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Of the circus (go), Westerberg, the Joker's chaos and more ...

MONDAY MORNING PLAYBACK

Paul Westerberg
Photo by Stacy Schwartz
Paul Westerberg at First Avenue during a 2007 performance.

A few of my favorite things from the week that was:

Circus Juventas, "Ravens Manor" (through Aug. 17, St. Paul Highland Park). Easily the most beautiful thing I've seen this summer. Combine rubbery bodies flying through the air in goth get-ups and zombie make-up with a tragic-romantic love story and Peter Ostroushko's hellacious score and you've got a celebration of sensuality that sticks with you long after the last trapeze swings. Closed circuit to All The Pretty Horses, The Falls, fans of Mary Oliver and "Girl On a Swing" and wonderstuff in general: Drop everything and go.


Paul Westerberg, "49:00" (mp3 available at Amazon.com). It's no secret that most songwriters have all sorts of tapes lying around — snippets of ideas and lost choruses and verses that shoulda-coulda been something "more." But rarely are those sketches honored for what they are: classic, organically born and played blues songs whose riches are revealed — indeed, available — only to the most judicious of listeners. To that end, this 49-minute splash of songs and covers is like a cassette tossed from one old friend to another, in a posing of the same question to the universe ("Am I alone?") that the universe so often gets. In this case the universe answers, "Not at all. As you well know. Great to hear your voice again. Oh, and in case you were wondering, you're no devil; `God don't make no junk' and rebirth and all that."

Heath Ledger in "The Dark Night."
Warner Bros. Pictures
Heath Ledger in "The Dark Night."

Heath Ledger in "The Dark Night." It's eerie enough to walk alone through Times Square at four in the morning as I did last week, and even more so when a three-story-high neon Joker is leering down at you, reminding you of the horrors of the current waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop national psyche, which to my knowledge has not been better represented by any pop-culti figure than this very messy very worried very angry very damaged very vengeful happy face. Ledger's truly frightening performance is far and away the most memorable aspect of an otherwise typical blockbuster, and his blood-guts-funny-bone machetes through both special effects and screen. Beyond the obvious craftsmanship, the reason Ledger's Joker captures the imagination with such veracity is because audiences love that the Joker is very good at what he does: creating chaos. Which is probably why, as I quickened my gait and got the neon devil behind me that morning, I couldn't help but think he's the latest incarnation of a boil America is constantly trying to lance, constantly missing, and for good reason: He is we.

Molly Walsh, "Song of the Day" (subscribe here) As this daily email feature attests, my kid sister is the best musichead/writer in the Walsh family. Her riffs on pop culture and history and life in general take me back to the halcyon days of her Hunk O' Junk 'zine and Minnesota Daily column, and fall nicely in the inbox somewhere between "The Writer's Almanac" and porn spam. Somebody should serialize this already — or at least set up her archives — and make her rich. (Hey sis, a request: "All Down the Line" by the Stones. On Aug. 2, 1975, your two oldest brothers rocked to it at the Gator Bowl in Jacksonville, Fla. Sweet.)  

Marissa Levy, "Charmed and Dangerous." (Marissa Levy/Crayonbox Records). A smart, spunky songstress with a voice that takes you to that special place where you drink champagne while showering under waterfalls. Many of the tunes are pub and clubland survivor stories, and "Leave the Boy at the Bar" is the kind of flirt-with-'em-and-leave-'em piece of advice fathers everywhere should sneak onto their daughters' playlists.

Counting Crows, "Round Here." (Cities 97, Aug. 3, 5 p.m.). From "August and Everything After," an evergreen celebration of hometown that, on the first Sunday in August on a humid prairie day, sounded not unlike a roar from all the Leos who like to stay up very, very late in the summer.   

Christy DeSmith, "Film Fete" (Star Tribune, Aug. 3). MinnPost contributor DeSmith is a curious writer/observer whose between-the-lines snark makes it into the Strib every Sunday in her "Face Time" social scene column. Along with Garrison Keillor's column on his mom and country, James Lileks on the 35W bridge collapse anniversary, and the words "Liriano is back," the single most memorable words in the Sunday Strib were DeSmith's description of indie film icon Al Milgrom at a swank fundraiser: "For much of the evening, he carried a fishing hat in his hands."

"Take Me Out to the Ball Game" (July 23, Yankee Stadium). I would like to take this opportunity to waste this space and your time by typing the sentence I SAW THE LAST TWINS GAME AT YANKEE STADIUM. My friend Tom was talking about something as we stood for the seventh inning stretch but I couldn't hear him, due to all those Bronx voices barking out the national pastime anthem, and all those ghosts and all that baseball history rattling around in my young bones. Speaking of which, did somebody say the Twins are in first place? In August? Then it's true: this is the song we should all be singing, all the time these days, for so many good reasons. Cheers ...

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