, albeit with face masks on patrons spaced six feet apart, prevailed, and songs filled the air at pop-up venues throughout the region. The only real climate danger was heat waves.

Portsmouth Music Hall Executive Director Tina Sawtelle called it a “Covid silver lining” that not one of the downtown Under The Arch outdoor shows presented by her venue was rained out. Scott Hayward, whose Tupelo Drive-In in Derry was one of the first parking lot concert facilities to open in the nation, agreed.

“We didn’t lose any shows, we didn’t cancel any, and we rescheduled one show,” he said in a Sept. 18 phone interview. “We are one of the very few concert promoters that can say we actually had a successful summer; we made money, had all of our employees back, and that was partly due to the fact that the model we chose worked in our sleep.”

Other al fresco efforts included a series of local showcases in Fletcher-Murphy Park, behind Capitol Center for the Arts and adjacent to Concord Community Music School. Swanzey Drive-In, which boasted a huge 750-car capacity, offered top-level acts like country star Chase Rice and classic rock band Blue Oyster Cult. Manchester’s Delta Dental Stadium did a series of Socially Distanced concerts, with clear skies throughout.

There was another benefit from the awful season: Local musicians owned the spotlight for a rare moment. National touring acts mostly bowed out, unwilling or unable to navigate the morass of what Hayward termed “50 dates with 50 different sets of regulations,” allowing bands like Boston’s Neighbor to break out in a big way.

As temperatures cool, however, the music must move indoors, a transition that raises many questions. Paul Costley, probably the biggest booker of bars and dining establishments in New Hampshire, has a few.

The re-opening of restaurants for outdoor service in May, after two months of quarantine, was a bonanza for his company, NotSoCostley Productions.

“A lot of the smart people in the early days got tents and then they had an outdoor venue,” he said by phone in mid-September. “In normal times, I usually have 60 to 80 events booked a week. … I was up to 135.”

That’s shifting quickly, a situation compounded when a hoped for Oct. 1 state decision to make playing indoors at dining establishments easier didn’t arrive. Currently, performers must stay a minimum of 25 feet away from patrons — easier for venues with a deep stage, but a rule that would eat up far too much space in most restaurants.

“Both Gov. Sununu and the Economic Reopening Task Force appreciate the eagerness of musicians to perform in restaurants again but public safety must remain the predominant priority,” D.J. Bettencourt, chairman of the Governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force, wrote in an email to the Hippo. “The task force has put forward a recommendation for consideration. However, Gov. Sununu, in consultation with state Epidemiologist Dr. Ben Chan, will determine the appropriate time to proceed based on a diversity of data points to ensure public safety comes first.”

Costley is crossing his fingers that the change will be come soon, as it affects so many performers in his roster.

“[If] that happens, it will be a game-changer,” Costley said. “Without it, everything’s going to come to a screeching halt.”

A few of the Lakes Region venues Costley books have suspended outdoor music, like Cactus Jack’s in Laconia. He expects most others in the southern part of the state will follow suit by the end of October.

While it’s tempting to add heaters to keep outdoor music going, it would only be for a few more weeks before winter cold really set in, he said.

“Everyone is waiting to see what they have to do indoors before they do things like heat their tents,” Costley said. “They’re expensive to rent and that’s money they won’t get back. … Anyway, what’s the difference between being inside a tent or inside a restaurant?”

Costley believes there are ways to make music work inside.

“I think they should put Plexiglas at face level for the performers,” he said. “Keep it small, see if the numbers change. Everything is going to be based on that anyway.”

Venues dedicated to live performances received a green light open at 50 percent capacity in late June. Some, like Hayward’s Tupelo Music Hall, are taking it slowly. So far, he’s only booked a Dueling Pianos show on Nov. 21 and two early December Gary Hoey dates. Other than those, he’s adopting a wait-and-see attitude.

“Being open is one thing, and being able to stay open is another thing,” Hayward said. “If we don’t have the capacity to do the shows we normally do, it doesn’t work. A good show for us is 500 people [and] a big show for a small club is 60 people. But I can’t live on 60 people.”

In the spring, Tupelo shows postponed by lockdown were optimistically rescheduled for October and November. Many of them are now pushed out until 2022, as artists “hunker down, taking time with making albums and other things,” Hayward said. “We need enough attendance to be open … national artists to be on tour. We can back fill a little bit with small local acts and stuff, but there’s not enough of it to have a full schedule.”

His popular Tupelo Drive-In shows continue, with Hot Tuna front man Jorma Kaukonen booked for the final musical performance on Oct. 25, closing after a Nov. 1 benefit auction for Derry family resource center The Upper Room.

The Music Hall plans a hybrid of outdoor and indoor shows through the end of the month, when Will Dailey of Barefoot Truth performs the final Chestnut Street show on Oct. 29. At that point, everything moves indoors.

“We must have gone through a hundred permutations of how we could do them, only to get down into the nitty gritty to find out it’s not going to be feasible,” said Monte Bohanan, venue marketing director of the outdoor series, which seated up to 108 guests at 24 tables set six feet apart. “The amount of work for the return on it landed squarely with Live Under the Arch shows, which have been hugely successful.”

The ability to draw from a large regional talent pool for the events proved “incredibly important,” Bohanan said.

“We’ve always had an eye to local originals,” he said. “Over the past decade we have been doing a lot and built some of those relationships. It has been invaluable during this time.”

With a pair of venues available, shows normally held in the intimate Loft are now moved to the larger Historic Theatre.

“The kind of performers that would come to our venue are on hold, hitting the pause button,” Sawtelle said, echoing Hayward’s comments. “So we’re trying to leverage what we have, but the artists that we can bring in for 250 seats is a very different level, much more akin to what we’ve been successful doing in the Loft.”

The Historic Theatre’s upcoming show calendar includes The Mammals on Oct. 9, Sons of Serendip on Oct. 17, Josh Turner the following Saturday, and a slate of Boston comics on Nov. 6.

Capitol Center for the Arts in Concord also runs a second, smaller venue, and the majority of shows will happen there. Similar to Portsmouth, they are leveraging regional talent, like young punk inspired Grenon on Oct. 17, the fun and funky Mica’s Groove Train on Nov. 14 and harmony-rich folk quartet River Sister in early December.

A few shows are set for the 1,300-seat Chubb Theatre. Johnny Cash tribute act Cash Unchained performed Sept. 18 in a shakedown cruise of sorts, according to Capitol Center Executive Director Nicki Clarke.

“We needed an opportunity to experiment,” she said by phone. “How does it work? Can we really have 300 people and do all the protocols that we need so people feel comfortable, so that we can do more of these?”

The days of big names returning look to be a way off.

“There are three things that have to move … before we really can get back to anything that’s truly more normal,” Clarke said. “We do have to have national touring acts that are out on the road. We need to have our capacity limitations lifted and we need an audience that’s ready to come out. Those three things are not really there at the moment. So we are going to continue to do small things down at the Bank of New Hampshire Stage for the next few months.”

Manchester’s Palace Theatre returned to live entertainment with a weekly residency from Juston McKinney, who also brought his Comedy at a Distance show to Portsmouth, Salisbury and Concord. He’s back at The Palace on Oct. 17.

Though none happened outdoors, many events were held at The Rex Theatre, renovated and reopened in 2019. A healthy slate is set for the near future at the city’s newest venue, including comic Kelly McFarland Oct. 9. Elvis and Billy Joel tribute nights are set for Oct. 10 and Oct. 17 respectively, and local Americana stalwarts Town Meeting perform Oct. 24. Matt Nakoa plays Oct. 29, and a Halloween acoustic Grateful Dead night from John Zevos is also scheduled.

Though the State of New Hampshire allows venues to operate at half capacity, most don’t plan to seat more than 25 to 30 percent. Thus, the short term is a money-losing proposition. But offering live entertainment is about more than moving to the music. The ripple effect is crucial.

“For every dollar that somebody spends at our venue, they’re spending $20 to $30 in town, whether that’s parking or restaurants or hotels or whatever. … Having an arts and cultural center in the heart of downtown that is thriving drives everybody’s business,” Bohanan said. “If we were forced to shut for even six months, it’s going to slow down everybody else’s ability to recover.”

On Monday, Oct. 5, Gov. Sununu announced the Live Venue Relief Program: $12 million provided by the state’s CARES Act Coronavirus Relief fund to benefit venues “hosting live theatrical presentations, musical entertainment, or sporting or racing events that are seated, ticketed, and open to the public,” according to a press release.

It’s a welcome gesture, Hayward said.

“We’re getting into winter now, so there’s no way we could possibly produce enough income to pay the bills,” he said, noting that this will provide a lifeline to venues that, unlike Tupelo, have been closed since March. “If they’re paying their mortgages right now, they’re generally taking loans to do so if they’re not paying rent. This really helps people catch up to their baseline.”

Outdoor events
Tupelo Drive-In
Saturday, Oct. 10 – Foreigners Journey ( 1 and 4 p.m.)
Sunday, Oct. 11 – Will Evans of Barefoot Truth
Saturday, Oct. 17–  Comedy Fundraiser with Kenny Rogerson and Francis Birch
Sunday, Oct. 25– Jorma Kaukonen (noon and 3 p.m.)
Sunday, Nov. 1 – The Upper Room’s 19th Annual Auction
Music Hall Live Under The Arch
Thursday, Oct. 8 – Great Bay Sailor
Saturday, Oct. 10 – Clements Brothers
Friday, Oct. 16 – Dwayne Haggins
Thursday, Oct. 22 – Kelly McFarland (comedy)
Thursday, Oct. 29 – Will Dailey
Swanzey Drive-In
Friday, Oct. 9 – Badfish
Thursday, Oct. 15 – Smith & Myers
Thursday, Oct. 22 – moe.
Friday, Oct. 23 – Dirty Heads
Indoor events
Capitol Center for the Arts
Friday, Oct. 9, and Saturday, Oct. 10 – Bob Marley (comedy), five shows total
Bank of New Hampshire Stage
Saturday, Oct. 17 – Grenon
Saturday, Oct. 24 – Rob Steen, Robbie Printz, Paul Landwehr
Saturday, Nov. 14 – Mica’s Groove Train
Saturday, Dec. 5 – River Sister
Rex Theatre
Friday, Oct. 9 – Kelly McFarland (Comedy)
Saturday, Oct. 10 – A Night of Elvis (Tribute)
Saturday, Oct. 17 – David Clark Songs in the Attic (Billy Joel Tribute)
Saturday, Oct. 24 – Town Meeting w/ George Barber
Thursday, Oct. 29 – Matt Nakoa
Saturday, Oct. 31 – Acoustic Grateful Dead w/ John Zevos & Friends
Palace Theatre
Saturday, Oct. 17 – Juston McKinney Comedy at a Distance (6 and 8:30 p.m.)
Friday, Oct. 23 – British Rock Experience (runs through Oct. 31)
The Music Hall
Friday, Oct. 9 – The Mammals
Saturday, Oct. 17 – Sons of Serendip
Saturday, Oct. 24 – Josh Turner
Friday, Nov. 6 – Boston Comedy
Saturday, Nov. 7 – Nellie McKay
Friday, Nov. 13 – Combo Sabroso Quartet
Saturday, Nov. 14 – Patty Larkin
Sunday, Nov. 15 – Dan Brown’s Wild Symphony Benefit Concert
Sunday, Dec. 27 – Juston McKinney
Tupelo Music Hall
Saturday, Nov. 21 – Dueling Pianos 
Friday, Dec. 4, and Saturday, Dec. 5 – Gary Hoey Christmas 25th Anniversary Show

Featured photo: Dwayne Haggins. Courtesy photo.

The Music Roundup 20/10/08

Local music news & events

Maine attraction: Five shows over two days allow comedian Bob Marley to perform for socially distanced audiences in a theater he routinely sells out at capacity. Venue management hinted that an extra show or two may be added — no word on how Marley will adhere to his well-known policy of never performing the same set twice. Friday, Oct. 9, at 6 and 8:30 p.m., and Saturday, Oct. 10, at 3:30, 6 and 8:30 p.m. at Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord. Tickets $46.25 at

Local light: Necessity is the mother of you-know-what as singing drummer Masceo Williams performs on a basement club’s outdoor patio, repurposed for the pandemic. It’s billed as An Evening With Masceo, which could mean an appearance from The Special Guests, an abbreviated reunion of his old band Jamantics with guitarist Freeland Hubbard and ubiquitous bass player Eric Reingold. Friday, Oct. 9, 8 p.m., Penuche’s Ale House, 16 Bicentennial Square, Concord, $2 cover; event is 21+.

Piano man: An audience-driven night of piano cabaret, Mix Tape features Robert Dionne playing requests and engaging in a bit of stump the band, or, more precisely, the man behind the keyboard. Dionne is the founding and artistic director of the Majestic, a charming performer and ace musicologist as well; stumping him won’t be easy. Saturday, Oct. 10, 7 p.m., Majestic Theatre, 880 Page St., Manchester. In person tickets are $15, call 669-7460. Virtual tickets are $10 at

Rustic return: Weekly music, with singer-guitarist Carl Chloros kicking things off, is back through the end of November at a country store and eatery. Chloros, one half of Old Gold Duo, performs classic acoustic Americana tunes. Upcoming performers include Steve Haidaichuk (Oct. 17), Nicole Knox Murphy (Oct. 24), Lisa Guyer (Nov. 7), Paul Lussier (Nov. 14) and Henry Laliberte (Nov. 21). Saturday, Oct. 10, 6 p.m., Town Cabin Deli & Pub, 285 Old Candia Road, Candia, see

Barn burner: Proud New Hampshire native Gabby Martin plays outdoors at a Lakes Region brewery as the opportunities for such al fresco excursions wane with the falling leaves. Martin, a bright and vivacious singer-songwriter, had a busy summer. She fills her set with familiar fare like Joni Mitchell’s “Big Yellow Taxi” and “Put Your Records On” by Corrine Bailey Ray. Sunday, Oct. 11, 3 p.m., Twin Barns Brewing Co., 194 Daniel Webster Highway, Meredith,

Ava (R) & Vampires vs. the Bronx (PG-13)

Ava (R)

A lady assassin dealing with personal issues must keep herself from becoming the next target in Ava, a pretty amazing trainwreck of a movie.

Ava (Jessica Chastain) is an assassin who wears wigs and does some very stagey flirting to try to put her subjects at ease and then kills them totally professionally — she can make it look like an accident or natural causes or whatever because she is That Good. Except that she has developed this little quirk where she talks to them first, asks them why they think somebody wants them dead, what they did wrong.

I’m going to spoil something right here: I thought that maybe this was going to be a whole long-game thing where she, a cog in the murder machine, was gathering evidence that she’d eventually use for something — power, a way out of The Life, something like that. Nope! It’s just a dumb character element that is supposed to show, I guess, that she’s fraying around the edges, psychologically, and that even though she’s a professional hit woman she needs to believe there’s some kind of morality to what she’s doing. But, whatever the intention, it really just makes her seem like maybe she got this job yesterday.

The big boss at MurderCorp (not really its name, sadly), Simon (Colin Farrell), is not cool with her being so chatty. He tells middle-manager Duke (John Malkovich, taking this stuff a little more seriously than it needs to be taken) to get her in line but we know, because we’ve seen TV and movies before, that Simon has already decided to off-board her from the organization and has planned an exit package that involves getting her killed during her next job.

But Ava is a real crackerjack at killing henchmen so she survives. Duke tells her to take some time off so she heads to Boston to reconnect with her family: her angry younger sister Judy (Jess Weixler), her angry younger sister’s boyfriend/Ava’s ex Michael (Common) and her mom, with whom she has a prickly relationship, Bobbi (Geena Davis). Ava is also dealing with the struggle to stay sober — she had struggles with drugs and alcohol — which the movie doesn’t really know how to deal with and just kind of throws into a scene when it needs to serious-up a situation. Also, Ava has some sort of past with a lady gangster-type called Toni (Joan Chen) — she was a mentor? A buddy? An employer? — and the movie super doesn’t know what to do with that. I think Ava just shoves that plot line in so that Chastain and Common can be in a fight scene together.

Ava has the building blocks of a decent action movie: a solid cast, a basically workable story in the whole assassin dealing with Stuff both personal and professional, some solid ideas for action set pieces. And yet this movie feels like, in every scene, with every wonky acting choice or stilted bit of dialogue, everybody involved got together and said “what are the worst choices we could make here” and then they did that, went in those bafflingly bad directions. Even the score is weird and terrible — it feels like a low-budget 1980s action TV show but in, like, a bad way (versus, say, the series Cobra Kai, which also uses 1980s action TV show music and it’s awesome).

When thinking about this movie, I keep wanting to call it Anna, which is the name of a different dumb, lady-assasin action movie (from 2019). But that movie knows what it is. It leans in to its accents and improbable fight scenes and general goofiness. Ava could have been that too, expect, yikes, is it trying to say something about addiction? No, movie, you are not the movie for that. This is not the sort of movie where we need to take anything or anyone seriously. This is the sort of movie where everybody should be having so much fun it doesn’t matter when elements don’t make sense.

All that said, this movie is basically what I set out for when I decided to watch it: a no-effort action movie where Jessica Chastain beats people up. So I guess, until this movie ends up on some place like Neftlix where watching it costs no additional effort or money, the question is, is it worth the $6.99 rental fee? No, but if you ever see it available for 99 cents and have absolutely nothing else to do … maybe? C-

Rated R for violence and language throughout, and brief sexual material, according to the MPA on film Directed by Tate Taylor with a screenplay by Matthew Newton, Ava is an hour and 36 minutes long and distributed by Vertical Entertainment. It is available for rent.

Vampires vs. the Bronx (PG-13)

A group of young teens must fight a coven of real estate developers who are also vampires in Vampires vs. Bronx, a cute action/comedy/horror movie.

Miguel (Jaden Michael), Bobby (Gerald Jones III) and Luis (Gregory Diaz IV) basically grew up hanging out at the neighborhood bodega run by Tony (The Kid Mero) in the Bronx. Now Tony’s landlord is trying to raise the rent as area building- and business-owners are selling out to a real estate firm called Murnau (a name that drove me nuts until some Googling reminded me that it’s the last name of the director of 1922’s Nosferatu). In come the people with the canvas bags and the kale and the expensive lattes and out go the neighborhood stalwarts — like the nail salon run by Becky (Zoe Saldana), whom we meet in the movie’s opening scenes. Miguel tries at least to save the bodega with a block party to raise money to pay for the rent increase.

While biking through the neighborhood hanging up signs for the party, he witnesses one of the people from a Murnau property kill a guy from the neighborhood — well, first put him in a trance and then lift him up in the air as he drains the man of his blood. Vampires, Miguel tells Tony and his friends, Murnau isn’t just a group of real estate developers, they’re also vampires! The kids don’t completely believe him but they study up on vampire lore with help from the movie Blade and set out to prove that the undead walk (and gentrify) among us.

Though I’d definitely peg this at PG-13 and there is a fair amount of death and threatening of children in this movie (Miguel and his friends are teens I guess but read as, like, 10-year-olds) Vampires vs. the Bronx is very cute. There’s a plucky “save the community!” spirit to both Miguel’s quest to save the bodega and keep his neighborhood together and to his quest to find and defeat the vampires. The movie has a light touch even when it’s making a serious point, and is funny and smart (smart all the way around — in its humor, in the way it uses its vampire special effects). And it is narrowly focused on its central story with all the details serving that one storyline, which makes it feel like the movie is doing more than just its hour and 25 minutes would suggest. B+

Rated PG-13 for violence, language and some suggestive references, according to the MPA on Directed by Osmany Rodriguez and written by Rodriguez and Blaise Hemmingway, Vampires vs. the Bronx is an hour and 25 minutes long and is available on Netflix.

Welcome to the United States of Anxiety

Welcome to the United States of Anxiety, by Jen Lancaster (Little A, 239 pages)

Jen Lancaster, self-described reforming neurotic, is a little anxious these days. Specifically, she is “a bundle of nerves, swaddled in a blanket of panic.”

You might find this surprising, given that she is a wildly successful author (15 previous books) with TSA PreCheck and enough disposable income and time to routinely buy kale salad at a Whole Foods two towns away. Or maybe all that explains why she is so anxious.

Regardless, the author of Such a Pretty Fat and Bitter is the New Black is here to help the rest of us dissolve our pre-election nerves and be more like her father, a man so unaffected by encroaching disaster that he calmly kept reading the sports pages in the middle of a flight in which the plane lost an engine and the oxygen bags descended. (Which recalls a book by another Jen — Jen Sincero of You are a Badass fame.)

Lancaster didn’t learn about her father’s nearly catastrophic fight until decades later, in part because he’s not the sort of man to obsessively worry about things that might happen (“We had my mother for that,” she says), and in part because he didn’t live in age in which people had outsized reactions to virtually everything. By almost every measure, the world is a safer place than it’s ever been for large swaths of people. “So … why the hell does it feel like the ends of days?” Lancaster asks. “Why does it seem like it’s about to rain locusts? Why am I cuffing my pants for the coming rivers of blood?”

There is a short answer, of course: social media. But that doesn’t make for a book. And so Lancaster dusts off the late Abraham Maslow’s “hierarchy of needs” to serve as a sort of intellectual scaffolding on which to hang a collection of comical riffs about the state of American culture today.

Maslow, you may recall from high school, believed that human beings have to fulfill their most elemental needs, such as shelter and safety, before advancing to first-world accomplishments like self-esteem and self-actualization. In other words, you can’t worry about safety and security if you’re starving and cold; you can’t worry about love and accomplishment until you are safe. So, yes, this kind of fits into a conversation about anxiety. And it’s useful for dividing the book into five parts. But the structure seems a bit contrived and distracts from Lancaster’s comic gifts. We are force-fed Maslow when all we really want is vintage Jen, master of the bon mot.

After establishing her neurotic credentials (she says she is “actively afraid of bread”), Lancaster embarks on a tour of America the anxious, beginning with our obsession with having ethically grown, nutritionally complete and Instagram-worthy cuisine. Her grandparents, Italian immigrants, would scoff. They ate “whatever washed up on the shore in Italy” and later, “once they settled in Boston, their culinary repertoire expanded to include weeds they picked in the yard and the small animals they trapped in their attic.”

On the subject of clothes, another of Maslow’s first-tier needs, she brings us to an improv class she took at Chicago’s famous Second City comedy school, where she was told that clothes are a nonverbal announcement of identity. “My skirted leggings, tunic sweater, and matching scarf announced ‘I had a 20 percent off coupon at the Eileen Fisher outlet.’”

And so she goes, spinning through her own world and current events with a caustic tongue and just enough winsome deprecation to soften the edges.

One of her stories is one she’s told before, in another, shorter version in HuffPost eight years ago.

She was waiting in line for that kale salad at Whole Foods when a mother and child “cut in front of me with such grace and sense of purpose that I felt compelled to apologize for having arrived first.”

The girl, Margot, was about 6 and was wearing $300 jeans and carrying a Burberry purse. The mother was wearing jodhpurs and riding boots, “coated with a thin sheen of dust after she’d doubtless whiled away the day jumping rails in an indoor arena.” The child then proceeded to whisper questions that the mother relayed to the chef as if she was interpreting for a queen … about the quality of the sushi. Lancaster tells the story not with a keyboard, but a machete, and it is just perfect.

Less perfect are her many entreaties for us to live better, to reduce our paralyzing anxiety via platitude. Worst offense: “If your closet’s too overloaded to make choices, be ruthless. Purge and donate.” (May I suggest: if your editor lets you publish sentences like this when you’re a brilliant cultural critic, be ruthless. Find another.)

Toward the end, Lancaster pivots to an unexpected place: her fraught relationship with her mother, which has resulted in her having no contact with either parent. To use one of Lancaster’s own favorite terms, “spoiler alert” — at one point her mother threatened to sue her for libel. It is an unexpected airing of dirty laundry that, like David Sedaris writing about his sister’s suicide, is shocking and seems out of place, even as she explains, “While I was growing up, my mother’s behavior was so mercurial, I never knew what to expect, thus setting me on a course for a lifetime of anxiety.”

So, maybe it isn’t social media to blame after all. Maybe it’s our mothers.

Welcome to the United States of Anxiety is the perfect title for 2020, just not the perfect book. But it’s still a much better investment of your time than two hours on Twitter or another presidential debate. B

Much is made of Amazon’s impact on bookstores, less of the company’s impact on publishing itself. But of course, Jeff Bezos would eventually get into publishing; he was married to a novelist, after all, and before it sold everything, Amazon sold only books.

Still, it’s a little surprising to learn that Amazon has been in publishing for more than a decade, not self-publishing as in CreateSpace or BookBaby, but publishing to compete with legacy players like Hatchette or HarperCollins. And it landed a big name in Jen Lancaster (United States of Anxiety, reviewed above.)
Lancaster’s new book, curiously billed as “observational comedy,” is published by Little A, one of 16 imprints that Amazon has established since starting a publishing arm in 2009. Its other imprints include Montlake, Thomas & Mercer, Lake Union, 47North and Grand Harbor Press.

Even more surprising, so far, the reach of Amazon Publishing seems relatively modest, at least compared to its outsized influence in so many other parts of American life. On its website, the company touts a handful of awards and says it has helped 36 authors reach more than one million readers. Note the word “readers.” It doesn’t say 36 authors sold more than 1 million books. One reviewer of Lancaster’s book on Amazon, that is marked a “verified purchase,” said she’d read it because she accidentally downloaded it as a free book she got through her Prime membership.

All this is to say, Amazon may be the largest seller of books in the U.S., but it’s clearly not decimating legacy publishers as it did bookstores. Not yet, anyway. But its website does one thing pretty cool: Each imprint, when listing current books, credits the title’s agent, agency and editor. For example, Hell’s Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men by Harold Schechter (you know you want to read this) was sold by David Patterson of the Stuart Krichevsky Literary Agency and its editor was Vivian Lee (334 pages, Little A). That’s wonky publishing tea that is usually reserved for subscribers to Publishers Weekly, but it’s nice to see credit given, since so many people besides the author are responsible for bringing us books.

The biggest Amazon Publishing successes so far, at least when it comes to literary prizes, appear to be a collection of stories, Godforsaken Idaho by Shawn Vestal (210 pages, Little A), and the children’s book You Are (Not) Small by Ann Kang and illustrator Christopher Weyant (32 pages, Two Lions).

Album Reviews 20/10/08

Tedy, Boys Don’t Cry (Sony Records)

This mononymed 28-year-old singer comes to us from Haiti by way of Montreal, where he’s most recently occupied himself with accumulating a gigantic flock of followers on TikTok and Instagram. He came out as gay on TikTok, which unleashed a tidal wave of attention from new fans, who readily took to his polite but somewhat dramatic triphop-tinged soul-pop; this EP is his major-label debut. The video for the title track isn’t a fun watch, which is the point, as he relives scenes of cruelty he’s witnessed and experienced in real life while making fine use of his Keith Sweat-ish sob-singing delivery. That track isn’t something I’d really ever need to hear again, but closer tune “War” is another thing entirely, built on the same sort of epic million-drum strum und drang theatrics as Toto’s “Africa” and such. In “Stuck,” he evokes a male version of Zola Jesus, sort of pining/not-pining for something that’s impossibly out of reach, the drama underscored by a chorus in which the reverb is pegged to a Himalayan level. Not wildly adventurous, but I’m in his corner, sure. A-

Body Double, Milk Fed (Zum Records)

Delightfully messy album helmed by Bay Area native Candace Lazarou, who handled singing for Pang and was more than happy to take on other roles within the structure of this five-piece (she’s a multi-instrumentalist, after all, and studied music at University of North Carolina at Asheville). For a no-wave joint, this is pretty darn near perfect, given the boombox quality of her vocal tracks and the buzzy, unwashed drone of her guitar (which tends to sound like early B-52s when she’s in jam-out mode). Her musical evolution is at a stripped-bare stage; she’s been occupied lately working out the kinks of something of a personal rebirth (she recently got off dope, which required that she delete her entire real-life-friends list and start from scratch). To state the shriekingly obvious, this isn’t presentable to anyone who can’t tolerate unprofessional-sounding stuff, but that’s why earbuds were invented. I’m pulling for her myself — she’s like a female Ozzy with no budget, fam. A+

Retro Playlist

My original angle for this week’s stream-of-barely-consciousness was inspired by a Yahoo Lifestyle article (yes, I know, how boomer of me, but really, there are days I just cannot deal with Google’s newsfeed and its bottomless pit of TikTok-ers of the Week, and since when did memes with short shelf-lives warrant actual news articles?). Headlined “The Pandemic Has Changed When, Where and How We Listen to Music: ‘A Break From Reality’,” the article had no meat whatsoever: “We’re not commuting much, if at all, so we don’t crank music in our cars/earbuds”; “Country music is family-friendly, so it’s become a staple in homes, because most people of all ages can deal with it”; “people are listening to music from their past, for comfort.” And so on.

Talk about paper-thin clickbait. I’ve talked about most of that stuff before in these pages, not that I plan on trolling myself into trying to write a piece about country music. In the meantime, I predicted a few months ago that some music trends “that may have been bubbling below the surface” would be “fast-tracked,” which seems to be happening, or something, the author didn’t really seem to know what he was babbling about, and he had statistics that made his point even murkier.

I do know that, as I’ve said, everything that came out Before Covid seems better. There’s no legitimacy to that nonsense, of course; if I like a record, I like it. In July 2013 I slobbered all over The Icarus Line’s Slave Vows, saying stuff like it made “Warlocks look like the accounting team at Best Buy.” The whole record is a blast, incorporating sounds from The Doors, INXS, Boris and White Stripes, and I gave them extra credit for tagging the Strokes’ tour bus with graffiti. Even if it had hit my radar last week, I’d still push that record. Pitchfork even liked it, which was of course a frontal assault to my sensibilities.

Timelessness is the key to any album, is what I’m saying, regardless of plague conditions, even if it’s diva-pop. In 2009 Joss Stone graced the world with Colour Me Free. I loved its “oldfangled ’60s girl-group” vibe and otherworldly hooks, including the one on the Nas-guested “Governmentalist.” I’d still take her over Ariana Grande any day of the week.


A seriously abridged compendium of recent and future CD releases

• Oct. 9 is our next happy general-album-release date, here in this weird, disposable month that only has two holidays, Halloween and my birthday. To celebrate the former, I should probably start with the new Brothers Osborne album, Skeletons, because, you know, skeletons. Do I have any clue as to who these Brothers Osborne are? No, I do not, but only a country band would call itself a “Brothers” anything, so I’m assuming this will be country music, and the titular “skeletons” actually — and here comes the difficult “artsy” part — refer to past loves that went bad when the brothers tried serial monogamy on for size and came to find out that their “womenfolk” didn’t take too kindly to having their men driving off in their matching Chevy Silverados to drink multiple cases of lousy American lager beer and get into fights with bear-wrestling auto mechanics and cheat on their girlfriends with belly-shirted bartenders named Tammy and Patty. Or maybe not, I don’t know, I’ll just stop this tangent right now and go see for myself what these Whatever Brothers are about. Yep, there they are, ha ha, one of the guys has a ZZ Top beard, and they have cowboy hats. They’re into honky-tonk “outlaw” country, a genre that should have gone extinct during the reign of King Ramses II of Egypt. They’re from Maryland, and they got their big show-biz break after appearing on The Voice. So I nailed it, as you just saw, but did I get it right about the skeletons? Let’s go listen to the title track and find out! Yup, I came to the right place, the YouTube has a pickup truck commercial that I can skip through if I can stand the suspense for 10 seconds, and there we go, the beat is awesome and muddy and gross, like Charlie Daniels with an extra shot of whiskey. But yeah, fam, I had it wrong, the lyrics are about how this dude is 100 percent sure his girlfriend is cheatin’ on him, like there are skeletons in her closet! How do these people even dream up this stuff, I ask you.

• Look over there, guys, it’s U.K. grime pioneer Dizzee Rascal, with E3 AF, his seventh album! The single, “L.L.L.L.” features some other cockney rapper named Chip. The beat revolves around hearing-test drone, pedestrian trap, and a throwaway Super Mario ditty, but you don’t care about any of that silly “music” stuff, you want to know about the video, like what kind of person would be flying around on a jet-ski in the duck pond of some quiet British estate. Dizzee, that’s who!

• Sometimes I gravitate to albums that don’t interest me at all. Mostly it’s an attempt to broaden my horizons a little, or maybe learn to like humans more, or something. And that’s why I’m going to be talking about Touché Amoré’s new one, Lament, next. Except, surprise, this isn’t some stupid hipster band singing off-key and irritating me to no end, it’s a post-hardcore/screamo encore troupe from Los Angeles! Do you like the word “troupe”? I do — it’s French-ish! The single, “Limelight,” is cool-ish; the singer sounds like a 17-year-old Tom Waits for 30 seconds while hollering over a U2-meets-Cowboy Junkies guitar part, then it gets (spoiler alert) loud, and kind of Helmet-like. I pronounce it “OK.”

• To wrap up the week, we have North Carolina’s Travis Stewart, better known as Machinedrum, with his new one, A View of U. One of the tunes, “Ur2yung,” alternates between trippy, progressive IDM and big-beat techno. Awesome and boring simultaneously.

Dark beer season is here

Stouts, porters and brown ales are on the menu now

That first cool night in September triggers something in beer drinkers, something almost primal, instinctual, thirsting for deep, rich flavors.

OK, I’m just being dramatic.

What I’m trying to say is, when it gets cold out, beer drinkers shift from the lighter brews of summer to richer, more robust beers, like, for example, stouts, porters and brown ales. A big imperial stout that has been aged in bourbon barrels just doesn’t pair all that well with a 90-degree summer day. But it does pair remarkably well with a cool, even chilly, fall evening.

I do think now is the perfect time of year to explore darker beers, beers that might take you slightly out of your comfort zone if you’re used to lighter fare or if you’re usually more focused on IPAs.

Stouts and porters offer layers of complexity, robust flavors but oftentimes a very smooth, easy-drinking experience you might not expect from a jet black pour.

And there is so much brewers can do with the stout style. You can age it on bourbon barrels or rum barrels or maybe even wine barrels. You can add vanilla or spice or pumpkin or actual coffee to the brewing or aging process to impart even more complexity, flavor and character.

603 Brewery’s Session Stout would be a tremendous choice for someone looking to explore the stout style. This has low alcohol, features an extremely smooth and creamy texture thanks to the addition of oats, and boasts overtones of chocolate and rich malt. Really, what’s not to like?

On the other end of the spectrum is Kelsen Brewing Co.’s Vendel Imperial Stout, which is a luscious stout brewed with locally roasted coffee featuring big notes of coffee and bittersweet chocolate. At 9.4 percent ABV, this is a slow-sipper you can savor over the course of an evening by the fire. If you’re not sure, split this one with people you really, really like.

For a beer with closer to a medium body, try Henniker Brewing Co.’s Flap Jack Double Brown Ale, which is a hearty brown ale brewed with locally sourced maple syrup for just a touch of sweetness. This beer is the epitome of fall. Brown ales, in general, I tend to find just more approachable, maybe simply because visually they appear a little lighter. Nutty and roasty, brown ales are perfect for this time of year.

A little different but still quite appropriate for the time of year, Throwback Brewery in North Hampton recently released its own barleywine, which features big malt character and plenty of sweetness. Barleywines have lots of alcohol and this one comes in 10.5 percent ABV so be ready, but you’ll be rewarded with a brew featuring big notes of caramel, toffee, toasted bread and warming alcohol, says the brewery.

Honestly, I could go on and on — the list of quality darker beers in New Hampshire is a long one. With huge coffee flavor, look for The Roast from Henniker Brewing Co. later this winter. The Robust Vanilla Porter by Great North Aleworks is a perfect choice for someone trying to explore the style. Stoneface Brewing Co. in Newington features a Barleywine Roasted Almond with caramel, toffee and light chocolate notes — wow.

Be honest, your taste buds are ready to shake things up. Now is the time to grab something darker. You’ll be rewarded with a cascade of complexity and deliciousness. You’re welcome.

What’s in My Fridge
Cosmic Distortion Double IPA by Mighty Squirrel Brewing Co.
(Waltham, Mass.) This beer comes at you in a good way. This has aggressive hop character and it’s loaded with tropical fruit flavor and aroma. The pour is a beautiful, hazy, deep yellow (if that’s a thing) and I find that in spite of all the hops and the alcohol — 8-percent ABV — this finishes quite smooth with a pronounced sweetness on the finish. Like everything else I’ve ever had from Mighty Squirrel, this is tremendous. Cheers!

Featured photo: It’s the season for stouts. Courtesy photo.

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