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Short List: Week of February 18 - 25

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She had perhaps the largest audience of any poet in history when she read her "Praise Song for the Day" at the inauguration of President Barack Obama. But just as Obama asserted that the inauguration wasn't about him, but about us, so Elizabeth Alexander says her big moment actually put the spotlight on poetry, and emphasized "that the president believed art had a place in civic speech." A year later, there are "a few more people listening" when she herself makes that assertion, says Alexander. (Her appearances on The Colbert Report and Henry Louis Gates' Faces of America, on PBS, surely helped, too.) Alexander is the daughter of a civil-rights adviser to President Johnson who grew up largely in Washington, D.C., where as a baby she was taken to Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. Today, the 47-year-old writer and educator chairs Yale University's African-American Studies department. Her smart, accessible poems explore everything from motherhood to the Amistad slave rebellion, from her 1970s adolescence to the persona of Muhammad Ali. Alexander's most recent book of poems, American Sublime, was a 2006 Pulitzer Prize finalist. (A fresh collection of new and selected work is due this fall, on Graywolf Press.) Speaking by phone from New Haven, Conn., Alexander contends that it's a relatively recent development that young people, and even educators, are "anxious about poetry." Noting that throughout history -- and elsewhere even today, especially in nonliterate cultures -- poetry remains central to human expression, she suspects that the contemporary American "blip" sidelining the art form is a product of miseducation. People are somehow taught to turn off from "the sounds, the unusual words, music and rhythm and pattern" that's poetry's very stuff -- the same stuff that makes her own fifth- and sixth-grade children groove on Lewis Carroll's nonsense poem "Jabberwocky." Alexander's Feb. 22 talk at the Drue Heinz Lecture Series is titled "Why Poetry Matters – Adventures With the Obama Inaugural Poet." Bill O'Driscoll 7:30 p.m. Mon., Feb. 22. Carnegie Music Hall, 4400 Forbes Ave., Oakland. $10-25. 412-622-8866

 

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Thu., Feb. 18 -- Art

There are plenty of ways to fight the winter doldrums: sleeping a lot, for example, or spending the entirety of January and February in an alcoholic haze. Or you could get productive like the folks who, for the past few years, have taken part in Fun-a-Day. It began in Philadelphia, in 2004, and involves participants beginning a personal project -- often art-related -- that they work on every day during the month of January. In February, there's a one-night gallery exhibit showcasing the results. This year, Pittsburgh's is being held at Artists Image Resource, during open-studio hours. Shake off that alcoholic haze and check out what your neighbors were up to last month! Andy Mulkerin 6-10 p.m. 518 Foreland St., North Side. Free. funadaypgh.blogspot.com

 

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Thu., Feb. 18 -- Stage

For a Russian writing in the 1800s, Nikolai Gogol sure knew a lot about current Pennsylvania politics. Gogol's The Inspector General is known for its ability to transcend time periods with its satire of crackpot and corrupt politicians. Starting tonight, Carnegie Mellon's drama school tailors the tale specifically to Pittsburgh. Have a laugh at the politicians' expense, and see just how close we come to Tsarist Russia (Siberian weather conditions aside). Anna Reilly 8 p.m. Continues through Feb. 27. Phillip Chosky Theater, CMU campus, Oakland. $10-23. 412-268-2407 or www.drama.cmu.edu

 

Fri., Feb. 19 -- Music

Lent is around the corner. Celebrate the gravitas of the season with Chatham Baroque's Such Sweet Sorrow. The locally based, internationally recognized classical trio is joined by two vocalists, a violinist, a violist and an organist for the Stabat Mater, a traditional ode to the Virgin Mary. This pensive and heartfelt piece is complemented by instrumental works by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer and Marc Antoine Charpentier. Performances of the program begin tonight, and continue through the weekend at two other venues. AR 7 p.m. (St. Stanislaus Kostka Parish, 57 21st St., Strip District; advance purchase required). Also 8 p.m. Sat., Feb. 20 (Synod Hall, Oakland); and 2:30 p.m. Sun., Feb. 21 (Calvary Episcopal Church, Shadyside). $10-27. 412-687-1788 or www.chathambaroque.org

 

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Sat., Feb. 20 -- Comics

Local comics artists Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca have already made a national name with projects including the "Street Angel" series. Now they're poised for bigger things still ... with likely the only comic book that's gotten glowing advance notices from Maxim, Penthouse, Publisher's Weekly ... and the Comics Reporter. Afrodisiac is a slyly packaged, spot-on parodic homage to '70s-era blaxploitation, whose too-cool, Afro-bedecked hero's superpowers let him take on space aliens, vampires, Richard Nixon and more, all while effortlessly making the ladies swoon. Rugg and Maruca sign copies today at Oakland's Phantom of the Attic. Bill O'Driscoll Noon-3 p.m. 411 S. Craig St., Oakland. Free. 412-621-1210 or www.jimrugg.com

 

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Sat., Feb. 20 -- Film

African Americans comprise about 12 percent of the U.S. population, and account for 45 percent of new HIV cases. To learn why, Connecticut-based documentarian Claudia Pryor took a fresh approach: She had students at Pittsburgh's Westinghouse High explore the issue in their community. Tonight's the area premiere of Why Us?: Left Behind and Dying, a feature-length film that seeks insight from HIV-positive people -- straight, gay, intravenous drug-users. Secrecy, gender inequality, homophobia and religion are all themes in a documentary the L.A. Times called "compelling and compassionate." The free screening is at the August Wilson Center. BO 7:30 p.m. 980 Liberty Ave., Downtown. 412-258-2700

 

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Sat., Feb. 20 -- Dance

Our shores aren't that sandy, we're lacking in palm trees, and, oh yeah, there's that snow. But Pittsburgh feels a little more like Rio tonight, as locally based dance troupe Nego Gato kicks off Carnaval at the Union Project. Jose Sena (a.k.a. Nego Gato) and his team of dancers and musicians celebrate Brazilian Mardi Gras through traditional dances, including the gymnastic capoiera, the athletic macuele and the sassy, sensual samba. If you're feeling the South American style, there's room to get up and dance along. But I'd leave the string bikini at home. AR 8 p.m. 801 N. Negley Ave., Highland Park. $15. 412-201-4546 or www.negogato.org

 

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Mon., Feb. 22 -- Rock

Cold Cave has an all-star lineup: This project of Some Girls' Wesley Eisold also features onetime Xiu Xiu contributor Caralee McElroy, and Dominic Fernow, he of harsh-noise persona Prurient and label Hospital Productions. The band's sound, though, isn't what you might expect. Synth-pop wired for simplicity, Cold Cave's music features repetitive melodies and mumbled vocals -- the result lying somewhere between new wave and a disintegrating Casiotone For the Painfully Alone. The band's new LP is on Matador, and it plays Garfield Artworks tonight with noise heroes Hair Police and Minneapolis's Lookbook. AM 8 p.m. 4931 Penn Ave., Garfield. $8. All ages. 412-361-2262 or garfieldartworks.com

 

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Tue., Feb. 23 -- Rock

The Low Anthem's recent performance at Club Café was almost like watching a dance, as the group's members rotated unobtrusively between instruments, performing the Americana-tinged songs from the critically lauded album Oh My God, Charlie Darwin. The songs ranged from ragged and raucous to pure, delicate harmonies, depending on who was on what instrument when. We predict a lot less standing room at tonight's show, when The Low Anthem returns for a concert presented by radio station WYEP; Matthew Brian Ruddy opens. Aaron Jentzen 7 p.m. Club Café, 56-58 S. 12th St., South Side. $15. 412-431-4950 or www.clubcafelive.com

 

Tue., Feb. 23 -- Stage

If you don't recall the 1980 movie musical Xanadu, this won't make a bit of sense; if you do remember it, it'll make even less. But the cheesy flop about Greek deities launching a roller-disco in Los Angeles (or something) was in 2007 reincarnated as a Broadway musical -- and became a hit with both audiences and critics. ("Can a musical be simultaneously indefensible and irresistible?" asked The New York Times' Christopher Isherwood.) With campy costumes, singing and dancing, and always mocking itself before you can, Xanadu rolls into the Benedum Center for eight shows starting tonight, courtesy of PNC Broadway Across America. BO 7:30 p.m. Continues through Sun., Feb. 28. 719 Liberty Ave., Downtown. $21-62. 412-456-6666 or www.pgharts.org

 

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Tue., Feb. 23 -- Rock

There are two things you can count on The Supersuckers for: over-the-top rock hilarity and helping out with a good cause. The Seattle-based Sub Pop vets, who have been deemed (by themselves) to be "the greatest rock 'n' roll band in the world," pull through Altar Bar tonight; the show is part of the BurghSTOCK series, with proceeds benefitting organizations that help homeless veterans. It's a noble cause to support while getting your ass rocked. The Atomic Drops and Trash Magnet open. AM 8 p.m. 1620 Penn Ave., Strip District. $14/15. 412-263-2877 or altarbarpittsburgh.com

 

Thu., Feb. 25 -- Classic Rock 

Between The Who's Super Bowl halftime show and a certain TV commercial for a, um, wood-grain smartphone, it seems like we've seen quite a bit of Roger Daltrey and Eric Clapton lately. (We suspect T-Mobile tossed around the idea of "slowphone," but it just sounded wrong.) The two rock legends perform tonight at Mellon Arena. AJ 7:30 p.m. 66 Mario Lemieux Place, Downtown. $52-94. 412-642-1800 or www.mellonarena.com

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