Betsy’s Pancake House on Canal Street in New Orleans announces its return to business after Hurricane Katrina.
After Hurricane Harvey, it was no surprise that restaurants in New Orleans quickly became a hub for many local efforts to help.
In the long haul, though, it is restaurants in the very areas hard-hit by Harvey that will be their own sources of community self-help.
That’s one lesson from New Orleans’ experience after Hurricane Katrina, and it’s one that translates to others facing monumental loss. It’s the way restaurants, fancy and modest alike, become beacons, and how the principle of service reaches beyond hot meals and cold drinks.
First, though, those restaurants have to get back open. Restaurateurs have to find the means, and they also have to make the decision to do it. That’s not always as simple as it sounds.
A restaurant meal can be seen as recreational, as discretionary, even as an indulgence. How does that square when people all around are suffering, when basic needs boil down to any kind of food, clean water and clothing that hasn’t been through the slog?
Restaurants often function as their own first responders after disaster, dispensing food and whatever else they can and worrying about the cost later. That is heroic. But at what point can a restaurant responsibly get back to the pragmatic, to the business of doing business?
The answer, from my own Katrina experience, is: as soon as possible.
Any kind of business reopening is a win, but restaurants — with one foot in the economic realm, the other in the cultural — answer a particular need for social fabric.
That doesn’t arrive in a truck bed with donated supplies, and it can’t be written into insurance checks. It has to come from the interaction of the people who make up their community. Restaurants, with their open doors, their embedded personal traditions and neighborhood stories, are looms for that social fabric.
That is one reason why, as New Orleans began its long, halting recovery, its restaurant scene became a center of attention. To the outside world, it served as a barometer for the pace of rebuilding and a lens on changes wrought along the way. Within the community, it was an anchor, a respite and an inspiration. It was determination made as tangible as the meal on the table.
Harvey and Katrina are different catastrophes, hitting different communities and bringing different aftermaths. But hurricanes are no abstraction in our region; they bring an empathy here that bridges the divide of distance and demographics.
If New Orleans feels it can relate to the anguish of suddenly upturned lives and homes, it also understands that on the long climb back up, every handhold helps. Sometimes you find them around a table, on a plate or over a glass.
In the good times, restaurants do more than furnish meals. They provide social nourishment, help establish a sense of place and serve as gathering spots to bring people together.
As Louisiana knows all too well, that’s precisely what makes restaurants so vital during the worst of times, too.
Ian McNulty is a regular contributor to WWNO and covers food culture and dining for the daily New Orleans Advocate. He is the author of A Season of Night, a chronicle of the first months in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.
Big Thief, photographed at WFUV in 2016.
Over the past couple of years, Big Thief has quickly gained a passionate and devoted fan base with a rare, quiet force.
Appearing to come out of nowhere last year with its critically hailed, and aptly titled debut, Masterpiece, the band has already taken a quantum leap on its fast (and also aptly titled) follow-up, Capacity. Indeed, Adrianne Lenker’s solo performance and conversation at WFUV gave us the rare opportunity to get an intimate glimpse of the vulnerability she wields in powerful ways.
Lenker does not hide behind trauma, nor shy away from it, yet her poetic stories aren’t begging for pity or even anger. The secret ingredient is soul-baring honesty tempered with a love and a strength that is so human, it is undeniable.
Big Thief’s stories are our stories: family; relationships; power struggles between women and men. It is no wonder her fans are singing every meaningful word.
The night prior to our session, I had a chance to witness it first-hand. At one of their sold-out shows at Music Hall of Williamsburg in Brooklyn, I stood next to a middle-aged man, who had traveled hours from Philadelphia to see Big Thief, and told me that a band hadn’t been this important to him since Nirvana. And then, when the rocking set paused for Lenker to play a song solo, her bandmates knelt onstage, on either side of her, a show of respect, reverence and humility so rarely seen in the world, let alone in the male-dominated world of indie rock.
So listen in. I believe you will understand both the dedicated fan, and her band. There is no question: Big Thief will steal your heart.
Carmel Holt:We’re here with the Adrianne Lenker of Big Thief. The new album is called Capacity. My name is Carmel Holt. Throughout the album, there is some really difficult and painful subject matter, and there is an interplay of lightness and dark. I’m curious about how it feels to you. You write the songs, and that that’s its own catharsis or process for you. Then you go and you record the songs. But then it’s a whole other thing to get out on the stage and perform it in front of thousands.
Adrianne Lenker: Yeah.
What’s that experience been like for you?
It’s been such a growing experience. I’ve been learning so much all the time musically but mostly just inner-worldly, emotionally, psychically, psychedelically. It is a trip to be going so quickly and moving through space from place to place. I feel kind of untethered or just unanchored. And we’ve been without a home base for a couple of years now. I haven’t had a door to close in couple years. I haven’t had a place to return to. It’s just been interesting. I feel so many changes occurring within me, but I feel like I’m so close to the change that’s happening that I can’t understand what the changes are yet. I feel myself changing though, naturally, because [with] this lifestyle, I don’t know how you could go into it and be unchanged. But I don’t know I could be in life and be unchanged in general, for that matter. I think they run on separate tracks. I feel that performing is its own art form, and recording is its own art form, and writing is its own art form, and that they all can happen simultaneously but at different paces. So my pace as a writer feels like it runs on its own course. That’s why when people say, “It feels so fast that you’ve already put out another record,” or, “Are you working on another record?” or thinking of it in terms of releases and in terms of records, I’m kind of thinking, “Well, I’m always working on songs, so who knows?” Sure, there’s a batch of songs that exist that could be a record, but I don’t really think of it in terms of that. I just write. I just write as much as possible, not thinking about it like as a product. Writing is a need. It’s a need that I’ve had since I can remember. Then, there’s recording, and that’s like sculpture. Once we finish one sculpture, it’s natural to take a little breather and then move on to making the next sculpture. I really love crafting albums and thinking of albums as a whole, not just individual songs or singles or just tracks, but a whole entire album. It’s very exciting, to me and to the whole band. We’ll just talk for hours about it in the van in between shows about the next piece that we’re working on and we’re already sculpting in our minds, and it’s really fun. And that’s running on its own rhythm.
And then there’s performing. In all honesty, we still find so much richness in playing the Masterpiece songs and in playing our older songs. In some ways, we’re at a different layer inside of those songs than we are with our newest songs. The things we’re learning about performing those songs are different than the things that we’re learning about performing our new songs because they all have different layers. You can just get into them in this way. When an audience takes to a song and it becomes older, in a way it changes it entirely. And then the journey just begins. With the song “Paul,” for example, we’ve been playing that for a few years now. Now, it’s just taking on this new life that surprises me every time. When everyone in the audience is singing it, or a bunch of people in the audience are singing, suddenly I feel like, “Whoa, I’ve never heard this song before.” They all take their own separate paces, and that’s what’s so cool about it. That’s why I think we can continuously stay energized, because one feeds the other feeds the other. It just keeps turning back in, and I think continuing to be curious and excited and continuing to work on it as a craft and as an art form is what keeps us constantly energized.
We’re with Adrianne Lenker from Big Thief. The new album is called Capacity. It’s their sophomore effort. I’m Carmel Holt. Several things came to mind while you’re describing those three tracks of writing and recording and performing. You were talking about how you’re always writing, and I actually just recently learned that you’ve been writing songs as long as you have, like literally since you were a child. Can you trace for us your musical history a little bit?
Sure. When I was born, my dad was playing music, so I’m pretty sure he was singing to me in the womb. I was born into music, in a way, because he was playing acoustic guitar. I was around an instrument growing up. When I was old enough to hold the guitar, I asked my dad if he would teach me. He taught me a few chords. To his surprise, I came to him two years later when I was eight, with those chords memorized fully, and asking for the next thing. And I also showed him a song that I that I’d written when I was eight. That was my first song that I still remember. So then he continued to teach me. One thing that I really appreciate about my dad is, in a lot of different areas, he would bring teachers into my life. When he knew that he couldn’t teach me beyond a certain point about something, he would he would seek out a mentor or a teacher. And so he found this guy, Rick Risch, who was my next music teacher after my dad. When I was 12, I would take two buses to Rick’s house.
Which was where?
In St. Paul. I was in Minneapolis. I would get on a bus, transfer, go to St. Paul, [and] hang out with him once a week for the whole day. He would show me records and we would write and just play guitar. That was like two years we were doing that. Then, when I was 14, I had this teacher, Dan Schwartz. He taught me a lot of fingerstyle guitar. I started getting really into finger picking, and alternating thumb bass, and picking out melodies, and really challenging myself on the guitar and really focusing on guitar world for a while. I would bring in songs that I was working on and then he would help me make them more intricate with the guitar. He would work with my writing. I recorded a couple of albums with my dad when I was between ages 13 and 15 or 16, and it was much more in the pop world. My dad was managing me, and that got intense just because that’s an angsty time for a person, and it’s also an angsty time for parent and child because there’s that natural friction and intensity. But then, when you put that in the context of working together, it got intense in that way. But I also started listening to Elliott Smith for the first time. I realized I wasn’t making the kind of records I wanted to make, and that I wanted to learn how to get in touch with myself, whatever that magic was that I was hearing in the simplicity of his recordings. So I left that world; I decided not to release the record I was working on with my dad.
When I was 16, I decided I wanted to go to school. I didn’t go to high school at all, and I was kind of craving some peer time because I was always around adults. I went to school mainly just for the life experience of school and for being around other kids and for being on my own. That was a really sweet time because my main goal was just to learn and to become closer with myself as an artist. By the time I finished school, I don’t think I retained much of the curriculum, but I retained all the experience of having played with a lot of different people and having had a band during those years.
I moved to New York and, starting from complete scratch, had nothing to show anybody that was representing what I did, other than stuff I made when I was 13. So, I decided I should record a solo album of my songs that I had been accumulating. When I was 21 I just went to Minnesota, recorded a solo album called Hours Were the Birds, then I met Buck in New York, and we started doing duo tours. I saved up – I was waitressing full time all throughout living in New York – saved up for an electric guitar, worked more, saved up for an amp, worked more, saved up for our van. Bought this old 1987 Chevy conversion RV.
Began working to book all of our own tours. We’d booked these three month-long tours and live out of the RV, and it would take us three months to book a three-month tour. Emailing, no responses, asking friends of friends, “Can we play at your friend’s barbecue in the backyard?” We did that for a few years, maybe like two and a half years, we were touring as a duo like that. [We] made some duo recordings.
Under what name? You weren’t Big Thief yet.
No, this was just Adrianne Lenker. When we did a duo album, we did it under Adrianne Lenker and Buck Meek. Then, we both wanted to be in a band, so we kept our minds and hearts open and had that intention. Then magically we ran into Max, who Buck had known 10 years back, but they hadn’t seen each other. Started playing with him, went out on the road. We had another drummer at the time, Jason Berger, who’s a sweetheart. He’s incredible and he’s on the first album. We hit the road as a band with no representation, no help. We were still in that RV, booking all of our own stuff. We recorded Masterpiece before we met anyone as well. We just saved up pocket change and borrowed as much gear as we could and made the record before we even sent it to anybody.
And that was done in upstate New York, right?
Yeah, in a house. A friend’s family lent us their old little house, and we just went there and made it. Our attitude was, “We’re going to do this whether or not we have help. Whether or not we ‘succeed.'” I’m holding up the air quotes because our idea of success was just doing what we love, and we were already doing that. We already were where we wanted to be. That was very liberating, to have that attitude of, whether or not we have money or help, we’re just going to make music to the best of our abilities.
Then we got this tour with Luke Temple. It was a dream of ours to play shows with Here We Go Magic and with Luke. We finally got one show with them. He liked our music a lot and then invited us out on a month-long tour. We’d never played the West Coast, and we’d never played a support tour like that. He introduced us to his booking agent, Jim. He’s such a sweetheart. He saw our last show, and that kind of started the whole thing. He sent our album to Saddle Creek and we started to get support and help. We’re very blessed, because a lot of bands work really hard and never get that. So we’ve just been going pretty nonstop, living on the road ever since, and made Capacity shortly after we recorded Masterpiece. We had an opportunity to do it on a friend’s land who had a recording studio, and he offered it to us as mostly a gift, just expenses for the heat and helping keep a lookout on his place while he was gone. And now we’ve just been on the road a lot, and it’s been pretty wild.
As you’re talking about support – we’re here with Adrianne Lenker, if you’re just joining us, of Big Thief, and talking about the new album Capacity, their sophomore effort. I want to congratulate you, because you guys were just selected out of a lot, a lot, a lot of bands and artists for this new thing that’s happening, a collaboration between NPR Music and VuHaus – which is a video streaming platform for just music – and also NPR member stations like ours, recommended up-and-coming bands to be part of this thing called Slingshot. Big Thief has been selected for that. There’s going to be events and special interviews like we’re doing today, Tiny Desk concerts, and field recordings, and guest DJ sets all over. We’re psyched, because we’ve been big supporters of you guys since Masterpiece, and we’re just so excited for this chapter. You mentioned Luke Temple, you mentioned earlier discovery with Elliott Smith. How do you discover new music?
I’ve just always kind of got my ear out for it, but I don’t necessarily go looking for new things. Often it’s through friends. One of the coolest parts about being on the road is that we have all this time in the van. It could be looked at as a negative thing, to be sitting in a van for so long. But it’s also cool to not have…you’re not actually able to go anywhere else. And so you have to just focus on a few things, and one of those things is listening to music. We listen to a lot of interviews and a lot of music. It’s kind of like a musical education, just being in the van. I get a lot of my music from the band. They’re always showing me stuff. Also, just playing so many shows, we hear so many different bands. That’s probably the biggest way, just through being at a lot of shows and a lot of festivals and in the van listening to stuff all the time.
Can you recall hearing a Big Thief song on the radio for the first time?
Gosh, I haven’t heard it on the radio.
You haven’t yet?
No, but I’ve heard it at coffee shops or bakeries. The other day, we played a show, and then the next morning we found this random coffee shop, went in there, and they were playing our record.
What does that feel like?
That feels funny, and cool, and awkward, but in a really sweet way. It’s really sweet because everyone’s kind of blushing. They’re blushing and we’re blushing. And I think being able to still blush…like blushing is such a such nice, life-affirming emotion or thing to happen when you’re truly like kind of embarrassed but it’s also because of something sweet.
Yeah. I love that. So, you’re talking about music discovery. What are some of your favorite things that you’ve discovered recently that your bandmates have turned you on to?
I’ve been really enjoying Julianna Barwick, her album, Nepenthe, and Grouper‘s album, Ruins. James turned me on to both of those, actually. And then my friend, Genesis, turned me on to Pauline Oliveros for the first time.
Oh my goodness.
Like, wow. Powerful.
And she just passed away not too long ago.
Yeah. I wish I would’ve gotten to see them play in person. And then Twain is one of my all-time favorites, and they’re coming out with a new record. To me, Matt of Twain is a living legend, just an incredible songwriter and one of my biggest inspirations.
Thanks to Adrianne for coming by. Thanks, and congratulations on both Slingshot and on your new album, Capacity.
Good morning, here are our early stories:
And here are more early headlines:
More Than 200 Dead In Mexico Quake, Rescue Work Ongoing. (ABC)
9th Fla. Nursing Home Resident Dies After Hurricane Irma. (Sun-Sentinel)
South Korea Says Trump “Firm” On North Korea. (Reuters)
Kenyan Supreme Court Explains Why It Overturned Election. (Bloomberg)
Rohingya Refugees Face Heavy Rain After Fleeing Myanmar. (AP)
Mumbai Inundated Again By Flooding. (NDTV)
Baseball Teams Set New Home Run Record. (SI.com)
An artist’s rendition of the future Europa Clipper probing Jupiter’s moon Europa for potential life.
If it’s true that a picture is worth a thousand words, what NASA’s Cassini mission has left for us is indeed a treasure.
Launched in 1997, the mission terminated dramatically last week with the probe’s final plunge into Saturn’s upper atmosphere.
During its 13 years near Saturn, the mission has revealed the unexpected and spectacular richness of Saturn and its 62 (known so far) moons. This compilation of 100 images by The New York Times is worth many visits.
Once we see the majestic planet and its rings, it’s hard to avoid feelings of otherworldliness; we are so different and, yet, Saturn is like a mini-solar-system in itself, with its moons and asteroid belt (its rings). While Cassini has answered many questions, such as illuminating the remarkable structure of the rings, it has also opened new lines of inquiry. In particular, two of its moons, Titan and Enceladus, have jumped to the top of the list of best candidates for finding life outside Earth. (They tie with Jupiter’s moon Europa.)
Titan is a hazy ball larger than Mercury, the only moon in the solar system with an atmosphere. Using infrared cameras, Cassini was able to peer through Titan’s nitrogen-rich atmosphere to discover massive lakes of liquid methane and other carbon-rich compounds. Cassini released the Huygens probe into Titan to take in details of its atmosphere and surface. Amazingly, it found mountains and canyons carved by liquid methane, and a surface punctuated by rocks. No two worlds are ever the same; but there are general features that repeat across the solar system if liquid is allowed to flow and hasten erosion, while exchanging heat with the atmosphere. Although extremely cold, Titan is a model for an alien environment, rich with a dynamic atmosphere-surface energy exchange.
Enceladus was an even bigger surprise. Beneath its frozen surface lies an ocean of water, warmed by Saturn’s gravitational pull. (Think of a ball of Play-doh, and how it gets warm if you keep squeezing and stretching it.) Near Enceladus’ south pole, Cassini found huge geysers that shot water into the atmosphere, releasing the heat from the moon’s insides. If you scroll down The Times photo gallery, you can watch a movie of a geyser erupting.
Now, pause a second to ponder this: a man-made probe shooting a movie of a geyser erupting in a world about 750 million miles away. And we can watch this on our laptops at home.
But Cassini’s scientists wouldn’t just take pictures. They maneuvered the spacecraft to fly through the plumes to collect samples of the erupting vapors. Chemical analysis found water vapor, carbon dioxide, methane, molecular nitrogen, propane, acetylene, formaldehyde, and traces of ammonia, all chemicals related to life. This discovery propelled Enceladus to the top of the list of worlds where we should search for life. No need to drill through the surface into the underground ocean; just fly through the plumes and collect samples to search for some kind of simple life form.
We are moving to a new phase of space exploration, going beyond the visits and mapping, and into the let’s-really-look-for-life-out-there phase. We have found the best candidates and what kinds of environments they offer. NASA’s planned mission to Europa, named Europa Clipper, is expected to launch in the 2020s. As in Enceladus, Europa is also supposed to have hot geysers shooting from its surface.
Whatever is out there (or not), we will have much to learn from visiting an alien ocean with four times more water than all oceans on Earth combined. But even if we do find some kind of alien life, one essential lesson will remain the same: With every new world we discover — and explore if it harbors, or not, some form of simple life — we should look back at our own planet with awe. For worlds like our own will surely be few out there, in the frozen depths of space.
Marcelo Gleiser is a theoretical physicist and writer — and a professor of natural philosophy, physics and astronomy at Dartmouth College. He is the director of the Institute for Cross-Disciplinary Engagement at Dartmouth, co-founder of 13.7 and an active promoter of science to the general public. His latest book is The Simple Beauty of the Unexpected: A Natural Philosopher’s Quest for Trout and the Meaning of Everything. You can keep up with Marcelo on Facebook and Twitter: @mgleiser
Of the 70 bands I saw at this year’s SXSW Music Festival, the band Shame seemed to mean what they played more than any other. The U.K. guitar band thrashed with fervor while lead singer Charlie Steen removed all of his clothing, minus his wedgied underwear. He climbed atop a vending machine, fell awkwardly in the crowd and didn’t miss a beat. I loved this performance and I’ve waited to hear more from Shame since that Austin show. Now it’s here and it doesn’t disappoint.
The video and song is called “Concrete.” Musically, its passionate, stuttered guitar and call-and-response reminds me of another U.K. band – Gang of Four from 40 years ago. But Shame’s music feels vital, with 19-year-old Steen and bassist Josh Finerty screaming at each other, revealing the inner dialog of the song’s main character.
Charlie Steen told me in an email that “Concrete” is sung from the perspective of a lounger, an observer. “It’s a flâneur’s perspective on the psychological and emotionally draining effects of a doomed relationship – a moment where all of the worries and thoughts one might feel within this entrapment are isolated and embraced – a moment where the futility of reasoning is accepted.”
The video breaks down the wall between fiction and reality as Charlie Steen leaps off of a treadmill to join Sean Coyle-Smith and Eddie Green on guitars, Charlie Forbes on drums and Josh Finerty on bass.
And the wonderful, best reality of all is that the band is coming to the U.S. in November with dates in the U.K. in October. Between that and having signed to Dead Oceans, it wouldn’t be a stretch imagine an album announcement before too long; and the way they capture their live sound on this song means this could be one hell of a record.
The Barr Brothers — siblings Brad and Andrew Barr, along with harpist Sarah Pagé – are set to release a new album, Queen Of The Breakers, via Secret City Records on Oct. 13th.
The American-born brothers started the group in Montreal as a folk-pop band; over the course of the six years since The Barr Brothers’ self-titled debut album, it has evolved into a very smart, modestly eclectic rock band with touches of Americana, blues and rock. Before The Barr Brothers took shape, the brothers performed as The Slip, a group that was built on a musical foundation of classic rock, jazz and jam bandology.
The music of The Barr Brothers has an expansive sound where influences intersect, and the members are equally at home playing jazz fests, folk fests and rock fests. They are super crafty songwriters and performers — sophisticated, but not overly — and their songs have plenty of familiar touchpoints, while still taking musical chances to a warm and dazzling effect.
The title song to the band’s new album, “Queen Of The Breakers,” is a perfect illustration of the band’s attention to musical detail with memorable results. With a driving groove, an pleasantly overdriven melodic hook and just the right amount of ringing guitars, the anthemic quality of the song lingers way past the song’s completion.
Vocalist La Marisoul and guitarist Jose “Pepe” Carlos from the band La Santa Cecilia perform at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles
Pamela Krys/Courtesy Rebeleon Entertainment/Pamela Krys
Pamela Krys/Courtesy Rebeleon Entertainment/Pamela Krys
Last Sunday night, three of the biggest acts in Latin Alternative music were brought together at the historic Hollywood Bowl in a brilliant line-up that celebrated the diversity of Latin culture while also embracing, sometimes literally, the cause of Dreamers, a group currently caught in the middle of a sometimes ugly national conversation about immigration.
The ties to Mexico were both direct, as in the case of Mexico City’s Café Tacvba, as well as ancestral, with the largely Mexican-American members of La Santa Cecilia. The Chilean-born Mon Laferte now makes her home in Mexico City, as well. The joy and electricity were palpable between the audience and the musicians, who told Alt.Latino before the show they were also humbled by the experience.
“Es un sueno de cualquier musico estar en este sitio (It’s a dream for any musician to be here),” said Laferte, sharing her awe of walking in the footsteps of previous performers and seeing photos of The Beatles and Jimi Hendrix. The sassy performer opened the show to a roaring crowd. She and her eight-piece band were as stimulating visually as they were sonically; Laferte front-and-center, dancing about in a little yellow dress, sporting tattoos and a flowing mane of red-tinted hair adorned with a big flower, playing a white guitar against the backdrop of her bouncing band of men in maroon suits.
Laferte is a performer’s performer, an actress, dancer and musician all rolled into one, with an emotive, soulful soprano. The summer hit, “Amárrame” was a crowd favorite.
Next up was a rich performance by L.A.’s own homegrown Mexican-American band La Santa Cecilia.
“As we were driving in, I looked at the marquis,” lead singer La Marisoul said. “My [high school] classmates’ graduation was here at the Hollywood Bowl. I wasn’t able to graduate, you know, because I was una loquita, aventurera (crazy and adventurous.) I went to the school of life. But I feel a sense of accomplishment — almost like a graduation. I didn’t get to stand on that stage then, but I get to stand on that stage now with my brothers and after 10 years of dreaming, of traveling, of playing.”
Those 10 years started on Olvera Street in the city’s oldest neighborhood, busking at restaurants and developing their craft. Since then they’ve developed a Grammy-winning body of work, often blending traditional Mexican sounds with American styles and a dose of social consciousness. Amidst a stellar performance Sunday, they asked every Dreamer to stand up, sharing that one of their own, requinto player Jose “Pepe” Carlos was brought here when he was five and remained undocumented for 26 years. “No wall can hold back our dreams,” he said. “We’re bigger than that,” to roaring cheers.
“Amor Eterno,” a gorgeous duet between La Marisoul and Carlos, elicited lots of love from the crowd, as the amphitheater echoed with thousands of voices singing along. La Marisoul had the crowd in the palm of her hand, and guided them into a mix of contagious cumbias, generating a sea of swaying bodies and shaking hips.
Then in a surprise twist, actor/comedian Cheech Marin walked onto the stage to massive applause and a standing ovation. He delivered a hilarious rant on Mexicans that was followed by the band playing the popular anthem “Mexicano-Americano.” Mexican and immigrant pride swept the crowd.
Café Tacvba made for a dramatic grand finale entrance, playing a set enhanced by an electronic light show and the group’s energetic lead singer Rubén Albarrán. Working the runway, he bopped around in double man buns, a black jacket, white tie and sneakers, thrilling fans with handshakes and dance moves. The band’s showmanship was so tight and entertaining, it lit up the adoring audience. Songs from their new album Jei Beibi, such as “Futuro,” “Matando” and “Disolviendolos” highlighted their textured soundscapes. And through it all, Albarrán delivered messages of engaging in activism.
In the city that is said to hold the second-largest population of Spanish speakers in the world, bass player Quique Rangel said before the show “it’s sad to think that a lot people [here] from Mexico come because it wasn’t easy for them and their parents. Our country didn’t give them the chance to develop. Now it’s a rough time here. Our presence tonight is to try to bring some happiness and some hope for better times for all of us — the ones that were left on the other side of the border and the ones that are developing here that are trying to live. I haven’t met anyone that isn’t hardworking. Recognizing the heritage of people who came here, is a wonderful way to celebrate that we are together. It’s a great honor to play here.”
Cher (pictured here performing in 2017) has had a career of boundless musical versatility. Her 1971 album, Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves was the first of her many comeback iterations.
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Ethan Miller/Getty Images
This essay is one in a series celebrating deserving artists or albums not included on NPR Music’s list of 150 Greatest Albums By Women.
There are figures in pop culture whose influence is so ubiquitous, they require almost no introduction. We refer to them with a familiarity reserved for our closest friends and colleagues: by their first names. And before — and after — the rise of stars like Madonna, Beyoncé and Adele, there’s Cher.
Cher got her start singing backup on Phil Spector-produced songs like The Righteous Brothers’ “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin'” and The Ronettes‘ “Be My Baby,” but it was “I Got You Babe” — her hit with husband and musical partner Sonny Bono — that put Cher on the map in 1965. With her long, dark hair, trademark wit and androgynous vocals, Cher challenged notions of how a woman could look, act and sound, and helped redefine what it meant to be a woman in the spotlight. From donning that infamous black leotard in the video for “If I Could Turn Back Time” to introducing the world to AutoTune on the smash hit “Believe,” Cher has presided as the mother of reinvention for more than 50 years.
But it’s the release of Cher’s seventh studio album in 1971 that marked the first of her comeback iterations, setting the stage for her path to entertainment royalty paved with Grammy, Emmy and Academy Awards. By the late ’60s, Sonny & Cher — the folk-rock husband-wife duo of Cher and Sonny Bono — had been displaced within the cultural vanguard. Bohemian culture was rampant, making Sonny’s fur vests and Cher’s bellbottoms no longer the exception, but the rule. Meanwhile, Sonny’s straightforward, cheerful music wasn’t selling. Audiences found his songs banal and out of touch in the wake of psychedelia and acid rock. Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves put Cher back on the charts, and was a significant turning point in her trajectory as a solo artist, thus rendering it one of the most profound works of her career.
With the exception of the one-off album 3614 Jackson Highway, produced at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio, Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves serves as Cher’s first real break from Bono’s production. It was written to showcase and cultivate her signature contralto, and the title track became her first No. 1 hit on the Billboard Hot 100. It even scored her a Grammy nomination for Best Pop Vocal Performance (albeit losing out to Carole King’s Tapestry).
Written specifically for Cher by Bob Stone, the album’s title track is a story of classism, sexism and racism (“gypsies” being a derogatory term for the Roma population) told from the point of view of a 16-year-old girl. Although Cher had tackled complex subject matter on past solo records, including the Sonny-penned divorce ode “You Better Sit Down Kids” on With Love, Chér (1967), “Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves” presented a darker, more powerful Cher, whose strength lies in her embodiment of the character. Its opening lyric, “I was born in the wagon of a traveling show / My mama had to dance for the money they’d throw,” is mirrored in the song’s fourth verse (“She was born in the wagon of the traveling show / Her mama had to dance for the money they’d throw”), as the young narrator has her own child and is shafted into the same life as the generations of women who came before her. Cher’s emboldened drawls transformed the song into an urgent, beguiling pop smash. The song’s success established a pattern of storytelling reliant on exoticism that would continue throughout Cher’s ’70s output with Half-Breed and Dark Lady.
The album’s release also coincided with the television premiere of The Sonny and Cher Comedy Hour, and helped usherin Cher’s reign as a red carpet trailblazer. She ditched the hippie garb and began her fashion relationship with Bob Mackie, solidifying her status as the poster child of ’70s glam. Her sequined, feathered, skin-bearing numbers proved her ability to exude pop-rock attitude not just through her music, but through dress, too.
In 2017, Cher is still more relevant than ever. She’s the only artist to have a No. 1 single on the Billboard charts each of the last six decades and, as such, she received the Icon Award at this year’s Billboard Music Awards. The touchstone of her career has always been her ability to not only adapt to the times, but to be one step ahead of them. Cher’s undeniable perseverance manifested on her 1971 album, and it has enabled her to dominate virtually every entertainment platform throughout the years. From late-night television to the big screen, pop radio to dance halls, from the Las Vegas strip to — come 2018 — Broadway, Cher has done it all.
It’s not uncommon to hear Cher denounce her past work in interviews, claiming certain albums — Gypsys, Tramps & Thieves included — aren’t representative of her true aesthetic as an artist. But that’s exactly the sentiment that makes Cher, well, Cher. Never one to be pigeonholed, never settling into a style or sound for too long, she’s always seeking to embrace the next phase as the best innovators do. For her, the moment is fleeting — and she’s already living in the one that’s just around the bend. But for legions of fans, each milestone Cher hits is proof that women can do anything.
Last fall, an interview with Cher from a decade ago went viral. In it, she recounts a time when her mother told her to settle down and marry a rich man. Cher’s response? “I am a rich man.” It’s this independent, play-by-your-own-rules persona that makes Cher worthy of a spot in our canon.