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French Kicks at the Beachland Tavern on Friady, April 24 lead this week's events picks

The four Brooklynites in French Kicks have finally found their cruising speed. Ten years after their self-titled EP, the band has established themselves as lush and chilled indie-pop record-makers, alums of the N.Y.C. school of rock. “It does feel a little bit like a graduate program,” muses singer, multi-instrumentalist and co-founder Nick Stumpf. “It feels like the band has arrived at this essential core. This time, the record all hangs together in a way that our other records haven’t. Doing it as long as we have, I suppose some fat has been trimmed. A few side streets have been taken, but we’ve officially decided we don’t have to take them anymore. A unified direction has emerged and now it’s just a pleasure to play.” The 12 songs on the recent Swimming are ornate and streamlined pleasure ships gliding into the sunset. Tunes like “Abandon” and “Said So What” are trademark French Kicks airlines (bombastic basement drums, raspy, unintelligible vocals, 2 a.m. transient-metro-rock similar to the Walkman or Calla), but now the songs burn like red dwarfs in space (hot atmospheric harmonies, cool, nebulous studio effects and slick adult-rock compositions that sizzle like Fleetwood Mac). But as much as the French Kicks mature, they are still grounded to their musical roots. “I’ve always had a soft spot for Cleveland,” says Stumpf, an Oberlin College alum. “It’s bleak — nobody would argue that it’s not bleak — but I like that. Something about that low-hanging sky — the earth and the trees are exactly the same color. It’s a bleakness I find appealing and in many ways inspiring.” JJ Magazine and Goodmorning Valentine open at 9 p.m. at the Beachland Tavern (15711 Waterloo Rd., 216.383.1124, beachlandballroom.com). Tickets are $10 advance, $12 day of show. — Keith Gribbins

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 22

Lady Day at Emerson's

Bar and Grill

In Lanie Robertson's songbook-and-bio drama, Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, Billie Holiday gives one of her final performances and chats with the audience. The heroin-addicted Holiday rambles on about her life and family, while band members — especially her pianist — try to keep her focused on the music. Between tales of her impoverished childhood, lots of booze and anecdotes about performing, there's plenty of great music, like "God Bless the Child," "What a Little Moonlight Can Do" and "Strange Fruit," Holiday's sublime reaction to lynched black men in the South. Caroline Jackson Smith directs a production that opens at 7:30 p.m. at Karamu House (2355 E. 89th St., 216.795.7077, karamuhouse.org). Performances run through May 24. Tickets: $10-$25. — Michael Gill

THURSDAY, APRIL 23

Cleveland Orchestra

Most of the time when pianist Mitsuko Uchida plays Mozart with the Cleveland Orchestra, she conducts from the keyboard — a period performance practice that gives the soloist more control of the sound. This week, she follows someone else's lead, when Colin Davis — a highly regarded conductor — takes up the baton. Uchida and Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 25 are in good hands: Davis is best known for his interpretations of Mozart's work. Also on the program: Hector Berlioz' Overture to Beatrice and Benedict and Sibelius' Symphony No. 2. Performances are at 8 p.m. tonight and Saturday at Severance Hall (11001 Euclid Ave., 216.231.1111, clevelandorchestra.com). Tickets: $31-$60. — Gill

Todd Rundgren

Philly boy Todd Rundgren has long been one of Cleveland's favorite adopted sons. He headlined a World Series of Rock at the old stadium back in the day, and his 1978 Back to the Bars live album was partly recorded at the Cleveland Agora. Plus, he's a classic-rock staple here. While enjoying mighty success with sublime tunes like "I Saw the Light" and "Hello It's Me," Rundgren has taken a "something/anything" approach to his career. Like David Bowie (another Cleveland fave from way back), he's a rock 'n' roll chameleon. He effortlessly dishes up classic rock, Philly soul, heavy metal, prog-rock, show tunes and ribald ditties — sometimes on the same album, sometimes playing all the instruments too. His eccentric experimentations have resulted in rewarding whims (like his fun 1980 Beatles parody, Deface the Music) as well as some muddy self-indulgence (how many remember his '90s TR-i phrase?). Throughout his career, he's been a sought-after producer, with a résumé that includes Patti Smith, the New York Dolls, Grand Funk Railroad and Meat Loaf. Rundgren recently fronted the New Cars, which helped revitalize his love for guitar rock and led to his latest effort, Arena. While not hitting his heyday's highs, it's a strong rock outing solidified by muscular tracks like "Gun," "The Last Recluse" and the shimmering "Courage." He may not dress up in Egyptian regalia anymore or have flowing, multi-colored hair, but he's still Todd — a dream that goes on forever. Doors opens at 7:30 at the Palace Theatre (1501 Euclid Ave., 216.241.6000, playhousesquare.com). Tickets range from $10-$40. — Michael Berick

FRIDAY, APRIL 24

Cirque Dreams

Thanks to a particular Canadian company, the word "cirque" now comes with a certain connotation. You know it's a circus, because that's what the word means. But it also means that you're in store for a circus that's big-tops away from the Ringling Bros., with spectacular lighting, a hot soundtrack and some kind of storyline replacing the dancing poodles. Cirque Dreams founder Neil Goldberg formed his troupe in 1993 (nine years after Cirque du Soleil formed), but by then he was already adept at putting on the glitz. He's created productions for two Super Bowls, a pair of Miss Universe pageants and Disney. His Jungle Fantasy show comes to PlayhouseSquare this weekend, promising juggling frogs, balancing giraffes, owls on trapezes and a chorus line of bees, all accompanied by a live band and a tree that plays the violin. Don't take the brown acid! Performances are at 7:30 tonight, 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. tomorrow, and 1 and 6:30 p.m. Sunday, at the Palace Theatre (1501 Euclid Ave., 216.241.6000, playhousesquare.com). Tickets: $10-$55. — Gill

Collecting Regional Art

There's a pretty significant difference between browsing galleries and decorating your house or hitting opening receptions and collecting regional art. Collecting implies focus and purpose — a survey of the culture and maybe even a thorough look at a particular aspect of it, whether it's a time period or a stylistic development. The Cleveland Artists Foundation — which has collected and presented regional art from a historic perspective, with emphasis on the Cleveland School — presents a lecture by a guy who has a lot of experience collecting: William H. Gerdts, who has written 25 books as well as exhibition catalogs and articles. He also owns a personal library of books about painting, sculpture and graphic design that ranks among one of the greatest in the world. Tonight, he's talking about "Aspects of Collecting Regional Art," which should supplement your understanding of the region and its history — especially if you get lubed up at the cocktail reception first. The drinks start flowing at 6:30 p.m., followed by Gerdts' lecture at 7:45. A dessert reception follows. It's at the Union Club (1211 Euclid Ave., 216.227.9507, clevelandartists.org). Tickets: $50-$100. — Gill

 

Heaven's My Destination

Three years before he wrote his most celebrated and popular play, Our Town, Thornton Wilder penned Heaven's My Destination, a comic novel about a traveling textbook salesman who also happens to be an evangelical Christian. It's a story of faith, dogma and tolerance, with plenty of humor as protagonist George Marvin Brush travels from Texas to Illinois, stopping along the way at railroad smoking cars, houses of ill repute and other places where morals are a little looser than he'd like. Cleveland Play House artistic director Michael Bloom directs the world premiere of Lee Blessing's new adaptation, which Bloom calls "the first major Play House commission in years." Michael Halling stars as the salesman. It opens tonight at 8, with performances through May 17 at Cleveland Play House's Drury Theater (8500 Euclid Ave., 216.795.7000, clevelandplayhouse.com). Tickets: $43-$64. — Gill

TNA Live: The Frontline Revenge Tour

When the national wrestling group was founded in 2002, the double meaning of "TNA" wasn't as pronounced. Established by second-generation wrasslin' professional Jeff Jarrett, Total Nonstop Action originally offered a family-friendly alternative to the WWE's racier storylines. Since getting picked up by the Spike TV network, the action has taken a slight turn into PG-13 territory. Pay-per-views like the recent Lockdown cage extravaganza still have more blood than boobs, and the Phantasy Theater's house show — that means it won't be televised — promises more energy than injury. If you haven't actively followed pro wrestling since the glory days of the WWE/F-WCW rivalry, you'll still recognize most of TNA's marquee names. Most of its roster will appear tonight (except hardcore icon Mick Foley and painted veteran Sting). Scheduled for the six-sided ring are veterans like Jarrett and Scott "Big Poppa Pump" Steiner, alongside upcoming stars like Shark Boy and tag-team champs Beer Money Inc. And as a special bonus for TNA's first Cleveland appearance, the main event features Samoan submission machine Samoa Joe vs. Pittsburgh's Kurt Angle — who probably thinks he's better than you because he has a gold medal and the Steelers won the Super Bowl. In a small venue like the Phantasy, heckling is half the fun. Brawlin' starts at 7:30 p.m. at the Phantasy Theatre (11802 Detroit Ave., Lakewood, 216.241.5555, tnawrestling.com). Tickets: $20-$75. — D.X. Ferris

Wale

Wale could very well be the future of hip-hop. His 2008 release, a Seinfeld-inspired collection of tunes appropriately titled The Mixtape About Nothing, tackled a number of issues — from racist language and the music industry to artistic integrity and hip-hop's declining state — with a barrage of intelligent and aurally pleasing rhymes. His sound is that rare combination of informed and lively, bridging the otherwise massive gap between the ear-pleasing mainstream and the thought-provoking underground. His witty lines drip with charisma and integrity, making them entertaining songs that carry much weight. Wale's terrific live shows and well-chosen collaborations (including gigs with Lil Wayne and Lady GaGa) back up all that hype. UCB, Doxx, Microphonx, Keyel and Smokescreen open at 8 p.m. at the Grog Shop (2785 Euclid Heights Blvd., Cleveland Hts., 216.321.5588, grogshop.gs). Tickets: $12 advance, $15 at the door. — Whelihan

SATURDAY, APRIL 25

Dora the Explorer Live

No, it's not drawn in front of a studio audience. In Dora the Explorer Live: Search for the City of Lost Toys, totally perky actors and puppets reprise the animated characters' roles in an audience-participation blowout. The road show is a victory lap celebrating the educational cartoon's 10th anniversary. This live show — dude, you've got to see Dora live to really get it — was written by Dora co-creator Chris Gifford and directed by Gip Hoppe, who's worked on similar shows featuring Nickelodeon characters like the Blue's Clues crew and Dora's cousin Diego. In this romp, Dora and monkey pal Boots solve problems, learn Spanish words and look for toys — while being doggedly pursued by kleptomaniac nemesis Swiper the Fox. It's the kind of bilingual, high-energy, interactive bliss that'll exhaust the little ones for a nice early bedtime. Showtimes are 11 a.m. and 2 and 5 p.m. today, and 2 p.m. tomorrow at the State Theatre (1519 Euclid Ave., 216.241.6000, playhousesquare.org). Tickets: $10-$38. — Ferris

Headlights

In some respects, Headlights' music is mere indie-pop-by-numbers, complete with boy/girl vocals, bouncy bass lines and keyboard riffs straight outta Apples in Stereo's playbook. But while any band can follow a template, only a handful are good enough to stand alongside their influences. Based in Champaign, Illinois, Headlights are an iPod commercial away from their mainstream breakthrough. The quintet's 2008 album, Some Racing, Some Stopping, serves up more hooks than a hat rack and showed a considerable evolution in craft from their previous work. Along with cutesy singles like "Cherry Tulips," the album also delves into some slightly darker territory on the Death Cab-ish "Get Yer Head Around It" and the infectious "School Boys." Perhaps even more significant to their hopes of success, Headlights have quickly established a reputation as a killer live act, infusing already danceable set lists with plenty of improvised acrobatics. The band has enjoyed high-profile tours with Mates of State and the Submarines in the past year, and its current pairing with post-rockers El Ten Eleven should introduce the group to a whole new audience. Kong Sauce starts things off at 9 p.m. at the Beachland Tavern (15711 Waterloo Rd., 216.383.1124, beachlandballroom.com). Tickets: $8. — Andrew Clayman

KlezmerPalooza

A Klezmer revival took hold about a decade ago, when a slew of heady jazz bands from New York (led by avant-garde guys like John Zorn and Don Byron) started incorporating traditional Jewish dance tunes into their music. Cleveland's klezmer scene followed suit. Tonight's KlezmerPalooza features local combos like Yiddishe Cup, Workman's Circle and the Steven Greenman Trio. Part of the weekend-long Eco-FestAviv '09 festivities, the show starts at 7 p.m. at the Temple-Tifereth Israel (26000 Shaker Blvd., 216.831.3233, ttti.org). We're told non-denominational types are more than welcome to attend. Snacks, fruits, cheeses and desserts are included in the price of admission. Tickets: $12 advance, $15 day of show. — Jeff Niesel

MDC

Though not as feted as the Dead Kennedys, MDC came out of the same Bay Area hardcore scene after transplanting from Austin in the early '80s. Behind the ever-shifting acronym — which has stood for Millions of Dead Cops/Christians/Congressman and Multi-Death Corporation at different times — lurks some totally eviscerating agitprop. Singer Dave Dictor's rhetoric is more unsparing than the Texas legal system -- from the signature "John Wayne Was a Nazi" and vegetarian ode "Chicken Squawk" to sociopolitical rants like "Your Death Wish Is Sick," "Corporate Deathburger" and "Henry Kissmyassenger." Dictor kicked a late-'90s meth habit before reuniting the original lineup for 2005's 25th anniversary tour. MDC have been hitting the road with greater regularity ever since. While they cut their teeth on hardcore, they've since toned down the tempos (if not the outrage), settling into a hard-edged groove reminiscent of the Supersuckers on 2004's Magnus Dominus Corpus, their first album in 11 years. MDC recently released a couple of split 7-inches and are supporting a whole new batch of songs (including "Mary Jane for President" and "Patriot Asshole"). For one-time teacher Dictor, it's all about education. "I taught special ed," he says. "And punk's definitely that." Mouth Sewn Shut, Embrace the Kill, Counterfeit America and Wreak Havoc open at 7 p.m. at Now That's Class (11213 Detroit Ave., 216.221.8576, myspace.nowthatsclass.com). Tickets: $8. — Chris Parker

SUNDAY, APRIL 26

Ani DiFranco

One of the first artists to achieve mainstream success on her own indie label, Ani DiFranco was heavily impressed by the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina — so much so that she and her family make the Crescent City their home these days. Over the past decade, DiFranco has collaborated with musicians outside of the folk realm — like Prince and James Brown's saxophonist Maceo Parker. She's also experimented outside of the usual singer-songwriter boundaries. Her 2006 album Reprieve featured tons of electronic sounds. DiFranco's standing as a truly independent artist (she still runs and records for Righteous Babe) allows her to take her music in any direction she wishes without having to run it by creativity-stifling executives. Hamell on Trial opens at 8 p.m. at House of Blues (308 Euclid Ave., 216.523.2583, hob.com). Tickets: $24-$48. — Ernest Barteldes

Art Cares

Ever since her uncle died of AIDS in 1989, artist Bridget Ginley has watched public awareness of the disease climb. "It's easy for people to think of Keith Haring or Freddy Mercury as the face of AIDS and think, 'Oh, it's just those crazy artists,'" she says. "But it touches regular people." Still, a lot of them happen to be artists. Art Cares started in 2003 as a project by Cleveland Institute of Art students and was a resounding success, featuring work by 90 regional artists. In addition to student pieces, this year's outing includes art by established names, like paper artist Tom Balbo, scratch-board illustrator Cathie Bleck, painter of colorful geometric compositions Hector Vega and others. There's wine and hors d'oeuvres too. ArtCares starts at 6 p.m. at the AIDS Task Force (3210 Euclid Ave., 216.621.0766, atfgcevents.weebly.com/artcares.html). Tickets: $50-$100. — Gill

CIM New Music Ensemble

There's no telling what you might hear at the Cleveland Institute of Music's New Music Series. You'll be hearing fresh music, that's for sure — and it's all written by CIM composition students. Keith Fitch, who became chair of the Composition Department last year, earned his doctorate in music from Indiana University and has won tons of accolades for his compositions, which have been performed all over the U.S., Europe and Japan. He conducts the CIM New Music Ensemble in a performance of new student works today. Showtime is at 4 p.m. at CIM's Mixon Hall (11021 East Blvd., 216.791.5000, cim.edu). Admission is free. — Gill

Cleveland Women's Orchestra

Founded 75 years ago, when females couldn't get jobs in professional ensembles, the Cleveland Women's Orchestra has certainly outlived its original purpose. Today, it's a really good orchestra that plays great music — not just "greatest hits" or other obvious choices, but challenging works in a range of styles. Its spring program features pianist Jean Geis Stell — a well-traveled instrumentalist who's played with the Boston Symphony, N.B.C. Symphony and the Cleveland Orchestra — performing Mendelssohn's Piano Concerto in G Minor. Also on the program: Camille Saint-Saëns' Marche Militaire and César Franck's Symphony in D Minor. The orchestra's music director, Robert Cronquist, conducts. It starts at 3:30 p.m. at Severance Hall (11001 Euclid Ave., 216.231.1111, clevelandwomensorchestra.org). Tickets: $10-$25. — Gill

TuESDAY, APRIL 28

Kevin Rudolf

Kevin Rudolf holds the distinction of being the first rock 'n' roll guy to sign with Cash Money, the record company that made Lil Wayne a millionaire. And that connection helped propel Rudolf's debut album, In the City, to some sorta fleeting success when it was released earlier this year. But Rudolf's biggest score is Weezy's cameo on "Let It Rock," an iTunes hit that bops innocuously along until Wayne blows in with one of his typically outer-space rhymes. "Let It Rock" is the nucleus of Wayne's new career as a rock star, so be sure to thank or blame Rudolf if you go to his show tonight. The rest of In the City is built on a similar platform of huge clomping beats and fist-raising singalongs that really don't say much beneath all their bluster. Still, Rudolf works the digital riffs for maximum power, so even if you don't totally dig what he's doing, you'll be too beaten down by his sonic assaults to care. Rudolf (with Cash Cash, Hyper Crush, Go Crash Audio and the Audition) plays House of Blues (308 Euclid Ave., 216.523.2583, hob.com) at 7 p.m. Tickets: $16.50-$19. — Michael Gallucci

WEDNESDAY, APRIL 29

Silverstein

When emo/screamo/hardcore bands look around for names, they typically err on the side of gothic ennui. Shrouds, veils, despair, pain and darkness all get a fair shot; children's authors are generally low on the list. But Silverstein sport plenty of dichotomies -- just like their namesake, Shel Silverstein, who wrote kids classics like Where the Sidewalk Ends while penning bawdy songs for grownups and drawing cartoons for Playboy. Assembled nearly a decade ago as a side project, Silverstein burst out of Ontario with a pair of EPs. Their debut album, 2002's When Broken Is Easily Fixed, moved a quarter of a million units without traditional promotion or radio play. Their next three CDs — Discovering the Waterfront, Arrivals and Departures and the just-released A Shipwreck in the Sand — have followed the same pattern and showed off the band's diverse pop-subtlety-to-metal histrionic range. Be sure to check out Shipwreck on iTunes — it includes bonus covers of the Beatles' "Help!" and Fleetwood Mac's "Go Your Own Way." That's something ol' Shel would have appreciated. Before Their Eyes, Norma Jean and Blessthefall open at 7 p.m. at House of Blues (308 Euclid Avenue, 216.523.2583, hob.com). Tickets: $18 advance, $20 day of show. — Brian Baker

Snarky Puppy

Local singer, guitarist and songwriter Jesse Barnes is one busy dude. When he's not busy with his day job at the Roots of American Music (an education-minded nonprofit), he's spending time with Snarky Puppy, a jazz/funk group he put together when he was living in Dallas. The band includes cats who have jammed with Erykah Badu, Snoop Dogg and Morcheeba. Featuring old-school jazz and funk grooves on songs like "Celebrity" and "Loose Screws," the band's debut album comes out this week. To celebrate, Snarky Puppy play Brothers Lounge (11609 Detroit Ave., 216.226.2767, brotherslounge.com) at 9 p.m. Tickets: $5. — Niesel

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