Over this past Memorial Day weekend, four of the original members of the Anniversary — the much-beloved band from Lawrence, Kansas — reconvened to rehearse a few of their old songs. This would be the first time that the four of them — Josh Berwanger, James David, Adrianne DeLanda, and Chris Jankowski — had been in one room together since the band awkwardly and officially broke up back in 2004. It was a reunion that no one ever really seemed to think would happen. Having parted ways well over a decade ago, most of the band now live in different parts of the country and literally everyone has children, which makes the idea of getting everyone back together in a room to play songs that were written when most of them were barely out of their teens seem not only logistically difficult, but financially and commercially implausible. Still, after several months of chatting and testing the waters (everyone seemed genuinely surprised by the almost cult-classic status of their records), four of the original five band members managed to clear their schedules for a spate of reunion shows that will take place this fall. (Fifth original member, guitarist Justin Roelofs, isn’t currently involved, though he encouraged the other members to proceed with the reunion. Ricky Salthouse will be joining the band on guitar for the upcoming shows.) Fittingly, the reunion took place in same place the band first played together back in 1997 — the basement at guitarist Josh Berwanger’s mom’s house.
Back in 2006, I had the pleasure of seeing Rufus Wainwright perform Rufus Does Judy at Carnegie Hall, which, for a young gay man still high on the fumes of being relatively new to New York, was a kind of watershed moment. Arguably our only proudly “out” pop star at the time (even now we really only have two or three), Wainwright gleefully recreating Judy Garland’s iconic 1961 live performance felt like a revelation.
For those of us whose experience of being gay was either negated entirely by the institutions in place, or who had witnessed the renegade joy of gay culture being almost entirely quelled by the specter of AIDS, Wainwright’s performance was not only a celebration of Garland’s life (and the great American songbook), but also a testament to what it meant to be gay and alive. Equal parts serious homage and camp spectacle, the unbridled joie de vivre of the show was a much needed shot in the arm—a not so subtle reminder of the importance of embracing not only our history, but joy itself.
Now, an impossible-seeming decade later, Wainwright is once again reviving Garland’s opus, performing the show for two nights this month, on June 16 and 17, at Carnegie Hall. Though he’s confident that he can still sing the songs (and perhaps even better now), Wainwright is the first to admit that he is a much different person than he was 10 years ago. Over the course of the past decade he has experienced great joy—he married his longtime partner, and fathered a child—and no small amount of sadness, especially the loss of his mother, the late, great singer Kate McGarrigle.
Wainwright has also piloted a wonderfully unpredictable route creatively, having now released eight studio albums and one opera, 2009’s Prima Donna. His latest release, Take All My Loves: 9 Shakespeare Sonnets, not only sets some of the Bard’s greatest work to music, but also includes contributions from the likes of Helena Bonham Carter, William Shatner, and Florence Welch. His second proper opera, Hadrian (a take on the gay love story surrounding Greek emperor Hadrian), will open at Toronto’s Canadian Opera Company in 2018. It’s hard to imagine another contemporary artist, particularly one who entered the cultural arena as a young pop star, with such a wildly disparate catalog of work. But somehow with Wainwright, all of these things—pop music, opera, Shakespeare, Judy Garland—make sense together.
When I spoke to Wainwright on the phone as he prepared to begin rehearsals, he connected his wide-ranging output as a simple byproduct of growing older. “I think it’s a thing that happens to people in their 40s,” he explained. “You really get this sense of like, ‘This is it, baby.’ I don’t want to waste time.”
A few days later, I ran into Wainwright at the closing night of Kiki and Herb’s show at Joe’s Pub. When I ask him if he was feeling anxious about his upcoming dates, Wainwright was characteristically flip. “I’m really not that nervous about singing the songs,” he told me. “I’m just nervous about the shows selling out. I need to know there’s a full house if I’m gonna get up there and do this again. Please! I need everyone to buy a ticket!”
Steve Gunn makes music that feels like it was tailor-made for road trips—expansive, panoramic, full of twists and sharp left turns. A gifted guitarist and clever songwriter, the Brooklyn-based musician has been honing his craft for years, writing and recording with the likes of Hiss Golden Messenger, Mike Cooper, The Black Twig Pickers, and playing in Kurt Vile's band, The Violators. Since releasing his first solo album in 2007, Gunn's sonic palette has gradually expanded from lo-fi home recordings made alone in his bedroom into kaleidoscopic, full-band productions. His songs coolly blur the line between gentle singer/songwriter fare and noodly psychedelia while also giving passing nods to winsome folk music and Grateful Dead-worthy stoner jams. His music, much like the narratives in his songs, contains multitudes.
On Wednesday, Kiki and Herb: Seeking Asylum! will wrap up its triumphant return at Joe’s Pub here in New York City. These intensely beloved characters, the cabaret noms de plume of Mx. Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman, have played all over the world at various points in the past two decades, but for longtime fans like myself, the show is forever tied to a mostly bygone era of downtown New York.
For nearly a decade now, Julianna Barwick has made a career out of articulating the ineffable. The New York artist’s songs are built out of competing clouds of voice—her own—looped, processed, reverbed, and filtered through what sounds like some kind of divine light. Over the course of three progressively more sanguine full-length albums, Barwick has built upon her strengths, slowly adding layers of production finesse as well as deftly-employed instrumentation—synths, cello, drums—to augment her ephemeral sound.
Her newest album, Will, is also her most curiously dynamic. Recorded in fits and starts between upstate New York, the Moog Factory in Asheville, North Carolina, and Lisbon, Portugal, the record also includes contributions from Mas Ysa’s Thomas Arsenault, Dutch cellist Maarten Vos, and percussionist Jamie Ingalls. Will all but eschews conventional song structure in favor of compositions that move and mutate like cyclical, natural forms—collages of sound that build and retreat with the sonic quality of fog—a delicate mass composed entirely of soft edges. While the record certainly bears some of the hallmarks of Barwicks earlier work, Will skews slightly darker in tone, adding textural elements like more pronounced synth sounds, additional human voices, and in the case of album closer “See, Know,” actual drums.
Given the nature of her music, Barwick has grown accustomed to weird expectations. “I think people assume I’m just like some weird lady who lives in a tree or something,” she jokes when we meet up for lunch in Brooklyn. In reality, Barwick has spent the better part of the last three years continuously on the move. Spending time with her, it’s clear that her music—much of her life, actually—is deeply rooted in natural curiosity that was informed by a childhood spent singing in church choirs and a lifelong affinity with the nature.
Though she takes her work very seriously, Barwick also has a funny sense of humor about it. “I’m not this gentle fairy creature person,” she tells me. “I like to be mischievous and I love funny stuff. I get that what I do is kind of weird and not everyone is gonna get it, but I’m really not some super boring New Age person…I hope.”