Centuries ago, minstrels roamed the countryside with lutes and mandolins, trilling ballads of romance, chivalry and the glories of ages past. Today the music of the masses has a little less hindsight. Consider: Legendary British songwriter Richard Thompson was one of dozens of rock dignitaries asked by Playboy in 1999 to catalogue the ten greatest songs of the millennium, but the magazine never printed his list -- because he took the whole thing a little too literally. Unlike most of his fellow musicians, Thompson actually chose songs from as far back as the year 1068, including Middle English rotas such as "Sumer is Icumen In" and operatic standards like Henry Purcell's "When I Am Laid in Earth." Pretty rarefied stuff. But Thompson didn't stop there. He began to trace the universal themes, scales and structures that have united everything from The Mikado to Tommy. The result is 1000 Years of Popular Music, which he'll present tonight at 8 p.m. at the Boulder Theater. The show began as a commissioned performance by the Getty Museum in Los Angeles in 2000; after residencies in Chicago, New York and London, Thompson took it on the road and has since been entertaining and educating crowds about the importance -- as well as the resonance -- that music of the past can hold for a contemporary audience.
Of course, a Thompson gig is way more fun than any history book. Joined on stage by vocalist Judith Owen and percussionist Debra Dobkin, the singer/guitarist will apply his trademark dry wit and virtuoso skill to medieval folk tunes and Stephen Foster Americana up through modern-day hits like Squeeze's "Tempted," Prince's "Kiss" and, believe it or not, even Britney Spears's "Oops!...I Did It Again."
"The idea is that popular music comes in many forms, through many ages," Thompson notes on his website. "And as many older forms get superseded, sometimes the baby is thrown out with the bathwater. Great ideas, tunes, rhythms and styles get left in the dust of history, so let's have a look at what's back there and see if it still does the trick."
True, bards may be a thing of the past, but Thompson is doing his part to help keep the troubadour tradition alive. And although distilling a thousand years' worth of culture into a single concert is an undertaking worthy of a maestro, the six-string luminary approaches the whole project with characteristic humility. "I am unqualified to sing 98 percent of the material here," Thompson states, "but me having a go could be considered part of the fun."
The Boulder Theater is at 2032 14th Street in Boulder; tickets range from $21 to $27.50. Call 303-786-7030 or visit www.bouldertheater.com for details. -- Jason Heller
Evelyn Glennie drums up mass appeal
Scottish percussion virtuoso Evelyn Glennie aims to electrify her audience at the University of Colorado tonight. Known as the "first lady of solo percussion," Glennie achieved global fame after overcoming a hearing loss. And despite her handicap, she has achieved almost every accolade an aspiring musician could hope for. She's recorded eighteen albums, performed in over forty countries, appeared on The Late Show With David Letterman and The Jim Lehrer News Hour, and has a concert hall named after her in her native land. Glennie owns some 1,800 instruments, ranging from vibraphones to bagpipes, which she uses during performances, commanding them with a conductor's authority. "She's fearless with the music she plays," says Laima Gaigalas, spokeswoman for CU's College of Music. "We are very honored to have her and believe it will be a deeply moving experience for everyone."
The show begins at 7:30 p.m. at Macky Auditorium on the CU-Boulder campus. Tickets are $10 to $45, with a $5 discount for those eighteen and under. For information, call 303-492-8008 or visit www.cuconcerts.org. -- Richard Kellerhals
There's no real point in trying to describe the Towne Dandies, a transient Napa Valley rock band/performance ensemble that revolves around founder Geoff Ellsworth, who's often the only Dandy in town. Is it cyber-Western entertainment? Post-apocalyptic? Truthfully, it's just one of those things you have to see to believe, and your rare chance is here. Ellsworth brings his new "musikette," Football Town, to the Romper Room stage at Pod, 554 Santa Fe Drive, tonight at 8 p.m. Of course, the self-described "one-man football musical" isn't easy to explain, though Ellsworth claims the performance simultaneously evokes "Pee-wee Herman, Devo, Garth Brooks and the Tom Cruise movie All the Right Moves." O-kaaay... Pod's Lauri Lynnxe Murphy can't quite describe Ellsworth's oeuvre, either, but recalls that the last time he performed here, he used "hundreds" of props, which he tossed about on stage. Football Town includes toys and football helmets along with its music, comedy and social commentary. There's a touch of nostalgia for the high school football thing, emphasized by such songs as "Can't Score Points Without an Offensive Line." But what is it, mostly? "It's very silly," Ellsworth concludes. 'Nuff said.
Admission is $5; call 303-623-3460. -- Susan Froyd
Buntport sharpens Kafka on Ice
Yes, there will be an ice-skating cockroach. But Kafka himself, portrayed by local actor Gary Culig in Buntport Theater's new production, Kafka on Ice, won't pirouette on blades like the rest of the biographical musical's characters. That's right, says Buntport's saucy Erin Rollman, turning on that ready-for-anything spirit we've all come to expect from the maverick independent theater company: Kafka on Ice, which intersperses Disney-fied scenes from Metamorphosis with the author's life story, will be performed on ice (albeit fake ice) when it opens today for performances in repertory with Macblank, another comic turn on a classic.