Passionate Kiss-Offs

On a shimmering incantation to “Blue,” Lucinda Williams finds a jukebox to “see what a quarter will do.” A lover may be food and drink, but popular music allows intimacy to go public, and Williams exploits this fact with more guts than anyone in alt-country. Opening for Neil Young‘s “Greendale” tour, she had 30 minutes to come across to people she didn’t know with material they didn’t know. Clarity yielded control in “Still I Long for Your Kiss,” which smoothed the way for “Righteously.” The almost-capacity Garden became a confessional for the whispers of “Essence,” and then, in case anyone thought Tom Petty had the keys, Williams “Changed the Locks” before stomping through “Joy.”

From here, Young could have easily outed himself as the gravelly voiced soul singer of last year’s Are You Passionate? Why he didn’t was “Greendale,” a 10-song cycle played by Crazy Horse, whose sound was crowded out by 30 or so actors playing small-town residents with even smaller minds. Clunky and message-laden—the anti-materialist Grandpa laments, “people used to wear what they had on”—it nevertheless casts John Ashcroft as a bad guy and, in a single pronoun, pegs blame with the banner slogan, “Support Our War.” These images morphed into pleas to save the planet as eagles soared and a flag waved. The pageant’s also priggish about women: Virginal protagonist Sun Green stays in at night doing homework and Carol, the only female in a miniskirt, gives Grandpa a heart attack.

To not do “Greendale,” Young told the Times, would have shown “disrespect,” but to whom? As we braved on, our politeness was finally rewarded by the guitar-sawing anthems we’d come to hear, and the jubilant chorus of (Keep On) “Rockin’ in the Free World” celebrated Young’s lifelong work to make that title a meaningful statement. Drenched in squall, we participated in the music we helped make possible—unsquashed by Young’s theatrical ambition, and that restless monster of a muse. —Georgia Christgau

Navel Operations

“I wonder if I’m the first human being who questions his worth,” Ed Harcourt muses on the opening track of his new From Every Sphere. We’ll have to get back to you on that one, Ed. Like all depressive solipsists, the 25-year-old Brit is not as special as he thinks, but you do suspect that he wasn’t made for these times. Harcourt’s anachronistic pastiche spans Tin Pan Alley to shoegaze, matches Harry Nilsson refrains with Cure-video imagery, and finds derelict grandeur in a punch-drunk harmonium and a voice so sparkle-hoarse you’re inclined to forgive its gaucher sentiments. Or at least you are when everything’s decked out in producer Tchad Blake’s velvet finery. At the Bowery Ballroom recently, unaccompanied except for discreet trumpet and violin touch-ups, Harcourt overcompensated by attacking his baby grand with a joyless, sweat-spraying fervor, channeling Nick Cave’s Old Testament fury at seeming random.

His exertions were even more futile after the sorbet-fresh solo acoustic set of his Astralwerks labelmate Sondre Lerche—a pre-drinking-age Norwegian pup whose lilting, catchy debut, Faces Down, more or less invents an imaginary genre: Lapland tropicalia. A native of coastal Bergen (also hometown of Röyksopp and Kings of Convenience) and an A-ha fan from toddlerhood (with a Morten Harket falsetto to prove it), Lerche shares Harcourt’s dewy earnestness, but his English lyrics have an oddball, lost-in-translation quality, an idiosyncratic way with metaphor, and a taste for wilderness pop culture (Michael Landon?). Sure, he was as much of a ham as Harcourt, but with a sly sheepishness the crowd found irresistible. As for the headliner, with his howling aversion to restraint and curtain-like, method-actor bangs—we could’ve just stayed in and rented Shine. —Dennis Lim

Desert Drama

Could Burning Man be the next Field Day? Each year, the Nevada festival attended by hundreds of New Yorkers (plus 30,000 carriers of the bacchanalian torch) uses a staging area to create its temporary city. Before tents, titties, and technophiles arrive at the Black Rock desert playa, employees prepare on 200 acres in the Hualapi Valley in Washoe County, 10 miles to the northwest. In April, seven weeks after Washoe authorities received an anonymous complaint that the area was in violation of code, the county approved special-use permits containing a staggering 95 conditions agreed to by the festival’s Black Rock LLC. “We would have effectively dissolved into the desert,” says head Burning Man honcho Larry Harvey. “Everything would have been behind fences, all walls would have been painted with desert camouflage.”

But on May 13, seven appellants lobbied to overturn the decision. Michael Stewart, a businessman who owns much of the land and several businesses (one a geothermal energy plant) nearby was responsible for three of the signatures. In 2000, Black Rock supported a national conservation area that Stewart lobbied to defeat, and he later tried to evict Black Rock from land he leases to the fest. Stewart says it’s not about the event per se. “This is about landowner’s rights. Would you want a salvage yard in your backyard?” Burning Man reps are meeting with residents and pols and have filed a lawsuit against Washoe County. Representatives from Burning Man say that in the past month at least two employees have filed complaints with the sheriff regarding perceived threats involving guns, once on property owned by Stewart.

Harvey says the event will happen, but is investigating other properties; if the staging needs to move, the event (estimated to generate $10 million for the local economy), will move as well. “Residents say this is about an eyesore, but the 95 conditions would have eliminated that,” says Harvey. “We’re just trying to figure out what the hell is really going on here.” —Bill Werde