Let There Be Light

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When I was a kid, my dad had a vicious rivalry with another neighborhood dad over who could put up the best Christmas lights. If Dave across the street put up a life-sized Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, with a light-up nose, my dad would put up all nine reindeer plus Santa, complete with a three-phase waving arm.

When Dave put up an elaborate Nativity scene, softly lit from within, my dad one-upped him by doing his own Nativity scene, plus a baby Jesus with red, blinking eyes. (He ignored our warnings that it would look like something out of “The Exorcist,” which he regretted when the Lutheran pastor from the church down the block stopped by to talk about the phone calls he’d been getting from concerned congregants.)

One year we even got crappy presents because he was anticipating an especially massive electrical bill.

There’s a lot of this “go big or go home” spirit in Georgetown GLOW’s bombastic displays, and freed from the strictures of Santa, reindeer, fir trees and biblical scenes, these lights have moved into realms of creativity that Dad and Dave never imagined, even that year when someone put LSD in the eggnog at the neighborhood holiday party.

Jeff Zischke’s “Snow Cones” turns the facades of Cady’s Alley into a kaleidoscopic wonderland right out of a Kubrick dream sequence. Lindsey Glatz’s “Cloud Swing” lets the kiddies swing from unearthly glowing clouds that are powered by their movement. Choi + Shine’s “The Heron” suspends huge, delicate handmade feathers made of light over the canal.

One display, Extreme Lengths Productions’ “Filament,” even incorporates live dancers, while another, Eunsook Lee’s “Pandora’s Box,” tries to encourage interaction with strangers by putting rows of light-up benches in Georgetown Park Plaza.

Check out Georgetown GLOW when it opens this Friday evening — it may even give you some ideas for your front yard.

After sunset, Friday, Dec. 6-Jan. 5, Georgetown Waterfront Park, 3303 Water Street NW; free

Do You Hear What I Hear? It’s She & Him.

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Of all the issues currently dividing America, the most divisive one is probably Christmas music.

On one side, you have people who basically can’t leave the house without earplugs between Halloween and New Year’s Day, and on the other are people who want to boil down “Frosty the Snowman” to its very essence and inject it directly into their veins. There’s been no bridging this divide — until now. Maybe.

If you liked indie music in the late Aughties, you no doubt remember the 2008 debut album of “She & Him.” With sappy-ish covers of the Beatles and Smokey Robinson, and one song co-written by Wes Anderson muse Jason Schwartzman, it was the album everyone listened to for a good six months that no one would admit they listened to.

Overnight, Zooey Deschanel became the go-to “it girl” for dudes who wore Converse All-Stars with suits, and her look spawned a whole lot of bangs, unicorn sweaters and princess-shoulder dresses.

But like the savvy showbiz outfit they are, She & Him rapidly transitioned into a family-friendly mainstream act, and today they’ve more or less cornered the market on Christmas albums. Their show at the Anthem on Thursday will be a whimsical, charming affair even for people who cringe at the opening notes of “Last Christmas.” It will be a show that’s appropriate for all ages, from your Aunt Peg visiting from Des Moines to your niece Nevaeh who has a photo of Greta Thunberg as her Instagram profile pic.

In fact, I’d more or less guarantee that, as you all walk out afterward, your mom will say, “That girl in the band seemed nice! Maybe you could date her? Send her an email on the Twitter, you’re always on your phone anyway!”

She & Him, 8-11 p.m., Thursday, Dec. 5, The Anthem, 901 Wharf St. SW; tickets, $46-$76

No Thanks to Some Traditions

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Thanksgiving is one of America’s most sacred traditions, and because of that, Americans are hesitant to look at it with too much of a critical eye. But if we’re honest with ourselves, there’s a lot about the holiday that could be improved.

I’d say half of it should be saved, and half of it should be thrown in the trash like Aunt Patty’s leftover macaroni and cheese the second her car backs out of the driveway. Let’s look at some Thanksgiving traditions and figure out if they’re overrated, underrated or properly rated.

EVERYONE EATING AT THE SAME TABLE

I’m rating this as highly overrated and a terrible idea.

You know how most Thanksgivings have a kids table and an adults table? That’s a good start, but we didn’t go far enough.

Think about how much tension and arguing would be solved if you had a different table for each generation. Gen Z could discuss Billie Eilish and septum piercings, millennials could sit together and talk about student loans and open marriages, and the Boomers could huddle up and agree that global warming is a hoax and that music used to be much, much better.

This seating arrangement would make Thanksgiving 99% less unpleasant.

PUMPKIN PIE

Pumpkin pie is one of the most underrated things on earth. It’s sweet, it’s spicy, it’s creamy, there’s buttery pastry involved. It’s arguably the greatest dessert, and yet, we eat it only once a year. It makes no sense. They’re everywhere you look for, two weeks a year, and the other 50 weeks, you can’t buy a pumpkin pie for $500 cash.

Pumpkin pie should be a daily or weekly indulgence, not an annual one. I’m chalking pumpkin pie scarcity up to some weird anti-enjoyment Puritan thing.

TURKEY

I’m just going to say what everyone knows is true in their heart: turkey tastes like chicken that’s been boiled in tap water for 12 hours. It’s disgusting. It tastes like a new pair of white socks.

You ever take a handful of snow and eat it? Turkey tastes like that, but hot.

You know why Pilgrims ate turkey? They were starving, malnourished, and freezing to death in the woods, and the turkey was the dumbest, slowest prey.  That’s it, that’s the only reason. We can do better in 2019.

STUFFING

Stuffing is just hot wet bread. It’s not at the top of anyone’s list of favorite Thanksgiving dishes, and yet most of us would be mad if there was no stuffing.

And I have to admit, if you gave me a choice between hot, wet bread and cold, dry bread, I’m probably taking the former every time. I think stuffing is properly rated.

“TAKING A WALK” BEFORE DINNER

Highly overrated. “Taking a walk” right before dinner, i.e. getting high with your cousins in the alley, always seems like a good idea, and yes, that first bite of mashed potatoes and gravy is orgasmic, but within a minute, you’re like, “Oh my God, they know. THEY KNOW!” Even though they probably don’t know.

And then the next 40 minutes is just a nonstop whirlwind of thoughts like, “My parents didn’t actually choose to love me, they were just compelled by an instinct that millions of years of evolution imprinted in their DNA,” and “What if turkeys have souls? Does that make us all complicit in mass murder?”

It’s not a good time. It’s a bad time.

DISGUSTING NOVELTY DISHES

Dishes like green bean casserole topped with Funyuns and Cool Whip-based “salads” might be kinda tacky, yes, but they’re also not boring.

And as American palates have become more sophisticated, the minimalist, Instagram-ready Thanksgiving dinners that swaths of upper-middle-class America roll out each year have gotten eye-rollingly homogenous. The no-sugar-added whole cranberry sauce, the kale and quinoa salads, the modestly-glazed poultry — it’s just a big yawn.

I’d much prefer something made with a Jell-O mold, or that involved a can of cream of mushroom soup. Especially if I just got back from my pre-dinner “walk.”

These Tools Still Sharp

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Ask 10 different people to describe Tool, and you’ll get 10 different answers.

Some say they’re the American Radiohead, others say they’re Black Sabbath with art history degrees, while personally I’ve always described them as Rush for people who watched “My So-Called Life” in their formative years.

You can sort of triangulate their sound from those descriptions; formally experimental, emotionally intense metal, with a slight ’90s flavor.

Whatever you think of them, you have to admit that at this point they’ve made it into the canon. They’ve racked up Grammys, played in stadiums, put out ambitious concept albums, and outlasted their peers. Consider that they used to tour with ’90s standbys like Fishbone, Rollins Band, Rage Against the Machine and White Zombie, all of whom are either long disbanded or have been relegated to the nostalgia circuit.

Tool, meanwhile, is still going strong, headlining tours, going platinum, and packing top-level venues like Capital One Arena. Any moderately detailed history of rock music will have to include a long chapter on Tool.

Does that mean they’re “great”? That’s up for debate. Personally, I’d put their music in the same category as wheatgrass shots or Gertrude Stein; things that are objectively good, but if we’re being honest, are a little hard to enjoy.

Still, if Tool didn’t exist, I’d have nothing to talk to my weed guy about, so they get a pass for that.

Tool, 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 25, Capital One Arena, 601 F Street NW; tickets, $75-$120

The Beauty of Everyday Life, at the Phillips

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The best novel ever written about marriage, “Light Years” by James Salter, has the Pierre Bonnard painting “The Breakfast Room,” on the cover, and Salter has said in interviews that he often thought of Bonnard’s work during the writing of the novel.

The painting, which shows a sumptuous breakfast on a table that looks out, via a huge glass window, onto a garden bristling with green, says as much in a single image as Salter does in 320 pages. Inside, it’s warm, and there’s food. Outside, the world is chaotic but teeming with life.

But the more you look at the painting, the more the comfort seems to shade into claustrophobia. You notice the window doesn’t open, and that even if you got outside, there’s a sturdy stone barrier separating you from the garden. Is this a dining room, or a prison cell? (The fact that that’s the perfect description of marriage is exactly why Salter chose the painting for the cover of his book.)

Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but probably not. Bonnard and his fellow “Nabis,” a late 19th-century movement that included fellow Frenchmen Vuillard, Maillol, Ranson, Roussel and Denis, depicted domestic life in a deceptively simple style, combining pleasing visuals with an uncompromising truthfulness.

You can’t look at Vuillard’s “The Marriage Bed,” one of the works on display at the Phillips Collection, as part of their “Bonnard to Vuillard: the Intimate Poetry of Everyday Life” exhibition, and not see commentary in the blood-red, comically oversized bed looming in the corner.

Not all the works are so sinister, though; they did a lot of work on commission for wealthy patrons, so the exhibition includes works like stained-glass and needlepoint tapestries that are simply nice to look at.

The Phillips Collection, 1600 21st St. NW; Tickets, $10-$12; see website for hours.

Make Time to See Booker T. at City Winery

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It’s not often that you can see a living music legend play, much less pepper him with questions and get him to sign a book, but I guess it’s your lucky week.

Booker T. Jones is a legit music titan, the writer of the instantly recognizable 1962 classic “Green Onions,” and frequent collaborator with a who’s who of one of America’s most beloved golden eras. He played on Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine,” Willie Nelson’s “Stardust,” Otis Redding’s “I Love You More Than Words Can Say,” and Albert King’s “Born Under a Bad Sign.” He’s also played with everyone from Ray Charles to Neil Young to Rancid.

Jones’ talent was apparent early; he was a studio musician at Stax, the iconic Memphis record label, when he was still in high school. Like most geniuses, Jones shot to success by pioneering his own niche and then dominating it; he was doing “chill vibes” decades before anyone even coined the phrase. Brian Eno invented the term “ambient music” and is generally credited with creating the genre, but my vote goes to Jones; listen to the 1971 Booker T. and the MGs album “Melting Pot,” and tell me it isn’t as smooth as anything you’d hear playing in a minimalist coffee shop in 2019.

Jones is appearing at City Winery to read from his new memoir, Time is Tight: My Life, Note by Note. He’ll take questions after the reading, and then perform music with his son, musician Teddy Jones. Ask him whatever you want, but know that if your question is related to Rancid, everyone in the audience is gonna be rolling their eyes at you.

Booker T., City Winery, 1350 Okie St. NE, 8-11 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 20,; tickets, $45-$55

Hey, Isn’t That Janeane Garofalo?

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Where you know Janeane Garofalo from tells people a lot about who you are.

If you know her primarily as Winona Ryder’s spunky friend in “Reality Bites,” you’re probably old. If you know her from “The Larry Sanders Show,” you’re probably pretty hip (but also old). If you know her from her more recent roles on “24,” “The West Wing” or “Criminal Minds,” you’re probably my parents.

Point is, Garofalo’s had a long, varied career, especially when you consider that Hollywood’s never really known what to do with her. Her Wikipedia page is a dizzying series of near-misses, from an early role as Jerry Seinfeld’s dream girl on “Seinfeld” (she only lasted two episodes), to turning down lead roles in “Scream” and “Fight Club,” to being dumped from “Jerry Maguire” at the last minute for Renee Zellweger. You’re left with the feeling that Garofalo should’ve been way bigger than she was, a potential star always stuck playing the spunky sidekick.

Still, she hasn’t done badly for herself.

Not only is she one of the few celebrities whose voice you can hear in your head the moment you hear their name, but she’s making her Kennedy Center debut this weekend.

Judging from her past performances, you can expect a lot of droll political commentary, some asides about her asexuality and plenty of meandering digressions, though maybe not many actual jokes. In her most recent comedy special, Garofalo tells a story about a man who came up to her after one performance and said, “I enjoyed your talk.”

That sounds pretty good, though; most anybody can craft a setup and a punchline, but only Garofalo can pull off Garofalo.

Janeane Garofalo, 7-9 p.m. Friday, Nov. 15, Kennedy Center, 2700 F St. NW; tickets $29-39.

Pretty? Or Pretty Sad?

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The video for Clairo’s breakout hit, “Pretty Girl,” has 42.5 million views on YouTube, despite being shot with a budget of literally zero, and the majority of the top comments are from guys confessing that they secretly listen to the song when their friends aren’t around.

On one level, it’s anything but surprising that guys would be into watching a video of, well, a pretty girl staring into a webcam and crooning lyrics like, “I could be your pretty girl.” The video’s like a 3-minute Skype call from their imaginary girlfriend at art school upstate, if she was real, which she’s not.  

The song’s status as the go-to guilty pleasure of a certain male demographic probably has more to do with its vibe, which is aggressively hushed and sad, like a post-chillwave Belle and Sebastian. It’s not something you’d blast in your car, or even from your laptop speakers, lest your roommate or parents ask, only half-joking, if everything’s OK, and if you need to talk.

Clairo’s ability to reflect contemporary melancholy (do you know anyone who’s not irritable or depressed?) is so on-the-nose that it almost seems too good to be true, which is why a lot of people were angry to learn that her father’s a top marketing executive with music industry connections and, the implication goes, helped shape/focus group her sound.

That controversy’s largely faded by now, though as Clairo tours in support for her full-length debut album, it’ll be interesting to see who comes to her live shows. Will it be fans of her music, or dudes who fell in love with her via YouTube? (And is there a meaningful difference?)

Clairo, 7-10 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 12, 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW. $25.

Big Thief at 9:30 Club

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A noted commentator once said on Twitter, “There are no wrong answers in life, but please just stop making guitar-based music, no one cares anymore.”

OK, that commentator was me, and yes, I was maybe trolling a little (I blame Twitter, it turns people into monsters!), but the underlying point stands, sort of. It’s not a controversial thing to say that rock music isn’t fresh or rebellious or even really relevant anymore, but I’d also add that that doesn’t mean it can’t be enjoyable. Which means I’m also admitting that my trollish tweet was kinda missing the point.

Take, for example, the music of Brooklyn indie darlings Big Thief. Is it breaking new ground? No. But is it enjoyable? Tremendously — almost ludicrously so, yes.

Rock music long ago dropped out of the cultural vanguard and moved into a space where it’s more a source of pleasure than of innovation. And that’s OK. Things that are derivative and repetitive can also be incredibly satisfying. If I’m drunk, and you give me a choice between a Big Mac and fries and a multi-course dinner at French Laundry, I ain’t picking French Laundry, and if you’re honest, you aren’t either.

Maybe the Big Mac comparison sells Big Thief short. With their soaring  wistful folk-rock melodies (think Father John Misty meets the New Pornographers), Big Thief is at least a steak sandwich — but you know what I mean.

It’s sort of related to the saying about perfection being the enemy of the good; sometimes a good band can be just as good, or even better, than a great one.

Big Thief, 7-10 p.m., Sunday, Nov. 10, 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW; tickets, $26

Super Excited About Superchunk!

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If you were listening to Superchunk in the ’90s, you were probably pretty cool. If you still listen to Superchunk, you probably have kids who make unkind comments about your inability to use your smartphone.

But one of the upsides of being ol- er, mature, is that you might have a little more disposable income kicking around than those days when you had to scavenge change from your car’s floorboards for beer money. Not that $29.50 (the price of admission to Superchunk’s show this Monday at the Birchmere) is all that pricey in 2019 dollars, but in the ’90s, it could’ve bought you a month of gas with enough left over for a carton of cigarettes.

Founded in 1989, Superchunk was one of the original members of the Chapel Hill, N.C., indie-rock scene that brought us Archers of Loaf, Southern Culture on the Skids, Ben Folds Five, Polvo, and many other bands that have blasted out of factory car speakers while I’ve smoked weed out of a soda can.

Listening to their first half-dozen albums now, it’s puzzling that they never hit it really big, though maybe their modest success was a matter of choice, or even good luck. (Have you heard Billy Corgan talk lately? He has about as much connection with reality as he does hair.) If they were multimillionaires, it’s doubtful they’d be touring now, doing intimate gigs like this, where they’ll play an acoustic version of their 1994 classic “Foolish.”

Grab your (kid’s) flannel and your weed (CBD gummies) and get ready to rock (nod along with gentle melancholy)!

Superchunk, 7:30 p.m. Monday, Nov. 4, at the Birchmere, 3701 Mount Vernon Ave., Alexandria; tickets, $29.50