The weekend’s cultural highlights in the region include chamber music, soul music, a rock ‘n’ roll New Year’s Eve, and a whole lot more.
But first, I want to review two concert highlights of the year now coming to a close.
Many concerts stand out in my memory, but I have to say that the one that stands out more than any other is Bob Dylan’s show at Tanglewood last July. Now, you may say, sure, I’m a fan of Bob Dylan’s, and I even wrote a book about him, so I’m biased. But in fact, I went into this concert with a certain amount of dread, knowing that fully half the songs Dylan would be singing that night were not his own compositions but pre-rock pop standards ordinarily associated with Frank Sinatra and not Bob Dylan. In fact, I went into the show expecting I would hate it.
All the more reason, I suspect, that I came out totally surprised. Dylan was on fire at Tanglewood, spitting out apocalyptic venom in his own songs, mostly of recent vintage, and alternating them with his renditions of mid-century popular songs including “The Night We Called It a Day,” “Melancholy Mood,” and “How Deep Is the Ocean?” Dylan made these songs his own, finding within them nuances far beyond the simple verities, emotions and meanings more akin to his own music – not so much political, necessarily, but the sort of deep and mournful angst you might expect to find from a generation of immigrant-era songwriters that Dylan presumably feels a strong connection with.
On the other hand, last October, I saw a performer at MASS MoCA in North Adams, Mass., with whom I had almost no familiarity beforehand. Benjamin Clementine’s superhuman vocals; his shimmering piano style; and his poetic, confessional lyrics, put him in the great tradition of troubadour singer-songwriters, but less in the folk vein and more in the tradition of jazz, soul, cabaret and theatrical pop. His songs are raw wounds drenched in the beauty and sadness of his vocals and minor-key based melodies. His vocal range, from deep bass to piercing high notes, gives him a huge palette from which to paint his lightning strikes of emotion, and his forceful balladry doesn’t forsake rhythm, either – you could often hear the toe-tapping of your neighbors in the audience. Clemetine boasts a carefully controlled but often-wielded vibrato; at times his playing and voice merged into a kind of shimmering, harplike sound. Watch for this guy next time he comes around.
And now, for the weekend highlights.
The Berkshire Bach Ensemble will ring out the old and ring in the new with its annual Bach at New Year’s program featuring all six Brandenburg Concerti at the Mahaiwe in Great Barrington, Mass., on Saturday at 6pm. The program – featuring violinist Eugene Drucker, a cofounder of the Emerson String Quartet - will also take place at the Academy of Music in Northampton, Mass., tonight at 7:30pm, and at the Troy [N.Y.] Savings Bank Music Hall on Sunday, at 3pm.
And on New Year’s Eve, soul-rocker Simi Stone, classic rocker Pearl Aday – the daughter of Meat Loaf - thrash-rock pioneer Scott Ian, and prog-rock singer Lisa Green will help the crowd ring out the old and ring in the new at Club Helsinki Hudson starting at 9pm.
Seth Rogovoy is editor of Berkishire Daily and the Rogovoy Report, available online at rogovoyreport.com