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    Monday, March 04, 2024

    Favorite local stage and music performances of 2022

    Chris Rock (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)
    Blake Stadnik and Carina-Kay Louchiey in “42nd Street” at Goodspeed. (Diane Sobolewski)
    John Mulaney (Photo by Brent N. Clarke/Invision/AP)
    The Day’s arts writers selected their favorite live shows and recorded music of 2022.


    Chris Rock

    June 3, Mohegan Sun Arena

    During this show from the 57-year-old comedian’s “Ego Death” tour, Rock’s wide-reaching, clever and very funny observations made a strong case that he should be appointed the U.S. Philosopher at Large. Always able to apply interesting twists to easy-target (but still-simmering) topics like the red/blue political divide, race, the wealth/poverty disparity and more, Rock made sure to also subject himself and his family to some self-deprecation as well. Only when he broached sex did the routine seem a bit old and predictable; otherwise, the set was as valuable for its amusing qualities as for its thoughtfully provocative tangents.

    – Rick Koster

    John Mulaney

    March 19 and 20, Foxwoods

    Leave it to Mulaney, best known for his writing for and guest-hosting gigs on “Saturday Night Live,” to transform addiction into something hilarious. His routine focused much of the time on his out-of-control binges, the intervention led by his famous comic friends, and his humbling experience in rehab. I keep hoping he’ll bring his tour back around this area; I’d buy tickets again in a heartbeat.

    – Kristina Dorsey

    “Walk On Through: Confessions of a Museum Novice” and “The Jordan & Avery Show”

    July and August, Eugene O’Neill Theater Center, Waterford

    You go into shows at the National Music Theater Conference at the O’Neill knowing they are in development. That could mean they have shards of promise. Or that they are already rich, fully realized works. Gavin Creel’s “Walk On Through: Confessions of a Museum Novice” and Jay Adana’s “The Jordan & Avery Show” are the latter; they were among the most thoroughly enjoyable musicals I’ve seen at the O’Neill. If they had CDs of the music from each show available after the performance, I absolutely would have bought both — and would still have them playing on repeat.

    – Kristina Dorsey

    Old Crow Medicine Show

    September 23, Garde Arts Center

    Let’s say you hate – you REALLY hate – bluegrass and roots music. Let’s say you toe the line here on earth because you fear eternity in a hell in which Satan pipes bluegrass music nonstop and your cellmate is a 9-year-old practicing scales on an out of tune fiddle. Got that scenario?

    OK. If I’d forced you to go with me to see the concert by bluegrass-inspired Americana band Old Crow Medicine Show in the Garde during the fall, you might have walked out two hours later STILL hating that style of music. But you’d damned sure admit that you’d just seen one of the greatest concerts of your life. Because, as they do every night, Old Crow delivered in a huge way. They’re never NOT on – and as excellent as the performance spectacle was, the music and songs were just as stellar.

    What’s that? Oh, now you DO like bluegrass? Doesn’t surprise me.

    – Rick Koster

    “42nd Street”

    Sept. 16-Nov. 6, Goodspeed Opera House, East Haddam

    Sometimes, you just need a dance-tastic, feel-good musical comedy to lift your spirits. And after the past couple of years, don’t we need – and deserve — that? This production of “42nd Street” was fabulous and fun.

    – Kristina Dorsey

    Mark Ruffalo, Derek Cianfrance and Wally Lamb

    Sept. 22-23, Garde Arts Center, New London

    Star Ruffalo, director/screenwriter Cianfrance and novelist Lamb appeared at the Garde for a big-screen showing of the HBO adaptation of “I Know This Much Is True.” They had intriguing, thoughtful, often self-deprecating things to say about the miniseries and their work. So great.

    – Kristina Dorsey

    Bill Maher

    November 13, Premier Theater, Foxwoods

    In a phone conversation a week before this show – and on an Election Day where possibilities of a Red Wave had the nation transfixed – Bill Maher was not feeling confident. The noted libertarian comic/host expected the worst. As such, that it didn’t happen meant Maher was almost giddy when he hit the Foxwoods stage.

    On the other hand, it’s possible Maher had to jettison a lot of material he’d written in anticipation of the Red Wave, so there were also moments where it seems as though he was winging it – and he enjoyed doing so. Of course, a lot of the hot-button election topics were/are STILL hot button, so Maher still savaged Trump and the extreme right and “leftist snowflakes.” He also targeted Millennials, and spent some time pondering gender identity and puzzling over the immigration policy. It was cool to see a master working without a net.

    – Rick Koster


    April 28, Toad’s Place, New Haven

    Despite being maybe the best band in the world – to me, anyway -- the Polish group Riverside is virtually unknown in the U.S. They found enough change in the crevices of their rehearsal room couch to mount a tour of America last year, and that included a stop at Toad’s Place in New Haven, I backflipped down I-95 to be there.

    Combining elements of progressive hard rock with melancholy atmospherics, vocalist/bassist/songwriter Mariusz Duda’s yearning melodies and an almost disarmingly casual and polite stage presence, Riverside can be at turns mesmeric, haunting or frenetically churning – and their magic is anchored in an ability to seemingly sculpt soundtracks for each audience member’s own plaintive memories.

    – Rick Koster

    Paula Poundstone

    May 27, Katharine Hepburn Cultural Arts Center, Old Saybrook

    Poundstone is the queen of quick comic thinking. When she asks questions of various people in the crowd, it becomes a think of improvisational beauty. At this show, she was amazed by someone who made microscopes for a living — an occupation no one had ever mentioned during her decades of asking audience members about their careers — and it prompted some of her funniest lines of the night.

    – Kristina Dorsey


    Oct.-Nov., Chestnut Street Playhouse, Norwich

    It’s not easy competing with a well-known movie, or staging a drama that focuses almost solely on two characters. But this production of “Misery” was gripping. Maureen Pollard (as the unhinged Annie Wilkes) and Derek Corriveau (as the author who is immobile for the first part of the story) were quite good, and kudos, too, to director Lisa Bono.

    – Kristina Dorsey


    The Tipping Point

    Tears For Fears

    This off/on duo returned after 17 years to remind us that their brand of elegant, refined pop music is timeless whenever they get around to making an album. Now in their early 60s, Roland Orzabal and Curt Smith have the wisdom and experience to look backward – much as their early works were anticipatory in nature. It’s true that a lot of “The Tipping Point” seems inspired by the early death of Orzabal’s wife due to alcohol-related dementia, but the sorrow is only part of a seamlessly great record.

    – Rick Koster

    Threesome Vol. 3

    The Lickerish Quartet

    I hope my instincts are wrong, and that the Lickerish Quartet – ex-Jellyfishers Roger Joseph Manning Jr., Tim Smith and Eric Dover – will continue to occasionally gather to write and record beyond-brilliant albums that seem spun out of a Ouija board session between the Beach Boys, the Grassroots, the Moody Blues and, yes, Jellyfish. This third EP completes a blueprint where the trio set out to release a triumvirate of four-tune EPs and then, well, who knows? After all, they all have good paying gigs as side musicians in lesser (but more successful) bands. If this in fact all we’ll get, “Vol. 3” is a wonderful way to go out.

    – Rick Koster


    Von Hertzen Brothers

    This six-and-a-half minute tune by the Finnish band the Von Hertzen Brothers is my favorite song of the year. I wish every critic that contributes year-end Best Of lists – most of which will contain the same seven or eight artists because there’s a genuine herd mentality to this profession wherein the writers don’t want to be out-hipped by their colleagues – was forced to listen to this miracle of a song. But they’ll never hear it. Too bad. The vocal harmonies and soaring melodies harken all the way back to the Renaissance choral work of Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina – but yet the siblings’ voices sound utterly fresh and almost holy. The backing instruments – fluttering arpeggios like tuned angel’s wings, glacially lovely synth patches and drums like the heartbeats of leopards running across a veldt – can almost cause you to levitate and the piece builds to an breath-stealing climax. Oh, and fan-posted YouTube footage indicates the VHBs can absolutely pull this off live. Wow.

    – Rick Koster

    Every Five Seconds

    The Fixx

    Yes, they’ll be forever trapped in the “New Wave” category and associated with sorta-hits like “Saved by Zero” and “One Thing Leads to Another.” The truth is, though, that The Fixx is a most distinctive sounding band that should work in any iteration of rock music simply because they write and play amazing songs. “Every Five Seconds” is just the latest in a series of remarkably consistent albums in their rich catalog. Vocalist Cy Curnin is as fine and instantly identifiable a singer as you’ll hear, and the group’s sheepshank knottery of song structures – “Gotcha!” riffs contrasted with Prince-style rhythm guitar, contrapuntal bass and drums and flowing keyboards – are as fine as ever.

    – Rick Koster

    An Hour Before Dark


    The album’s title could mean two different things. If you’re the sort that looks back to childhood with fond nostalgia, the music herein can summon images of that last bit of daylight when a kid is supercharged with the energy of getting the most out of playtime – happily unaware that it won’t always be this way. Marillion is sonically capable of excellently capturing that. At the same time, “an hour before dark” could also suggest that we as citizens of Earth have about run out of time – and it’s our own fault. Marillion can also provide the perfect soundtrack for feelings of anxiety and loss – and it all happens on every song on this recording. This is album that demands to be listened to in the dark, or perhaps with a few votives flickering. Invest the time to do so; it’s worth it.

    – Rick Koster


    Miranda Lambert

    In writing about this release earlier this year, I said, “This release for the most part leaves behind the cheeky pop sensibility of her albums like ‘Wildcard’ and goes for arrangements that call to mind dusty desert expanses and rebel loners.” And Lambert’s inimitable voice provides emotion, nuance, and, on occasion, roguish humor. I keep saying Lambert’s new albums are among her best, and it’s true. She doesn’t disappoint.

    – Kristina Dorsey


    Kelly Clarkson

    If there’s a part of Clarkson’s talk show I hate to miss, it’s the opening bit where she performs a cover of a song. She brings her powerful pipes to the proceedings, yes, but also an amazing ability to reinterpret a number, in small or large ways, that make you hear the song anew. Clarkson recorded some of her most popular covers here, and all I want is for her to put together a second “Kellyoke” CD.

    – Kristina Dorsey


    James Bay

    James Bay is back in “The Chaos and the Calm” form. A beautiful work.

    – Kristina Dorsey

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