BECK’S LITE: Beck is sticking one foot back in the grave this summer, heading out on the road minus the space-funkateer shtick from his last few tours and returning to the Dylanesque warped-man-and-a-guitar format of his pre-"Loser" album for K Records. His solo acoustic tour includes a date at Sanders Theatre, 45 Quincy Street in Harvard Square, on August 14. Beck’s new album is rumored to be a low-key, mostly organic affair, and the one-song preview being offered up at his Web site (www.beck.com) confirms that expectation: "The Golden Age" would be a country number if not for the Spaceman 3–ish psych wash that runs underneath. Tickets for the Sanders show are $30.50; call (617) 496-2222.
SEE YOU IN SEPTEMBER: Shirley Horn and Gato Barbieri provide the starpower for the inaugural Cambridge CityMusicFest, a two-day mini jazz festival coming this fall that will include a trio of free outdoor shows featuring a half-dozen local talents. Proceeds from the festival will benefit the Cambridge literacy group Agenda for Children. The festival kicks off Saturday September 21 with "An Evening with Shirley Horn" at Sanders Theatre, 45 Quincy Street in Harvard Square. Tickets are $27.50 and $36.50; call (617) 496-2222. On Sunday September 22, three simultaneous outdoor performances will begin at noon, with one stage set alongside the Charles River, near the Weld Boathouse at the Larz Anderson Bridge; a second in Central Square at Prospect Street; and the third at Canal Park at the CambridgeSide Galleria. Performers will include Guatemalan guitarist and singer Manuel Santos, vocal-group veterans the Persuasions, contemporary folk-rockers Too Human, jazz vocalist Wannetta Jackson, and the Afro-pop group Wildest Dreams. Then on Sunday night, Gato Barbieri will hold court at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium, 77 Mass Ave in Cambridge. Tickets for that are $25; call (866) 468-7619. For more info on the festival, call (617) 576-9966.
There’s a song on Sleater-Kinney’s next album called "Hollywood Ending," but you certainly won’t find anything approximating a Hollywood ending — or a Hollywood beginning, or a Hollywood middle — in Group, an indie film in which guitarist/singer Carrie Brownstein acted during the year-long break her band took after 2000’s All Hands on the Bad One (Kill Rock Stars).
Shot on video over the course of 10 days, Group, which opens next weekend at the Coolidge Corner, employs a pseudo-documentary format to follow a 21-session program of group therapy. Directed and produced by Marilyn Freeman and Anne de Marcken, the film had no script. Each of the nine actors — including writer/musician Nomi Lamm as a sexually abused, one-and-a-half-legged punk, NYC rock grrrl Lola Rock N’ Rolla as a hard-boiled smart-ass, and a real-life therapist as a therapist — spent three months developing her fictional character in isolation. Then the filmmakers stuck them all in a room together with six cameras (all six angles being presented simultaneously in the actual film) and let ’er rip. The resulting 106-minute free-for-all gabfest is a bit like a lo-fi Real World episode, or a K-punk-inspired version of the library scenes from The Breakfast Club, with Lola’s Rita in the Judd Nelson outcast role and Brownstein’s flustered Grace giving off a distinctly Ringwaldian flush.
For Brownstein, who had no film experience and hadn’t taken on an acting role since high school, the shooting of the film was a traumatic occasion. "The first day was horrible," she recalls on the phone from Portland, where she’s preparing to go on tour with Sleater-Kinney. "This may have been due to anxiety, but I had a horrible hives breakout the night before we started shooting. So I went to the hospital, because my breathing was shutting off, and they pumped me full of steroids to reduce swelling. I did not sleep for even a minute, because the steroids made me completely wired. So I went into the first day of filming on no sleep at all. And I thought I was doomed."
Brownstein’s Grace has come to group therapy because her divorced father has taken up with a girl her own age. ("She’s 18!", Grace sobs at one point. "She’s gonna be, like, my stepmom! That’s totally gross!") Brownstein channeled her apprehension into the character, who maintains a mixture of terror and aloofness. "That fear was there the entire time. I knew that Grace felt she knew herself better than anyone else did, and therefore no one could really tell her anything new. But the character was developed in a vacuum, so I didn’t know that the other people in the group were going to be different from her. She ended up being a lone character. When the whole film was finished, at the wrap party, I asked the woman who played the therapist why she had singled Grace out [in one of the film’s final scenes], and she said, ‘Well, Grace was the most blocked.’ And I was really offended! I thought, ‘What do you mean she was the most blocked?!’ "
Brownstein also completed two short films during her Sleater-Kinney hiatus: "Fan Mail," which was shot in New York City shortly after the filming of Group wrapped; and the sci-fi-themed "Getting Stronger Every Day," which was made by a friend, the performance artist and writer Miranda July. She’s also started an amateur theater group in Portland, and she hopes to pursue further acting roles during down time from Sleater-Kinney.
"I’m happy with the film, and I’m glad I was part of it," she says. "But it’s really different just being an actor and writer — as opposed to being a director, or making your own album, where you definitely feel more like you’ve given birth, and your baby’s out there being judged. When you act in a movie, you sort of have the luxury of a little bit of distance. As long as you feel you’ve turned in a good performance, the rest of it is kind of out of your hands."
Group opens next Friday, July 26, at the Coolidge Corner Screening Room, 290 Harvard Avenue in Brookline. Call (617) 734-2500.
BY CARLY CARIOLI