We may be the tarnished buckle in the Rust Belt, but Cleveland has always been a great performing arts town—especially in the fall, when local stages, concert halls, clubs, and movie theaters come alive with new offerings. This year is no exception, with more bands, concerts, films, plays, and special events on tap than anyone can possibly keep up with.
So our critics have done the hard work for you, digging through the schedules and picking out the best of the new season. Still, there's so much to choose from that we will be presenting it in two parts. This week, a look at music, from death metal to classical, and art house films.
Rock & Pop
You know summer is over when the big outdoor venues scale back on concerts. Blossom Music Center still has two shows this month: The classic rock act Journey plays on Sept. 22, and the country group Zac Brown Band is slated for Sept. 29. Other outdoor facilities are shuttered until spring. But the rock clubs are as busy as ever, with plenty of great concerts lined up through the end of the year.
Historically known as one of rock's most volatile acts, noisy Scottish alternative rockers the Jesus and Mary Chain play Cleveland for the first time in 15 years. The Reid brothers have written songs for an as-yet-unrecorded new studio album, but you'll hear just the hits at this show at House of Blues (Sept. 21). Guitar slinger Steve Vai, who's played with everyone from Frank Zappa to David Lee Roth, is currently touring behind a new album of mostly instrumental music. He's also at House of Blues (Sept. 24).
On a romp designed to break the record for the fastest tour of the United States and D.C. (51 dates), the Melvins Lite will make a quick stop at the Grog Shop (Sept. 25). Don't let the "lite" tag fool you; these veteran sludge rockers have churned out quality sludge rock for nearly three decades now, and their "lite" is still plenty heavy. Early in his career, classic rocker Eddie Money found a fan base in Cleveland, and the singer hasn't forgotten that. He always includes Northeast Ohio on his itinerary, and his current tour includes a stop at the Tangier (Sept. 28).
Former Bauhaus/Love and Rockets bassist David J is playing material from both his group and solo work on his current tour, which includes a stop at the Phantasy Nite Club (Sept. 29). He'll be backed by a Portland, Oregon-based band that he's been collaborating with.
Now that she's a mother, Ani DiFranco doesn't tour as much as she used to, making her concert at the Kent Stage (Sept. 29) all the more highly anticipated. Given that the show is only a few weeks before the election, you can bet the left-leaning singer-songwriter will have a few things to say about the importance of voting.
On a reunion tour that has already included a high-profile appearance at this year's Lollapalooza, alternative rockers the Afghan Whigs come to the Beachland Ballroom (Sept. 30). Their Ohio-born, R&B- and soul-infatuated front man Greg Dulli sounds better than ever, thanks in part to the fact that he quit smoking a few years back.
October will bring a lot of big names, starting with death metal veterans Morbid Angel. Touring in support of last year's Illud Divinum Insanus, they'll be at Peabody's (Oct. 2).
Bearded blues rockers ZZ Top are coming to Akron Civic Theatre (Oct. 3) in support of their recent album, La Futura, which paired them with veteran producer Rick Rubin (Johnny Cash, Slayer). Rubin made the band sound raw and raspy, much more so than it has in recent years.
Cleveland hip-hop icons Bone Thugs-N-Harmony recently reunited to mark their 20th anniversary. They plan to play their 1995 album E. 1999 Eternal in its entirety for a special show at the Agora (Oct. 6). Touring behind Americana, their first studio album together in nearly 10 years, Neil Young and Crazy Horse are on an extensive tour that arrives at the Wolstein Center (Oct. 8).
SoCal punk rockers Social Distortion have always drawn well in Cleveland, so House of Blues has booked the band for two nights (Oct. 18 &19). Indie rockers Silversun Pickups recently released their new album, Neck of the Woods, to wide acclaim; they will also be at House of Blues (Oct. 21). Pittsburgh-based rapper Wiz Khalifa has moved up to arenas, and he performs at Wolstein Center (Oct. 23). Southern rock revivalists the Drive-By Truckers always seem to put on thrilling, epic shows when they play the Beachland Ballroom, where they return on Oct. 24.
Meat Loaf is slated to play the State Theatre (Oct. 24) on his tour to commemorate the 35th anniversary of Bat Out of Hell, an album that originally came out on the locally based Cleveland International Records. (Meat Loaf has even promised to donate a portion of ticket sales to the Steve Popovich Legacy Foundation, in honor of the label's late founder.) New York's The Toasters proclaim themselves "North America's longest-running ska band." Whether or not that's really the case, they're a great old-school ska and reggae act definitely worth catching when they play Now That's Class (Oct. 27).
Long-running local metalheads Mushroomhead host their annual Halloween show at the Agora (Oct. 27). Still playing arenas after all these years, Canadian prog rockers Rush return to Quicken Loans (Oct. 28), a venue that they sold out on last year's tour (the Cleveland show was recorded for a DVD release).
November is a month for survivors, starting with '60s singer-songwriter Sixto Rodriguez, who has experienced yet another resurgence in popularity with the release of the documentary Searching for Sugar Man (opening at the Cedar Lee Theatre Sept. 21). He hasn't toured much over the course of his career, but he's hitting many of the cities showing the film, and will play at the Beachland Ballroom (Nov. 3).
Earlier this year, Madonna began touring in support of her most recent album MDNA, and controversy immediately followed (the show includes a staged gunfight and sexually explicit content). She brings the tour to Quicken Loans (Nov. 10).
Created for a '60s TV show, the Monkees have somehow endured. Touring as a trio in the wake of the recent death of founding member Davy Jones, the band plays the Lakewood Civic Auditorium (Nov. 17) in celebration of its 45th anniversary.
The Grand Rapids, Mich.-based band Mustard Plug has been together since 1992 and toured relentlessly throughout its career. The band plays Now That's Class (Nov. 18).
Dayton hardcore heroes Miss May I played the main stage all summer on the Warped Tour. Now, they're headlining the Alternative Press Tour, which includes a stop at House of Blues (Nov. 24).
December brings Grace Potter & the Nocturnals, hot off their summer tour with country stars Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw. They'll play their radio-friendly power pop at House of Blues (Dec. 5). And what would the holiday season be without the Trans-Siberian Orchestra? The prog rock ensemble brings its annual Christmas show to Quicken Loans Arena (Dec. 26) for two performances. —Jeff Niesel
Classical & Crossover
Cleveland's classical music community is in the throes of a major makeover. It's no longer enough just to roll out the canon and expect seats to fill. Along with Mozart, Dvorák, and Tchaikovsky, programmers are mixing in pop stars like Béla Fleck and Roberta Flack, and staging concerts in a growing number of unorthodox venues.
"Without diminishing our commitment to the great classics performed at the highest levels, we're expanding what we do to appeal to a much broader range of the community," says Cleveland Orchestra Executive Director Gary Hanson. "Listeners should have a choice of experiencing the orchestra at Severance Hall, or individual musicians at the Happy Dog tavern."
The chamber music series at the Happy Dog is only one of many outreach efforts the orchestra has undertaken, which this season include a new Neighborhood Residency program and performances in area schools. A partnership with the Joffrey Ballet will bring a spectacular production of The Nutcracker to Playhouse Square during the holiday season (Nov. 29 – Dec. 2). And a collaboration with the Rock Hall will bring Police drummer Stewart Copeland to Severance next month for the Cleveland premiere of his raucous Gamelan D'Drum (Oct. 5).
Copeland and Fleck, who will be performing his "Banjo Concerto" with the orchestra (Oct. 6, 7 & 8) are part of the "Fridays@7" series, a blend of classical and pop programming designed to attract younger audiences. The performances are followed by an afterparty in the Severance lobby. After two successful summers at Blossom, the orchestra is also expanding its "Under 18s Free" offer to include selected concerts at Severance this season.
"Tons" is how Hanson characterizes the number of young faces he sees in the audience these days. "But that has to continue to grow," he adds. "So this is not a one-, two- or three-season effort. This is a permanent effort on the part of the Cleveland Orchestra to keep up with a changing world."
Hard-core classical fans will find plenty of other reasons to be at Severance this fall. Highlights include the season opener, with Music Director Franz Welser-Möst conducting Mahler's Symphony No. 3 (Sept. 20 & 22); Giancarlo Guerrero, the orchestra's principal guest conductor in Miami, leading a concert performance of Stravinsky's Petrouchka and the world premiere of Stephen Paulus's Violin Concerto No. 3 (Oct. 11, 13 & 14); the exciting American mezzo-soprano Sasha Cooke joining Israeli conductor Pinchas Steinberg for an all-Russian program (Oct. 18, 19 & 20); and one of the world's most famous classical musicians, Yo-Yo Ma, will be joining the orchestra for a special gala concert, playing Williams and Dvorák (Nov. 3).
An equally exciting fall season is already underway just down the street, at the Cleveland Institute of Music. Roberta Flack fans will have to wait until the new year to see her benefit concert with the CIM Orchestra at Severance (Jan. 26). But the programming between now and then is first-rate.
The Mixon Hall Masters Series features an outstanding chamber group, the Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio (Oct. 17), and superstar violinist Midori playing with one of her regular accompanists, Turkish pianist Özgür Aydin (Nov. 5). The CIM Opera Theater will open its season with a production of Domenico Cimarosa's opera buffa Il matrimonio segreto (Nov. 7 – 10).
Along with the classics, there's plenty of modern music on tap. The CIM Orchestra is paying tribute to 20th-century Polish composer Witold Lutosawski, though not until Jan. 23. In the meantime, fans of contemporary music can hear the work of American composer Sean Shepherd, who will be in town for a performance of his pieces by CIM's New Music Ensemble (Nov. 11). The group will reprise some of the selections a few days later in a performance at the new Museum of Contemporary Art building (Nov. 15). CIM is also hosting an evening dedicated to 20th-century French composer Darius Milhaud (Oct. 31).
The Institute made an initial foray into aesthetic venues last year with a "Music in the Galleries" series at the Cleveland Museum of Art. That will return this year, with chamber concerts on the first Wednesday of every month, beginning Oct. 3. The early starting time of the concert (6 p.m.) will allow listeners to take in a double bill, as there are free faculty concerts at the Institute on many Wednesday evenings at 8 p.m.
And for just $5, you can see CIM Orchestra concerts at Severance. The next one is on Oct. 10, with Carl Topilow on the podium and Andris Koh, a gifted cellist from Singapore, soloing on Dvorák's seminal Cello Concerto in B minor.
The Cleveland Museum of Art offers the best crossover programming in the city, serving up a tasty mix of classical, contemporary and traditional music, along with dance and choral ensembles. For classical music devotees, the fall portion of the schedule includes two evenings of world-class performers. The Prazak Quartet, one of the finest string ensembles in Central Europe, will offer a taste of its homeland with a program of Haydn, Dvorák and Suk (Oct. 31). And Jordi Savall, the unchallenged master of the Spanish viol, is bringing his amazing Hespèrion XXI ensemble (Nov. 7).
Other CMA concerts to mark on the calendar for next year: the Kronos Quartet (Jan. 18), the Juan Siddi Flamenco Theater Company (Feb. 8), fado singer Ana Moura (March 22), Zimbabwean guitarist and singer-songwriter Oliver Mtukudzi, and a Cleveland Orchestra performance of works by contemporary California composers (May 3).
And then there are Cleveland's roving orchestras, for whom outreach is a way of life.
Apollo's Fire is coming off a red-hot 20th-anniversary year with the signature mix of popular classics, deep Baroque, and traditional music that has earned the ensemble international standing. Its fall offerings start easy with three of Bach's Brandenberg Concertos (Oct. 11 – 14); dig deeper into the Baroque repertoire with a tasty set of passacaglias by Monteverdi and Charpentier (Nov. 1 – 4); reprise the crossover favorite Sacred Mysterium: A Celtic Christmas, concurrent with a DC/DVD release (Dec. 5 – 11); and resurrect Handel's Messiah for the holidays (Dec. 14 – 17).
Audiences around the world have gathered to hear Apollo's Fire, and locally it could not be easier. There are four performances of each program, scheduled with an eye toward accessibility—East Side, West Side, south (Fairlawn, Akron) and downtown. Church venues like Fairmount Presbyterian, St. Paul's Episcopal and Trinity Cathedral add to the ambience.
Much younger but no less enterprising is City Music Cleveland, a chamber orchestra that takes the Apollo's Fire model a step further, playing in venues where local residents would normally not have an opportunity to hear classical music, and offering free admission. The no-cost, inner-city approach takes nothing away from the programming.
For the first concert series (Oct. 17 – 21), violin prodigy Rachel Barton Pine is joining the orchestra for a performance of Bruch's popular Violin Concerto No. 1, with the exciting young Ryan McAdams on the podium for a program that also includes Falla and Beethoven. In December (12 – 16), the remarkable conductor and cardiologist Stefan Willich will be in town to lead the ensemble in a program of Mozart and Mendelssohn, featuring principal oboist Rebecca Schweigert Mayhew.
In all, that's a rich fall schedule. Few cities offer that much refined music — especially for free. —
Independent & Alternative Film
He was not jumping on Oprah's couch at the time, but actor and devout Scientologist Tom Cruise reportedly hit the ceiling when he saw Paul Thomas Anderson's new film, The Master. The movie stars Philip Seymour Hoffman as a charismatic intellectual WWII veteran —clearly based on Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard—who launches his own religion in the 1950s.
The film, which opens in Cleveland on Sept. 21, is one of the most hotly anticipated independent releases of the season. "I've loved every one of Anderson's films," says Cleveland cinéaste Dave Huffman. "So I'm anxious to see his slightly veiled take on Scientology."
Films that are controversial and challenging, like the recently opened Compliance, are of particular interest to Huffman, who previews upcoming films as part of his job as marketing director for Cleveland Cinemas. Other fall releases on Huffman's must-see list include: Looper , which opens Sept. 28, ("I'm a sucker for smart time-travel sci-fi"); the adolescent coming-of-age story The Perks of Being a Wallflower ("I've heard nothing but good things about it"); the comedy Seven Psychopaths ("I love In Bruges, and the trailer for Martin McDonagh's new comedy looks hilarious"); How to Survive a Plague ("Excellent doc about the ACT UP activist group during the early years of the AIDS epidemic and a contender for this year's Best Documentary Oscar); the crime thriller Killing Them Softly ("I'll go wherever Andrew Dominik, the director of Chopper and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, wants to take me"); and the adaptation of David Mitchell's novel Cloud Atlas ("The Wachowski brothers and Tom Tykwer team up to direct a film version of a seemingly unfilmable book; it will either be a total mess or one of the most interesting films of the year").
Here are more highlights of the upcoming season in independent, foreign and alternative film, by venue.
Opening Sept. 21: In the gritty End of Watch, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Peña are police officers marked for death after confiscating money and weapons from a drug cartel. Clint Eastwood returns as an aging baseball scout who takes his daughter (Amy Adams) on one last recruiting trip in Trouble With the Curve.
Opening Sept. 28: The French film Chicken With Plums (Poulet aux prunes) concerns a famous violinist who loses his will to live after his wife breaks his beloved violin. Kenyon College in Ohio was the filming site of Liberal Arts, about a 30-something man (Zac Efron) who falls for a college student. Judi Dench, Keira Knightly, Kenneth Branagh, Colin Firth, Lily Tomlin and Jason Alexander are among the stars who appear in Stars in Shorts, a collection of short films.
Opening Oct. 5: In his first film in since the 2009 Life During Wartime, Todd Solondz brings his deliciously depressive worldview to Dark Horse, about two thirtyish misfits who fall in love and get married. Susan Fromke's Escape Fire: The Fight to Rescue American Health Care examines the problems and inequities of the for-profit U.S. health care system and proposes solutions. The Perks of Being a Wallflower is Stephen Chbosky's adaptation of his novel about an awkward adolescent boy who is taken under the wing of two other high school misfits. The Indian film The Kite is Prashant Bhargava's lovely, naturalistic drama about a Delhi businessman who returns to Ahmedabad for an annual kite festival, igniting family conflicts.
Opening Oct. 12: Colin Farrell is a struggling screenwriter who runs afoul of L.A. criminals when his oddball friends kidnap a gangster's beloved Shih Tzu in Martin McDonagh's Seven Psychopaths. David France's documentary How to Survive a Plague chronicles the struggles of two AIDS activist groups.
Opening Nov. 9: Keira Knightley stars in her third Joe Wright-directed film, a glossy adaptation of Anna Karenina. Playwright Tom Stoppard wrote the adaptation.
Opening Dec. 9: Bill Murray as FDR? Yes, Murray wheels about convincingly enough as the 32nd president in Hyde Park on Hudson, which dramatizes the visit of the King and Queen of England to the home of Franklin and Eleanor on the eve of World War II.
Opening Dec. 25: No one has ever made a good film version of The Great Gatsby. What are the odds that the flamboyant Baz Luhrman (Moulin Rouge!) can do it? Not good, but his cast is definitely interesting: Leonardo DiCaprio as the social-climbing Jay Gatsby, Carey Mulligan as his love interest, Daisy, and Tobey McGuire as the observer Nick Carraway.
Dates to be announced: The Paperboy, an adaptation of Pete Dexter's novel about a reporter who returns to his Florida hometown to investigate a case involving a death row inmate, starring Matthew McConaughey, Zac Efron and Nicole Kidman; The Inbetweeners Movie, the film version of a popular British sitcom about the raunchy antics of a group of high school friends; The Loneliest Planet, a thriller starring Gael Garcia Bernal, about a guide who takes a couple on a twisted backpacking trip
September: In the French comic thriller Nobody Else But You, or Poupoupidou (20th), a crime novelist investigates the apparent suicide of a model who believed she was the reincarnation of Marilyn Monroe. Damsels in Distress (20th & 21st) Whit Stilman's first film in 13 years, is about four perky coeds who set out to civilize their barbaric frat-boy classmates.
The life of Alma Mahler, who was married not only to composer Gustav Mahler but also to Bauhaus architect Walter Gropius and writer Franz Werfel, has long fascinated writers and filmmakers. The German period fantasia Mahler on the Couch (21st) has Gustav seeking Freudian analysis from Sigmund himself after discovering his wife's affair with Gropius.
The death in July of 91-year-old Chris Marker, the elusive French multimedia artist, sparked renewed interest in his films. The best-known is his 1962 short La Jettée (22nd), a time-warp sci-fi tale about a man haunted by a childhood memory. It's paired with Jean-Luc Godard's My Life to Live (Vivre Sa Vie), an episodic 1962 film about a young Parisian woman's descent into prostitution.
Japan's greatest living animator, Hayao Miyazaki, is the subject of a seven-film retrospective this fall. His Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind (22nd & 23rd) is a post-apocalyptic sci-fi epic in which a young princess must stop warring clans from destroying the Valley of the Wind. Cleveland Institute of Art graduate Alison O'Daniel will answer questions after the screening of her surrealistic film Night Sky (26th), about two women wandering the desert who find a portal to a parallel world.
China Heavyweight (27th & 28th) is the new documentary by Yung Chang, director of the beautiful 2007 doc Up the Yangtze. This one tells the story of two rural teenagers recruited to train for the country's Olympic team. Come Back Africa (29th & 30th), shot secretly in South Africa in 1959, follows the struggles of a Zulu family under apartheid. It launched singer Miriam Makeba to international fame. Porco Rosso, or The Red Pig (30th), is a Miyazaki rarity that chronicles the adventures of a WWI pilot-turned-pig battling sky pirates over the Adriatic Sea.
October: The Alloy Orchestra, which specializes in accompanying silent films, will provide live soundtracks for two 1920s Soviet silents, the expressionistic The Overcoat and the acclaimed avant-garde "city symphony" Man With a Movie Camera (4th).
Two classics return in 35mm prints, the way they were meant to be seen: Francois Truffaut's memorable ménage à trois Jules and Jim (5th & 6th) and Jean Renoir's celebrated WWI antiwar drama Grand Illusion (6th & 7th). Another classic, Max Ophuls' 1953 The Earrings of Madame De... (12th & 13th) is a lavish tale of adultery in fin de siècle France
Jacques Tati's gag-filled 1967 Playtime (20th), shown in conjunction with the opening of the Museum of Contemporary Art's new building, finds Monsieur Hulot trapped in a maze of modernist buildings on the outskirts of Paris.
A young girl battles sky pirates in Miyazaki's animated aerial adventure Castle in the Sky (6th & 7th); and the Cuban zombie movie Juan of the Dead (11th & 14th) makes an encore.
David Lynch fans will have an opportunity to see three of the surrealist director's films: Dune (11th & 12th), his adaptation of Frank Herbert's sci-fi novel that was trashed by critics but embraced by viewers; Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (19th & 21st), the mesmerizing prequel to Lynch's cult TV series; and Lost Highway (25th & 26th), a nightmarish neo-noir mystery starring Bill Pullman as a jazz saxophonist who goes to jail for a murder he can't remember committing, and becomes his own doppelganger.
André Téchiné's Venice-set film Unforgivable (13th & 14th) is about a French crime writer who hires a female private eye to spy on his beautiful companion; she turns out to be his companion's ex-lover. Miyazaki's Oscar-winning animated Spirited Away (13th & 14th) is about a 10-year-old girl transported to the spirit realm.
"A superior, and way grosser, version of The Hangover" is how the Village Voice described Klown (screening on the 16th at the Capitol), a raunchy Danish comedy. The estimable Daniel Autueil stars in and directs The Well-Digger's Daughter (20th & 21st), a remake of Marcel Pagnol's 1940 film about a widower in rural Provence who throws the eldest of his five daughters out of the house when she becomes pregnant.
Avant-garde filmmaker Leighton Pierce appears at a special showing of his 16mm films Glass and 50 Feet of String (22nd). David Weisman and Bill Weber's stirring documentary We Were Here (25th & 26th), chronicles the devastation of the San Francisco gay community by the AIDS virus.
The anarchic 1966 film Daisies (27th & 28th), banned by the Czech communist government, is a dadaist satire that follows two bored young women who commit pranks against modern consumer society. Yasuijiro Ozu's highly regarded 1953 Tokyo Story (27th & 28th) is about an elderly couple whose visit to their children is a burden to their busy offspring. And the Miyazaki series concludes with the mythological, ecological epic Princess Mononoke (27th & 28th).
Cleveland Museum of Art
September: W.G. Sebald, author of The Rings of Saturn, is the subject of a British literary essay film, Patience (After Sebald) (19th). The title of Paul Williams Still Alive (21st)) is a riposte to the common belief that the diminutive '70s songwriter is dead. The guy is still around, having conquered addiction, and talks about his life in Stephen Kessler's documentary. Wayne White, set designer for Pee-wee's Playhouse, painter and video director, is the subject of Neil Berkeley's fun doc Beauty Is Embarrassing (28th).
October: 5 Broken Cameras (5th & 7th) chronicles a Palestinian villager's efforts to record his nonviolent resistance to Israeli army oppression. Booker Wright, a black waiter in the South who spoke his mind about race relations in a 1965 TV documentary, paid a terrible price for his candor. The stirring tale is told in Booker's Place: A Mississippi Story (12th), directed by Raymond De Felitta, whose father made the original NBC documentary.
A 13-year legal struggle over an Egon Schiele painting is chronicled in Portrait of Wally (14th). The combatants are some of the world's top museums and a Jewish family that claims the painting was stolen from them by the Nazis. The satirical documentary Kumaré (19th & 21st) tells the story of a New Jersey man — the filmmaker, Vikram Gandhi – who passed himself off as a spiritual guru in Arizona. Noted avant-garde filmmaker Leighton Pierce appears (24th) to present and discuss nine of his recent digital videos.
Robert Altman believed that the 1988 11-part miniseries Tanner '88, which dramatized the presidential campaign of liberal Democrat Jack Tanner (Michael Murphy), was his "most creative work." CMA will show the series in three-part installments (3rd, 10th & 7th), followed by the 2004 sequel, Tanner on Tanner (31st). And in Stella Days (26th & 28th), Martin Sheen plays a progressive priest whose efforts to open a cinema in a small Irish town meet strong resistance from the hidebound church. — Pamela Zoslov
Next week: Theater, Hollywood films, fine arts and a comprehensive guide to Halloween and other seasonal events.