Centuries of South American stories, joyfully danced, gracefully sung

Peru Negro

Town Hall

February 21

The city’s entire Peruvian population seemed to be at Town Hall February 21, or at least standing outside trying to get a ticket. Inside before the show, people wandered the aisles, visiting with friends and family, creating the comfortable ambience of a church social.

But once Peru Negro hit the stage for their New York debut, the room became a carnival lasting two and a half hours. Founded 35 years ago, this 20-plus-person ensemble of dancers, singers, and musicians celebrates Afro-Peruvian culture dating back three centuries, to African slaves’ arrival in Peru.

From those tragic beginnings came a joyous art form. The costumed dancers—usually groups of four men in bright shirts and pants, plus four women in colorful wraparound print dresses accented with scarves and bows—moved with a synchronized grace punctuated by limber jumps, body shivers, head bobs, and sexual innuendo.

These numbers alternated with songs where the versatile, clear-voiced Monica Dueñas swayed as she took center stage and sang call-and-response lead. Mixing in European music styles like flamenco and classical, African hand drumming, and indigenous music of the Andes, the eight-piece band of percussionists, vocalists, and guitarists stood in a line at the back of the stage, leaving plenty of room for the athletic floor show.

As is the tradition, each dance told a different story and each had its own costume. One highlight, the “Toro Mata,” had dancers, dressed in a mocking version of colonial formal wear, doing a waltz that parodied the stiff movements of the colonial masters while also adding playful African accents. In a drum circle called “Cajones Samba Malató,” seven cajón (a box-shaped hand drum) players volleyed rhythms back and forth. Two comic sketches on universal themes—one about a stern teacher mocked by students, another about proving two older male dancers still have moves—dragged on longer than necessary. But overall it was an inspiring night of black pride, South American style. —Tad Hendrickson

Three indie singersprove that soft rock wasn’t so bad after all

Bright Eyes+Jim James+M. Ward

Landmark Loews Jersey Theatre,

Jersey City, New Jersey

February 24

Mom, remember how you used to play that Crosby, Stills & Nash album all the time on family car trips? Remember how I used to complain about how lame it was? Well, I take that all back.

See, I went to this concert a couple of weeks ago. It was at this gorgeous old theater that reminded me of the place where we used to see the Nutcracker ballet when I was little. There was a really high ceiling, chandeliers, ornate carvings, and stuff. The audience was super quiet, hardly moving from their seats. That was like the ballet, too.

Anyway, the three guys playing were M. (real name Matt) Ward, a singer-songwriter from Portland, Oregon; Jim James, the frontman for this band My Morning Jacket; and Conor Oberst, who also records under the name Bright Eyes, and is sooo hot and sooo talented and is totally gonna be my husband one day, so get ready to welcome him to the family.

Matt, Jim, and Conor all played short solo acoustic sets, and then collaborated on each other’s songs. Mike Mogis, this producer dude who works with Bright Eyes, was there too, playing high lonesome pedal steel. It all really sounded like CSN. And you know what? I liked it a lot. Those harmonies, that whole laid-back hippie vibe. Jim James even looks like David Crosby, sort of. (He also has an amazing voice, like honey pouring down from a mountaintop. I never realized it, because in My Morning Jacket his singing is usually buried underneath all this reverb and jam-band noodling.)

You know who else is pretty cool, Mom? That Bob Dylan guy. At the end of their encore, Matt, Jim, Conor, and Mike played that “Girl From the North Country” song you love. It was really pretty, and lots of people sang along. Matt Ward reminded me of Dylan, mostly because he played the harmonica and his voice was kind of nasally, but in a good way. He also did an awesome cover of David Bowie’s “Let’s Dance,” which was slow and dark and scary.

But Mom, please don’t start thinking your music is cool or anything, OK? Crosby, Stills & Nash may be all right, but Jackson Browne and James Taylor? That shit is terrible. —Amy Phillips

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