LIVE: Ira Glass @ the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall, 12/1/12

Review by Greg Haymes

Last weekend featured what was probably the strangest three-night string of odd-ball, off-beat, alt-performances that the Local 518 has seen all year. Reality TV baker Buddy Valastro (aka, the Cake Boss) was at Proctors on Friday. Public radio icon Ira Glass (“This American Life”) was at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall on Saturday. And underground film legend John Waters (“Female Trouble,” “Pecker”) was at The Egg on Sunday.

Only one of them actually made an audience member physically ill. And, believe it or not, it wasn’t the director of “Pink Flamingos”…

“This is the most calamitous show I’ve ever done,” Ira Glass proclaimed about midway through his nearly two and half hour show, “Reinventing Radio,” at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall.

Alone onstage with just his iPad for technical support (triggering various musical cues and interview quotations), Glass regaled the crowd of public radio fans with plenty of tales about the power of radio, the craft of interview, the arc and structure of a story, the importance of the element of surprise – and ultimately, how all of those factors go into creating “This American Life” each week. That, he explained, is why it generally takes the TAL team three or four months to put together an hour-long episode.

But then he hit a snag…

He was discussing a particular TAL segment about a woman who recalled being attacked by a shark in New Zealand when she was 13 years old. Well, actually Glass was talking about the reactions to the segment, reading several emails or letters that he’d received from listeners who fell physically ill while hearing the segment. Ah, the power of the word…

It certainly didn’t seem particularly graphic, but then it happened – an audience member in the Music Hall fell ill. A few folks jumped up, asking the proverbial, “Is there a doctor in the house?” House lights were turned on. The show stopped cold. And Glass stood gobsmacked on stage…

After several moments of uncomfortable silence, the Music Hall’s Karen Good suggested to Glass that perhaps he could do a bit of Q&A with the audience while waiting for the EMT, and Glass obliged. For example, answering a question regarding the purpose of music on TAL, Glass explained that music “makes it cinematic. It gives dignity to the procedings.” A few more Qs & As were tossed back and forth before another audience member – Pulitzer Prize-winning author Bill Kennedy, actually – admitted that he was hooked on Glass’ previous narrative thread, and he wanted to know what happened in the shark story. And quite smoothly, Glass (and the audience) resumed the show.

(Not to worry, the patron who fell ill recovered just fine.)

Glass went on to explain the value of narrative suspense (as illustrated by “The Arabian Nights”), discuss the importance of the DIY aesthetic (as illustrated by Trey Parker and Matt Stone of “South Park”) and, yes, craft a perfectly lovely pink poodle balloon-animal for a birthday girl in the crowd.

Glass had another minor glitch in the show a bit later when he was trying to conjure up some backing music via his iPad. He was reading Allen Ginsberg’s 1966 anti-war poem “Wichita Vortex Sutra,” and he wanted to play the music that Philip Glass (Ira’s cousin, as it turns out) wrote and performed to accompany the poem. The first couple of times he tried to cue the music, he was greeted with nothing but silence, but eventually the music kicked in. It was only a momentary delay, but it was clear that Glass was a bit unnerved, if not altogether shaken by the unexpected twists of the evening.

And Glass concluded at the end of his evening’s presentation, the element of surprise is absolutely crucial to a good story. Rarely has that been so vividly illustrated on stage…

NAME-CHECKING (among the many names dropped by Ira Glass at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall): “Battlestar Galactica,” Mitt Romney, Snickers, “60 Minutes,” French semiotician Roland Barthes, Guy de Maupassant, Honoré de Balzac, Howard Stern, Terry Gross, “Looper,” David Sedaris, David Rackoff, Oscar Wilde, Thomas Edison, NIPPER, Errol Morris, “Rushmore,” Philip Glass, Allen Ginsberg, “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Sesame Street,” “Gossip Girl,” “The O.C.,” “Breaking Bad,” Elvis Costello, Mike Birbiglia, Mike Daisey, Newsweek, “South Park,” Roman Mars

John Rodat’s review at Metroland
Tracy Ormsbee’s live Tweet at Storify

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