Union jacked

Brit Pack spans multiple eras

Among a trove of tribute acts, the ’60s British Invasion is well represented. What sets The Brit Pack apart is that their target isn’t one band or decade but a wide breadth of music from across the pond. Sure, they’ll crank up “Satisfaction” or “Twist and Shout” with alacrity, but a typical set list will also include Led Zeppelin, Oasis or Adele.

Consisting of four Berklee grads, The Brit Pack reflects not just the first wave led by the Beatles and Rolling Stones, but a representation of artists that came in the ensuing years — the British Occupation, if you will.

“You get a whole journey through all of these bands,” guitarist Mark Johnson said recently. “That same energy a tribute act would give you, but with every single band you might know from the British Invasion through the modern days.”

Occasionally they veer away from strictly British, playing “Go Your Own Way” — though Fleetwood Mac’s makeup is similar to theirs. Johnson and drummer Will Haywood Smith are U.K.-born like Mick Fleetwood and the two McVies, while Matt Nakoa and Bryan Percival serve as the group’s Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks.

In a joint interview with Nakoa, Johnson offered some logic-bending to explain the inclusion of “Boys Are Back In Town” by Thin Lizzy.

“They’re a good Irish band,” he conceded, “but we figured they were close enough to the U.K. … there’s probably some English blood in that band.”

Since forming in 2011, they’ve gone where the audience takes them, even when that finds lead singer Nakoa channeling Johnny Rotten, as happened when they played one fan’s wedding. This led to a secret side project called The Sex Beatles.

“We deliver classics in the Sex Pistols manner,” Johnson said.

The bit was born in the days of playing late-night residencies in their New York City home base.

“Bleecker Street and the Village … there’d be beers flying over the drum kit and random people sleeping on the stage,” Johnson said. “These days it’s a raucous show, but you won’t get hit by a flying amp or anything.”

While covering well-known songs, the group tries to put itself in the mindset of bands like Led Zeppelin or The Who.

“We improvise and really capture the essence of the songs, but we’re not doing it exactly like the record, because they wouldn’t have done it exactly like the record,” Nakoa said. “We own the music as if it was our own; unfortunately, we don’t get compensated that way.”

When they first set out, “It was the usual suspects, ‘Satisfaction’ and ‘Hard Day’s Night’ — but we were talking about doing Oasis and stuff,” Johnson said. “Through the years, people just keep requesting songs and we’re like, that’s a good idea, and there are times where we’re driving somewhere in the car and we hear a record and say, these guys are British — or at least somebody in the room when the record being made was British.”

“What’s so great is it’s a liberal interpretation,” Nakoa said. “We’re only going where the audience tells us we should be going. I mean, we go where the reaction is.”

Asked to name some favorite songs from their set, Johnson quickly answered, “anything Queen or Zeppelin, for the simple reason that it’s really fun to play.” He voiced gratitude for having a capable band of friends and singled out Nakoa, whom he also supports as a solo artist.

“When you’ve got a singer who can do this stuff as well as he does … as a performer, and as an audience member, it’s really a joy to be around,” he said. “It’s also very rare to get a chance where you can play it with a band this good. … I just enjoy playing with these guys, because they make it sound so cool.”

The Brit Pack
When: Sunday, March 6, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Rex Theatre, 23 Amherst St., Manchester
Tickets: $23 at palacetheatre.org

Featured photo: The Brit Pack.

The Music Roundup 22/03/03

Local music news & events

Beach mood: With frigid temperatures lingering, the Kenny Chesney tribute act No Shoes Nation provides a glimpse into summer months ahead. Led by singer-guitarist Danny “Wray” Bergeron, the behatted band recreates the loose, laid-back vibe of a Chesney show, a popular bit at the winery they’re returning to after selling it out last year. Dinner reservations are available at LaBelle’s Americus Restaurant. Thursday, March 3, 7:30 p.m., LaBelle Winery, 14 Route 111, Derry, $35 at labellewinery.com.

Country time: A powerful double bill has headliner Michael Ray preceded by New England Music Award winner Annie Brobst. The Florida-born singer-songwriter is known for “Whiskey and Rain,” “Get To You,” “Kiss You In The Morning” and other hits; his latest release is Higher Education. Boston’s Brobst has received multiple NEMA plaques, most recently earning Act of the Year honors in 2021. Friday, March 4, 6 p.m., Granite State Music Hall, 546 Main St., Laconia, $25 to $75 at ticketweb.com (21+).

Boss band: Taking their name from a Born To Run deep track, The Last Of The Duke Street Kings are a Montreal tribute act focused on Bruce Springsteen. Their repertoire includes the usual favorites, but a typical setlist offers rarities only found in completist box sets and bootlegs, and runs from his early days to newer selections like “Radio Nowhere.” Saturday, March 5, 8 p.m., Pasta Loft, 241 Union Square, Milford, $10 at eventbrite.com (groups of four, six and 10, with 10 individual bar seats available).

Funny night: With nearly five decades in the trenches, Steve Sweeney has earned the title King of Boston Comedy. He featured prominently in When Stand Up Stood Out, a documentary of the 1980s scene. Sweeney is also a successful actor, landing roles in movies like Celtic Pride, There’s Something About Mary and Me, Myself & Irene. He played himself as an aspiring talk show host in 2018’s well-reviewed Sweeney Killing Sweeney. Saturday, March 5, 8 p.m., Tupelo Music Hall, 10 A St., Derry, $25 at tupelohall.com.

Eighties redux: Best known for providing a title song to teen rom com Pretty In Pink, Psychedelic Furs made a half dozen albums over the MTV decade. Hits like “Love My Way” and “The Ghost In You” charted generational angst via what one writer labeled “witty, poetic, pugnacious onslaughts seared out of punk then sashayed beyond New Wave.” In 2020, they released Made of Rain, their first new LP in nearly three decades. Wednesday, March 9, 7:30 p.m., Capitol Center for the Arts, 44 S. Main St., Concord, $29 to $49 at ccanh.com.

At the Sofaplex 22/03/03

Texas Chainsaw Massacre (R)

Sarah Yarkin, Elsie Fisher.

And by “rated R” I mean hard R, with people cut in half and Bellagio-in-Oceans 11-style fountains of blood. Very R.

I know I have seen some previous Chainsaws — could not even begin to tell you which ones or what happened in them — but the movie doesn’t seem to be some mid-arc entry into the franchise and feels more like it is going the route of the recent Halloween entries, with some connection to the 1970s original but easy enough to follow for new joiners.

Melody (Yarkin) and Dante (Jacob Latimore) are chefs and partners in a plan to colonize with hipsters a small, nearly desolate Texas town where every interaction with the locals seems vaguely hostile but at least the real estate is super cheap. Their plan is to open a restaurant, an art gallery owned by Dante’s fiancée, Ruth (Nell Hudson), and maybe even a comic book store owned by Lila (Fisher), Melody’s sister — you know, zhuzh up this deserted-during-the-Dust-Bowl looking town. Hey, cool, says Lila, but I’m still getting over my trauma from surviving a school shooting and this place is seven hours from my friends so, like, maybe not? But Melody and Dante have a busload of “investors” coming and so they are charging ahead with their plans, even when Melody gets into a spat with Richter (Moe Dunford), a contractor and mechanic who doesn’t enjoy being patronized by hipsters, and Dante is fed up with the woman (Alice Krige) who seems to be squatting in one of the buildings despite having been evicted by the bank weeks earlier. Also, she’s flying a Confederate flag outside her building, which he feels like will not be so great for business with the from-this-century young people he’s got coming to check the town out.

That woman claims she squared everything with the bank and has run that home, the town orphanage, for decades. There is one last person in her care — she calls him baby (Mark Burnham), I think — and he doesn’t do so well out in the world so they need to stay. We never get a good straight-on look at Baby; we mostly see his hulking person in shadow. But we, and Melody, get enough of a look at him to know that something bad will come of their removal, especially when it leads the woman to have some kind of medical emergency.

This movie is mostly a straightforward “run, stab, run, stab” affair (well, actually, it’s more like “run, bludgeon, run, hack, run, chainsaw”). And if you like that sort of thing, with the gore and the screaming, this would seem to deliver the basics. But it doesn’t really do more and, similar to those recent Halloween installments, for me it quickly gets kind of, well, boring seems like the wrong word but — tedious? Repetitive? Fast-forwardable?

The movie does have some funny moments, not laugh out loud but more like a “ha.” And maybe it has some messaging — anti-gentrification? pro-gun? — but I feel like it more has “ideas about ideas” than it has actual ideas. Maybe there is some sense that having more than just slashing and screaming brings in a bigger crowd but it doesn’t really put forth a lot of baked-in-the-story effort in that direction. Genre die-hards might have a different opinion, but for me, for the horror agnostic, it’s a C Available on Netflix.

The Royal Treatment (TV-PG)

Mena Massoud, Laura Marano.

You know Massoud from playing Aladdin in the Guy Ritchie live-action remake and Marano from, like, around (she’s a singer, she was on a Disney Channel show, she was in The War with Grandpa). Here, they are the couple from opposite worlds: he’s Prince Thomas from Lavania, a country with a vague “International Location” aesthetic, and she’s Izzy, a hairstylist and wannabe world traveler from New York. When a Siri mistake has his butler-type guy Walter (Cameron Rhodes) call her (instead of some similarly named chi-chi salon), Izzy is at first delighted to cut hair for about 10 times her normal rate. But when she witnesses Thomas’ handler, Madame Fabre (Sonia Gray), being rude to a hotel staffer, she takes Thomas to task for not intervening on the staffer’s behalf. He apparently likes this check on his privilege because he eventually hires Izzy and two of her fellow stylists to come to Lavania to do hair and makeup for his forthcoming wedding to Lauren (Phoenix Connolly), a woman he barely knows but whom his parents are really keen for him to marry because her parents “own half of Texas.”

Though it’s been decades since I’ve seen it, this light and friendly rom-com called to mind The Beautician and the Beast (and also the TV show The Nanny, both Fran Drescher vehicles) with notes of The Princess Diaries (there is a fun mention of Genovia) and your standard Cinderella story. Nobody is all that evil, no comeuppance is all that harsh, nobody is all that compelling, but they are all perfectly pleasant to spend time with if you just need a little cotton candy fairy tale. B- Available on Netflix.

Cyrano (PG-13)

Cyrano (PG-13)

Peter Dinklage is the poet who woos with his words but fears he repels with his looks in the Joe Wright-directed Cyrano, an uneven but interesting adaptation of a stage musical.

Peter Dinklage has, of course, been charming as all heck since before he was fan favorite Tyrion Lannister on Game of Thrones so it’s kind of a “nerd girl takes off glasses to reveal she’s a supermodel”-level suspension of disbelief that women in general and Roxanne (Haley Bennett) in particular, portrayed here as kinda flighty and romantic in a way that would seem to make her attuned to men who adore her, wouldn’t be smitten with the titular Cyrano.

But people are also singing and dancing in the streets, so it’s one of a few things you gotta just go with here.

You probably know the outlines of the story: In olden days France, noted poet, wit and swashbuckling dueler Cyrano loves Roxanne, an orphan who needs one of those advantageous marriages to stay financially solvent but who dreams of True Love. And she thinks she’s found it when she falls in love at first sight with Christian (Kelvin Harrison Jr.), a new guy in Cyrano’s regiment. She rushes to tell her dear friend Cyrano about this romantic thunderbolt — breaking Cyrano’s heart just a little because he clearly hoped that maybe her romantic realization was her love for him. But Cyrano is so in love and so friendzoned that he agrees to help Roxanne meet Christian and look after him as the new guy in the army barracks.

Christian, who was also enchanted when he first saw Roxanne, is delighted with Cyrano’s help. But he doesn’t have the words to win Roxanne over, so he takes help from Cyrano — using Cyrano’s sincere love letters to Roxanne (Christian doesn’t quite realize how sincere) and the lines Cyrano feeds Christian when he talks to Roxanne from beneath her window balcony, Romeo & Juliet style. Cyrano is willing to do it because he feels like his height gives him no chance with Roxanne.

So, basically, these two guys are olden days catfishing Roxanne but as they are both pretty decent we’re OK with it? Her bigger problem is her relationship with powerful noble De Guiche (Ben Mendelsohn). He’s a vindictive, grabby jerk whom she’s reluctantly been hanging out with and he has the power to put both Cyrano and Christian in harm’s way.

“Nimble” was how I found myself thinking of this movie’s wordplay and general mood (and Dinklage’s overall performance), especially in scenes between Roxanne and Cyrano or Christian and Cyrano, where the dramatic irony gives us a Cyrano’s-eye-view at everybody’s thoughts and feelings and gives an extra bit of double-edged wit to his lines. It’s subtle and delicate in a way that gives a lightness even to heartbreak. These elements also at times feel stagey in a way that I think would work if it were on an actual stage, with an audience’s laughter and responses serving as the setting of this party and pulling it all together. On screen, you sometimes get punchlines going out into the quiet void (especially if you tend to go to emptier screenings). It’s sort of — missing something. The movie isn’t quite as rooted in a real world as, say, In the Heights but it isn’t on a literal stage the way the Hamilton filmed version was (to use two Lin-Manuel Miranda plays as an example). I feel like if it were presented in a way that could give us some of that live theater energy it would make the first chunk of the movie more of a musical-theater good time.

The second chunk of the movie is tonally quite different, with the love triangle taking a back seat, at least in terms of on-screen action, to Cyrano and Christian at war. This section of the movie includes a surprisingly earnest and affecting song called “Wherever I Fall.” It’s a really heartrending moment of men facing battle, fairly certain they’re going to die, and thinking of the people they’re leaving behind. The three on-screen singers taking the lead on the song include Glen Hansard of Once fame. But this really grab-you-by-the-throat moment does not include either Dinklage or Harrison, an odd choice that puts you in the story of the men in the song but pulls you out of the story of the movie itself. The movie frequently does odd little things like this or the way that Cyrano and Roxanne are positioned in the shot of some of their more emotional scenes that undercut some of the emotion we should be getting from the relationships that make up the core of the movie.

For all this unevenness, the performances of that core trio of characters are thoroughly engaging. Bennett is hampered with some flightiness in her character (but is given some really great costuming and makeup; the movie’s sole Oscar nomination is for costuming) but manages to make her Roxanne seem appealing enough as a person that it is believable that both of these nice-seeming dudes would be so gaga for her. Harrison is sweet in exactly the right way; I feel like in the stories that have riffed on this idea, that character tends to be painted a little more meatheaded than he is here. Here, Christian is a nice guy you are also rooting for. Of course, above all we root for Dinklage, who is just thoroughly appealing and attention-grabbing throughout, even when the movie doesn’t fully build the case for whatever it’s doing with his character. B

Rated PG-13 for some strong violence, thematic and suggestive material, and brief language, according to the MPA on filmratings.com. Directed by Joe Wright with a screenplay by Erica Schmidt, Cyrano is two hours and four minutes long and distributed by MGM in theaters.

Featured photo: Cyrano.

How to Be Perfect, by Michael Schur

How to Be Perfect, by Michael Schur (Simon & Schuster, 265 pages)

As television sitcoms go, The Good Place was rather remarkable. The NBC show, which premiered in 2016 and aired for four years, had all the typical goofiness of low-brow comedy but was based on high-brow ideas: What does it mean to be a good person? Why should we care? And, of all the prevailing philosophical schools of thought on the matter, which ones are true and most relevant today?

These are tough themes to take on in 30 minutes minus commercials, but Michael Schur succeeded in creating a star-making show that worked on both levels and managed to elevate relatively obscure philosophy books into the mainstream (most notably, retired Harvard professor T.M. Scanlon’s What We Owe To Each Other). Now Schur has written a book of his own, a summary of the ethical frameworks he studied when developing The Good Place. It is, in many ways, a sitcom of a book, as Schur applies a vaudevillian touch to topics rarely taken that lightly: among them, existentialism.

Parts have a slapstick quality that would quickly grow tiresome but for Schur’s true comic gifts and his willingness to question his own moral judgments, among them his struggle to reconcile his admiration of Woody Allen’s work with revelations of the filmmaker’s personal life.

The punchlines begin on the book’s cover, in which the title is hysterically imperfect; it leaves off the “t” in “perfect.” (The subtitle, “the correct answer to every moral question,” also reveals itself to be a joke, because Schur’s ultimate aim isn’t to answer all the big questions, but rather to give readers the framework for thinking about them, and in fact, to insist that we think about them.) They continue through the acknowledgments, in which Schur peppers his thanks to friends and colleagues with random facts. (Einstein used a $1,500 check as a bookmark, then lost the book; moose in the Western Yukon appear to have parties for each other.)

Along the way, Schur unpacks the thinking of the likes of Immanuel Kant, Bertrand Russell, Maimonides, Aristotle, William James, Jean-Paul Sartre, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill, all names with which any graduate of a U.S. high school should have at least a passing familiarity. He applies their ethical concepts to modern first-world dilemmas — Should I cheer for sports teams that have problematic names? Should I eat at Chick-Fil-A? Should I eat meat at all? — injecting personal anecdotes along the way, such as the angst he felt after spending $800 for a baseball bat autographed by Red Sox players as a Christmas gift for his son.

In another story, he reveals that his interest in ethics pre-dates The Good Place by at least a decade. In 2005, the year of Hurricane Katrina, Schur’s then fiance (now wife) had a fender bender that resulted in an $836 claim, despite the fact that the claimant’s bumper was barely scratched and the responding police officer said there was no damage. Schur was furious and offered to donate $836 to Katrina relief if the man would drop the claim and continue to live with the indignity of having a scratch on his bumper.

While the man was thinking it over, Schur took his outrage to the internet and raised $20,000 in pledges for Katrina relief if the bumper went unreplaced. “I had dreams of rescuing New Orleans all by myself, armed with nothing but a keyboard and a brilliant masterstroke of moral reasoning,” he wrote. “And then I started to feel sick.”

The “chirpings” of conscience began to nag at Schur and his fiance, and he started consulting ethics books and philosophy professors about why his actions felt wrong and what he should do. While he still believed that the other driver was wrong to insist on replacing a barely scratched bumper, he came to believe that he was also wrong to subject the man to public shaming even if an auxiliary outcome (Katrina relief) was good. This experience led Schur into the rabbit hole of ethics that resulted in The Good Place and ultimately this book.

In 2019, Schur was asked to write the introduction to the re-release of controversial ethicist Peter Singer’s book The Life You Can Save, and he wrote of it, “More important than what you feel when you read this book is what you will not feel: complacency. You will not feel like other people don’t matter.”

The same can be said of Schur’s book, which may seem superficial (2,500 years of complex moral philosophy condensed into 265 pages — with jokes!) but in fact achieves the author’s aim: to get us to think consciously about the mass of decisions that comprise our days, and to consider the ideas that could help us choose more wisely. Not because we think this might get us to a “good place” — this is a secular book, as was the show — but because, as Harvard’s Scanlon said, this is something that we owe each other.


Book Notes

Some people choose books to read because they like the author; others, because they like the premise of the book. But have you ever chosen a book based on something the author said?

That happened to me this week when I read an interview with Brendan Slocumb, the author of the new novel The Violin Conspiracy (Anchor, 352 pages). I’d seen the book mentioned before, but it didn’t catch my attention until I read in Publishers Weekly that Slocumb said, “I wanted to pull back the curtain and let everybody know this is how the sausage is made. Classical music is a very cutthroat profession, though it’s especially tough for people of color.”

Classical music a “very cutthroat profession”? Who knew? Suddenly I was interested. Slocumb, who lives in D.C., is a music educator and professional violinist who also founded a nonprofit and plays in a rock band. Yet he found the time to write a novel. Definitely worth checking out.

Other new releases of interest:

Fans of Charles Dickens will be interested in The Turning Point (Deckle Edge, 368 pages), nonfiction by Robert Douglas Fairhurst that examines how the events of one year — 1851 — changed and shaped the beloved novelist’s career.

Funny Farm (St. Martin’s Press, 256 pages) is Laura Zeleski’s memoir of “my unexpected life with 600 rescue animals” and the story of how she, a graphic designer with government contracts, fulfilled her dying mother’s dream of running a rescue.

Daniel Pink sorted through more than 15,000 self-reported regrets of people around the world and found something resembling redemption, chronicled in The Power of Regret (Riverhead, 256 pages). If nothing else, reading the regrets of others might make you feel better about your own.

And finally, this is not a new release, but worth checking out given recent world events: Anne Applebaum’s Red Famine (Anchor, 466 pages), which examines another heartbreaking part of Ukraine’s history, when Josef Stalin intentionally starved more than 3 million people in the region through sinister agricultural policies.

Book Events

Author events

AZAR NAFISI Author presents new book Read Dangerously: The Subversive Power of Literature in Troubled Times, in conversation with Jacki Lyden. Ticketed virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Sat., March 19, 7 p.m. Tickets cost $27 to $31 and include a copy of the book. Held via Zoom. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

HOWARD MANSFIELD Author presents new book Chasing Eden. Sat., March 19, 9:45 to 11:45 a.m. Peterborough Town Library, 2 Concord St., Peterborough. Visit monadnockwriters.org.

EMMA LOEWE Author presents new book Return to Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us, in conversation with author Hannah Fries. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Wed., April 13, 7 p.m. Registration is required. Held via Zoom. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

BECKY SAKELLERIOU AND HENRY WALTERS Becky Sakelleriou presents new book The Possibility of Red. Henry Walters presents new book Field Guide A Tempo. Sat., April 16, 9:45 to 11:45 a.m. Peterborough Town Library, 2 Concord St., Peterborough. Visit monadnockwriters.org.

ANNE HILLERMAN Author presents new book The Sacred Bridge. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Tues., April 19, 7 p.m. Held via Zoom. Registration is required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.


REBECCA KAISER Poet presents Girl as Birch. Virtual event hosted by Gibson’s Bookstore in Concord. Mon., April 11, 7 p.m. Held via Zoom. Registration is required. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com or call 224-0562.

DOWN CELLAR POETRY SALON Poetry event series presented by the Poetry Society of New Hampshire. Monthly. First Sunday. Visit poetrysocietynh.wordpress.com.

Book Clubs

BOOKERY Online. Monthly. Third Thursday, 6 p.m. Bookstore based in Manchester. Visit bookerymht.com/online-book-club or call 836-6600.

GIBSON’S BOOKSTORE Online, via Zoom. Monthly. First Monday, 5:30 p.m. Bookstore based in Concord. Visit gibsonsbookstore.com/gibsons-book-club-2020-2021 or call 224-0562.

TO SHARE BREWING CO. 720 Union St., Manchester. Monthly. Second Thursday, 6 p.m. RSVP required. Visit tosharebrewing.com or call 836-6947.

GOFFSTOWN PUBLIC LIBRARY 2 High St., Goffstown. Monthly. Third Wednesday, 1:30 p.m. Call 497-2102, email elizabethw@goffstownlibrary.com or visit goffstownlibrary.com

BELKNAP MILL Online. Monthly. Last Wednesday, 6 p.m. Based in Laconia. Email bookclub@belknapmill.org.

NASHUA PUBLIC LIBRARY Online. Monthly. Second Friday, 3 p.m. Call 589-4611, email information@nashualibrary.org or visit nashualibrary.org.

Album Reviews 22/03/03

The Waymores, Stone Sessions (Chicken Ranch Records)

I’m not big into latter-day “country music” (or so they call it) because it’s usually so awful, evoking noisy tuneage for NASCAR commercials or WWE wrestler entrances, but if you’ve read this space for any amount of time, you know for a fact that I have the utmost reverence for things like genuine bluegrass and such. I’m not a monster; there are hallowed genres that are completely unassailable, and I count traditional C&W in that number, including the vanishing breed of coed duos whose achievements are historic, like Johnny Cash/June Carter and Loretta Lynn/Conway Twitty. This LP aims for a similar down-home honky tonk/country-pop vibe, and though it’s professed to have blues and folk elements, it’s more like a sonic homage, songs about whisky, cheating, road life and all that stuff, and it does nail it with some great songs. “Asleep At The Wheel” fiddler Katie Shore helps out on “Caught.” A

Howless, To Repel Ghosts (Static Blooms Records)

Wow, my favorite new record of this young year, right here. This female-fronted Mexico City quartet offers a noise-pop/dream-pop style that’s part Jesus And Mary Chain, early Cure and New Order, dipped in 24-karat gold production values and — this is the best part — born of a certain innocent, anti-punk Go-Go’s-ish je ne sais quoi. The guitars sparkle like an autumn river over heavily saturated synth layers, all driven by the faraway, shoegaze-ish singing of Dominique Sanchez and Mauricio Tinejro, altogether just the system you’d want if you were trying to resurrect ’80s alt-pop but keep it fresh, gorgeous and no-nonsense. Lyrically it’s about such things as “questioning our place on earth,” “the bitterness of saying goodbye to someone who hasn’t yet left your psyche,” and “human self sabotage” — no dummies, these people, and that’s a rare thing in an indie scene overrun with bored hipsters who just bought their first guitars a week ago. Fantastic stuff all around. A+


• March 4 is dead ahead, y’all, and the warm weather isn’t too far away, all you have to do is get through a few weeks more! So let’s get to the albums that will be released on that fateful day, oh great, look, there’s not a lot, but I shall make do with what little nonsense has been handed to me, starting with Oochya, the new LP from Welsh indie-rawk band Stereophonics! You may be familiar with this band from their 2003 single “Maybe Tomorrow,” which rose to No. 5 on Billboard’s U.S. Adult Alternative Songs chart. If you’re not sure what that is, picture Rod Stewart singing the most boring Black Crowes/Train mashup you could imagine, and then picture it being even more tuneless. Yes, that tune, please try to stay awake so we can talk about this new album, which has a single, called “Hanging On Your Hinges.” The video has a bunch of cheap art that’s sort of playing-card oriented, like there are art deco devils and waitresses and whatever this other stuff is, and the music is sort of throwback boogie, like if Jet spent too much time listening to Bo Diddley but was trying to be as cool as The Hives, something like that. As always, there is little in the way of melody here, just empty-calorie music for Uber drivers to fall asleep to while waiting for their fares to get their acts together. The only comparable song that comes to mind is like a rockabilly version of Ramones’ “Freak Of Nature,” but you readers have probably never heard that song — my god, why am I even bothering trying to describe this stupid song, let’s forget this ever happened and move on to something else, anything that isn’t the Stereophonics.

• Oh, no. No. If you could see me right now, you’d see that I am clutching my chest like Fred Sanford from Sanford & Son, because “Elizabeth, I’m comin’ to ya,” things just got even worse: Just when I was recovering from the new Stereophonics album, will you look at this, now I have to pretend to care about Vancouver-based surf-indie Bonnaroo-bums Peach Pit, whose third album, From 2 To 3, is here. OK, let’s calm down, the single “Vickie” isn’t all that bad, it’s jangly and has a stupid tremolo-or-something effect going on in one of the guitar layers, and it’s a happy song about walking around on a sidewalk or something. The singer kind of sounds like Kermit the Frog. You know, if you ever went back in time to the 1980s or before that and played this idiotic waste of musical notes to someone and told them people would be buying this record, you would have been locked up in a padded cell. I can’t believe how much lower the bar goes every single week, people, I mean it’s — haunting. Next.

• Yay, guys, it’s Nilüfer Yanya’s new album, Painless, I’m not kidding! And who is Nilüfer Yanya? I don’t know, let’s find out together! Here it is, she’s a singer from London, and she turned down a gig in a girl-group that was going to be produced by Louis Tomlinson of One Direction. Hm, we may have something here, supposedly she sounds like Siouxsie from Siouxsie and the Banshees, so let’s give a spin to the tune “Stabilize,” maybe it’s like “Hall Of Mirrors” or something else cool. Nope, she doesn’t sound like Siouxsie, she sounds like Lorde but mumbly and sleepy. The beat is spazzy but aimless, like a British grime fan’s idea of Siouxsie if Siouxsie had been into skateboarding and whatever.

• We’ll close with Crystal Nuns Cathedral, the 228th album in the past five months from Guided by Voices, in other words the last bunch of crummy demos from songwriting-addicted Robert Pollard. Yup, as I expected, the single “Excited Ones” is boring and stupid, sounding like an old demo The Cars made and then recorded over because they hated it. If Pollard ever writes a good song I’ll weep with joy.

If you’re in a local band, now’s a great time to let me know about your EP, your single, whatever’s on your mind. Let me know how you’re holding yourself together without being able to play shows or jam with your homies. Send a recipe for keema matar. Message me on Twitter (@esaeger) or Facebook (eric.saeger.9).

Embrace the blend

A mix of grapes can produce one interesting bottle

We are all familiar with wines classified by the grapes used to make them — merlot, cabernet sauvignon, sangiovese — and wines named by their place of origin — Rhine, Bordeaux — but what does a label that reads “red blend” mean?

As its name implies, it is a wine produced from the blending of two or more varietals of grapes. The blending of grapes is steeped in the history and tradition of European winemaking, dating to at least the 17th century with the origin of modern wines as we know them today. Bordeaux wines are classic blended wines, the reds consisting of combinations of merlot or cabernet sauvignon, along with cabernet franc and petit verdot added in smaller quantities, and the whites generally consisting of sauvignon blanc, to which semillon is added to temper the citric, and more specifically grapefruit, notes of the sauvignon blanc. These blends date to the 18th century.

The concept and development of single varietal wines in America in the second half of the 20th century migrated to Europe, South Africa and Australia. To the extreme, some vintners have produced single vineyard varietals to showcase the strengths they feel those particular vineyards have. This is all a matter of opinion, and all these wine-making styles are welcome to the table. In a good wine, the blending of varietals is intended not to cover the deficiencies of the “lead varietal” but to add to the complexity of the whole. The blending of varietals is both a science and an art. The vintner must know the strengths of the grapes before him, but the vintner must also be able to know when to blend — at the fermentation of the grapes, or after they have become wine. The vintner must also have a deft touch to know just how much of which varietal to add to create not only a drinkable wine but a memorable wine.

Our first blended wine is the 2017 Domaine du Grand Montmirail Gigondas ‘Le Coteau de Mon Rêve’ (at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, originally priced at $59.99, reduced to $25.99) is a blend that comes from the Rhone River Valley of Southern France. With a dark red color and nose of cherry and plum, this wine comes to the tongue with a full mouth feel of blackberry, plum and cherry, with notes of chocolate and a bit of leather. It is composed of 75 percent grenache, 20 percent syrah and 5 percent mourvèdre.

Denis Cheron acquired the Domaine du Grand Montmirail in the 1960s. The estate vineyards are 59 acres, set on terraces, planted in 50-year-old grenache vines, along with 20-year-old syrah and mourvèdre vines. This is a sophisticated, plush wine to be enjoyed with beef, lamb or game, now, or it can be cellared over the coming decade.

Our second blended wine is the 2016 Darcie Kent Vineyards Firepit Red (available at the New Hampshire Liquor & Wine Outlets, originally priced at $40.99, reduced to $19.99), a blend that comes from Livermore, just east of the San Francisco Bay. To the nose we sense raspberry, blackberry and cherry flavors that carry to the tongue with additional notes of oak and spices. Gentle tannins persist to a long finish of cassis and nutmeg. The oak nuances come from 24 months in new and used French oak barrels.

This is a blend of malbec, zinfandel, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, petite sirah and merlot. The proportions may vary from year to year. The zinfandel gives the wine its spiciness; the petite sirah its concentration of tannins. In fact, many makers of zinfandel add petite sirah to quiet the pepper in the zinfandel. It should be noted that the petite sirah grape has nothing in common with the syrah grape of our first wine!

So the blending of grapes and of the wine from those grapes opens new opportunities, new flavors, and other characteristics to be explored and savored. Try a blended wine with your next purchase. You will welcome the experience.

Featured photo: Gunner’s Daughter by Mast Landing Brewing Company. Courtesy photo.

Lion with a straight face

It’s not spring yet.

Count on spring at this point, and you’ll only get your heart broken. There are at least two more blizzards and a lot of mud before spring gets here.

But there are hints. Whispers of hints. Whispers of innuendos of hints.

An afternoon where you can get the mail in shirtsleeves.

Old guys in the library parking lot talking about sugaring equipment.

Parts — only parts at this point, don’t get too excited — of your front steps are bare of snow and dry.

We’re still in the lion part of “In like a lion; out like a lamb.”

So I went looking for a lion-themed cocktail, and found something promising called a Lion’s Tail — a sort of a cross between a whiskey sour and a daiquiri, with front notes of bourbon and hope, and back notes of loneliness and bitter disappointment.

It’s good — very good — but with two small issues:

(1) It calls for bourbon, which is a good idea. Bourbon can be caramel-y and delicious and add a note of class to the proceedings. But I’m out of bourbon, and I can’t afford the good stuff, anyway. (You can fake your way through a lot of drinks with bottom-shelf rum or gin, but in my experience, most bourbon doesn’t get good until it is physically painful to pay for.)

(2) It calls for a specialty liqueur called allspice dram — a low-octane but very flavorful ingredient. As it turns out, I do have a bottle of it at the very back of my liquor cabinet — a relic of a short-lived but intense tiki phase I went through a year or so ago — but seriously, who else is going to have this kicking around?

So let’s see what we can do to replicate this with more proletarian ingredients:

Step 1 – Make the original cocktail with more-or-less original ingredients.

** Sound of clattering. “Mumble, mumble …” Measuring … **

“Google, how many dashes to fluid ounce?”

“Blah, blah … Was this answer helpful to you?”

“No! Not even a little bit! … Wait! I meant teaspoons….”

** More clattering, mumbling. Finally, the sound of a cocktail shaker, then pouring. **

Verdict: This is very good. The allspice is a big deal. Huh, go figure.

Step 2 – Replicating the recipe

Lion’s Butt Cocktail


  • Syrup – ¼ cup sugar, ¼ cup water, 20 allspice berries, cracked in a mortar and pestle
  • 2 ounces rye
  • ¾ ounce allspice syrup
  • ½ ounce fresh squeezed lime juice
  • ¼ tsp. angostura bitters

Combine sugar, water and allspice berries to a very small saucepan and stir, bring to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to steep for 30 minutes. Strain and set aside.

Combine rye, allspice syrup, lime juice and bitters with ice in a cocktail shaker.

Shake thoroughly, until you hear the ice splintering.

Strain into a coupé glass.

Verdict: Very nice, indeed.

The original cocktail was heavy on the allspice, which totally works — especially this time of year. For a tropical spice, it suits winter weather very well. This — I won’t say “knockoff” — er, tribute version is a little more lime-forward and a skosh less sweet. (I’ve grown to really like rye. I’m not sure why that’s surprising to me, but it is. But then again, almost-spring is a surprising time of year.) The rye works well with the lime, which works well with the slightly spicy syrup. Could this be slightly cloying and too sweet? Yes, but it is saved by the bitters swooping in, wearing a cape, and deflecting the sweetness.

If you find yourself with a warm afternoon, you might want to call in sick to that last video conference of the day, drag an easy chair out to the deck, and drink three of these while listening to songs you listened to while making questionable decisions in your youth.

The kids can eat cereal.

Featured photo: Photo by John Fladd.

Frosted apricot biscotti

This week is Recipe No. 2 in my three-week biscotti series. Last week was all about maple syrup season; this week is an any-time-of-year recipe. The focal flavor in the biscotti is apricot. What makes it a year-round recipe is that it uses dried fruit.

You may think to yourself, “Let’s be creative and use fresh apricots!”

That is the one caveat to this recipe. You must use dried apricots. Biscotti are meant to be fairly dry cookies. If you use fresh fruit, it imparts too much moisture, which negatively affects the structure of the dough.

Speaking of the dryness of biscotti, I have met a person or two who prefers a slightly softer cookie. There is a simple way to remedy that. In the second phase of baking, when the biscotti are cut into slices, you can reduce the time by a minute or two per side. The only tricky part is to make sure the slices are fully baked. You want some softness, not raw treats.

Whether you like your biscotti traditionally dry or slightly softer, this recipe produces a nice apricot-centric snack.

Frosted apricot biscotti
Makes 28

1/3 cup unsalted butter, softened
1 1/4 cups sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup diced dried apricot
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 Tablespoon milk

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Beat butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer on speed 2 for 2 minutes.
Add eggs, one at a time, beating until smooth.
Stir in vanilla extract.
In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt.
Add flour mixture to wet ingredients and blend until fully combined.
Stir diced apricots into dough.
Divide dough in half.
Shape each half into a 10″ x 3″ rectangle, using floured hands.
Set loaves 4 inches apart on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.
Bake for 30 minutes or until the dough is set.
Leaving the oven on, remove the biscotti loaves and cool for 15 minutes on the baking sheet.
Using a butcher knife, cut the loaves into diagonal slices, 1/2″ thick.
Place the slices on the baking sheet with the cut sides down.
Bake for 9 minutes.
Turn over slices, and bake for 8 to 9 minutes more.
Remove biscotti from the oven, and allow to cool completely on a baking rack.
Place powdered sugar in a small bowl, and add milk, 1 teaspoon at a time, until a thick glaze is formed.
Coat each biscotti slice with glaze.
Allow glaze to set, placing in the refrigerator to speed the set, if desired.
Store in a sealed container.

Featured Photo: Frosted apricot biscotti. Photo by Michele Pesula Kuegler.

In the kitchen with Matt Romano

Matt Romano of Manchester is the owner of Grace’s Kitchen Pizza Truck (find them on Facebook @graceskitchen603), which launched last fall. Named after Romano’s paternal grandmother, a major influence on his life and cooking, Grace’s Kitchen Pizza Truck features a menu of specialty pizzas available in a variety of flavors, as well as other items like hand-breaded chicken tenders, loaded Tater Tots, french fries and fried Oreos. The truck has parked at multiple spots across southern New Hampshire, like J&F Farms in Derry and Over the Moon Farmstead in Pittsfield, as well as in the Merrimack Valley and North Shore areas of Massachusetts. Romano is also booked to appear at several upcoming festivals this spring and summer, including Intown Concord’s annual Market Days Festival this June. Weekly posts on the truck’s whereabouts are updated on its Facebook page. Grace’s Kitchen Pizza Truck is also available to book for private events and parties.

What is your must-have kitchen item?

I would say a ladle. Especially with pizza, a ladle is very important when it comes to spreading on the sauces, and then I also use it for other menu items, whether it’s covering chicken tenders in Buffalo sauce or teriyaki sauce, or covering tater tots in cheese or gravy.

What would you have for your last meal?

My mom’s macaroni pie. It’s a recipe that’s been passed down a couple of generations, starting with my nana, down to my mom, and now I’ve been tweaking it.

What is your favorite local restaurant?

The Crazy Noodle [House] in Londonderry. The food there is awesome, it’s always so fresh, and the service is always great. … I take my niece and nephew there usually about once a month or so, and they love it.

What celebrity would you like to see ordering from your truck?

Jon Favreau. He had that movie, Chef, which revolves around a food truck, and he’s got a great TV show on Netflix too that’s based off of that.

What is your favorite thing on your menu?

That would be one of our specialty pizzas, which is called the Mac 10. It’s a spinoff of a fast food favorite with a little bit of a kick. … We do 19-inch round pizzas and we sell them by the slice.

What is the biggest food trend in New Hampshire right now?

I don’t know if it’s just me being new to the market, but it seems like food trucks are on fire this year. … The reason why I got into them was because I love how they give people a chance to really show off their menu to a large crowd in a small area. You go to a food truck festival and you can choose from 20 to 30 different types of food … and each chef is homing in on whatever they want and making it the best that it can possibly be.

What is your favorite thing to cook at home?

I love making my own Greek marinated chicken and making some sort of kebab or healthy salad with it from scratch.

Easy chicken broccoli alfredo casserole
Courtesy of Matt Romano of Grace’s Kitchen Pizza Truck

1 pound chicken breast, cut into one-inch pieces
2 broccoli crowns, chopped
1 pound penne or similar pasta
3 cups alfredo sauce
2 cups ricotta
2 cups mozzarella
¼ cup grated Parmesan
Salt and pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Boil pasta to al dente. Saute chicken in a pan. Combine chicken, pasta, broccoli, alfredo sauce and ricotta in a large bowl and mix thoroughly. Add mixture to a casserole dish. Layer mozzarella and then Parmesan on top of the casserole. Bake for 40 minutes or until the top begins to brown.

Featured photo: Matt Romano. Courtesy photo.

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