Leningrad Cowboys Go America
Digging into the cultural debris of the nineties is a good way to wait out an era when Taylor Swift makes a clean sweep of all top ten spots on the Billboard chart. The more you do, the more you realize that the seeds of the Lollapolized artistic upheaval were sewn in the eighties underground.
Take the most bizarre moment in the history of the MTV music awards (no, not the one involving Swift and that other guy), when a band called the Leningrad Cowboys took the stage with the Red Army Choir to play “Sweet Home Alabama” to a worldwide audience of 250 million people—more than last year’s Super Bowl. The band wore bright yellow-striped suits, comically oversized pompadours and elf shoes with points that protrude a foot from the tips of their toes. Behind them, seventy-odd members of Boris Yeltsin’s army band stood in olive drab, singing along to a Neil Young diss track while one woman in a bright red beehive who appeared to have escaped from a B-52s video danced along.
A thirty-episode podcast about the cultural context behind this moment could exist—it would probably start with Leningrad Cowboys Go America, which screens this month at Stray Cat Film Center. The largely forgotten 1989 film by Finnish director Aki Kaurismäki birthed the Cowboys, who are improbably still touring today. The film is a comedy that actively steps around obvious jokes, instead drawing its humor from surreal imagery, like a group of hungry band members eating onions on a curb or the band’s only fan, the village idiot, coveting a pair of loafers.
Leningrad Cowboys is presented as part of Stray Cat’s Bargain Bin Film School series, where the movie is being billed as “the best Jim Jarmusch movie Jarmusch never made.” This is mostly true. The Ohio-born indie filmmaker didn’t make this particular absurdist deadpan comedy, but he does play a used car salesman in it. The movie is half road trip, half musical interlude with the band learning about “rrrock n rrrrrroll” on their way to accidental stardom in Mexico. —Martin Cizmar
GO: Leningrad Cowboys Go America will be screened on Wednesday, January 18 and Saturday, January 21 at Stray Cat Film Center, 1662 Broadway Boulevard, KCMO.
Chiefs vs Broncos
January 1, Noon
In spring 2022, the Seahawks traded quarterback Ciara’s Husband to the Broncos after years of his kvetching about getting a chance to operate in an open offense. Ciara’s Husband has been terrible, with his pre-season promotional videos going viral in the bad way. Odds are looking good for the Chiefs, with a hopeful win to lift spirits during the New Year’s Day hangover. January 1. Noon. GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium.
Guest conductor Byron Stripling has been called a “powerhouse trumpeter gifted with a soulful voice and a charismatic onstage swagger.” In this show, he transports audiences back to the heyday of jazz, performing with nostalgic reverence that mirrors a sound more apt for Harlem clubs with legends like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald. January 6–7, 8 pm; January 8, 2 pm. The Kauffman Center.
Elvis Birthday Bash
Come celebrate what would’ve been the King of Rock ‘n Roll’s eighty-eighth birthday with an assortment of impersonators performing all the hits. Grab your aviators, jumpsuit and probiotics and join the rockabilly party. January 7. 8 pm. Knuckleheads.
The Fountains and Pines of Rome
Guest conductor Francesco Lecce-Chong and New Zealand-born violinist Geneva Lewis will take audiences on a tour of the other famous fountain city, Rome, with Mozart’s youthful and joyous concerto, which was written while the composer was still a teenager. January 13–14, 8 pm; January 15, 2 pm. Kauffman Center.
Kansas City Restaurant Week
The fourteenth annual Kansas City Restaurant Week returns this January. This ten-day dining event features special multi-course menus and deals from hundreds of KC’s best restaurants. This provides the perfect opportunity to indulge, with exclusive menus from hot new restaurants and tried-and-true old favorites. January 13–22.
Chinese Ink Teacher Workshop with Artist Hong Chun Zhang
Artist Hong Chun Zhang has used gongbi, or Chinese fine style ink painting, to explore topics such as gender, cross-cultural identity and social justice in her work for over twenty years. In this class at the Nelson-Atkins Museum, participants will observe two Chinese ink painting styles used by the artist and try out the techniques themselves. The class will also visit the exhibition, “Found in Translation: Explorations by 8 Contemporary Artists” to view Zhang’s featured piece and learn more about the inspirations and techniques she uses in her work. January 14. 1 pm. Nelson-Atkins Museum.
Sometimes you want to go to the opera. Sometimes you just need to watch oversized Matchbox cars tumble over each other in the dirt. And that’s okay. Life is about balance. January 14, 1 pm and 7 pm; January 15, 1 pm. T-Mobile Center.
When Hadestown first premiered on Broadway in 2019, it gained widespread critical and commercial acclaim, winning eight Tony Awards. The musical is a modern retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Orpheus and Eurydice, in which two poor lovers escape their nightmarish reality and show others the way to freedom. January 17–20, 7:30 pm; January 21–22, 1 pm and 7:30 pm. Municipal Auditorium Music Hall.
Wagner’s Flying Dutchman
Violinist Maria Loudenitch was born in Russia but raised in KC. She returns to KC to perform Samuel Barber’s lyric Violin Concerto, a swelling and motion-filled production. Guest conductor Kevin John Edusei leads the orchestra in the overture to Richard Wagner’s masterpiece story of love and redemption in The Flying Dutchman. January 20–21, 8 pm; January 22, 2 pm. Kauffman Center.
Oran Etkin: Open Arms
Multi-instrumentalist Oran Etkin has started the “open arms” project as a monthly release of singles and music videos recorded around the world with other master musicians in places like Zimbabwe, Brazil and France. He continues to collaborate and form musical connections that showcase the transcendent, communal nature of music. January 22. 7 pm. Polsky Theatre.
Zerograd (Zero City)
This surrealist satire of communism is hailed as “part Kafka, part Agatha Christie and part Monty Python.” The story follows an everyman engineer who arrives in a remote city where nothing makes sense but everyone acts as if it does. As he tries to get back to familiar Moscow, the film gets more absurdist—he runs into bizarre characters that seem to be more fitting for a Wes Anderson film than in Soviet-era Russia. January 23. 7 pm. Stray Cat Film Center.
A Voice for Nature
Part of the National Geographic Live series and sponsored by the Kansas City Zoo, Dutch photographer Jasper Doest captures unique stories of wildlife, including a rehabilitated flamingo and hot springs-loving monkeys. Through his unique storytelling images, Doest aims to remind audiences of the beauty and fragility of nature. January 24. 7:30 pm. Kauffman Center.
Black Panther in Concert
Marvel’s Black Panther became an international box-office hit, with audiences connecting to the inspiring messages of Black excellence, tradition and determination set in a superhero world. The film will be shown along with the Kansas City Symphony’s live performance of Ludwig Göransson’s Oscar- and Grammy-winning score. January 25–28. 7 pm. Kauffman Center.
This unique bilingual show features an original score and dynamic puppetry to tell the story of a young migrant who must travel through the harsh and magical desert in hopes of a new life in America. January 25–February 12. Times vary. Unicorn Theatre.
St. Louis native Angel Olsen is an indie singer-songwriter whose bubblegum voice and emotional lyrics have surprising influences of vintage country and twangy guitar on hits like “Shut Up Kiss Me” and “Unfucktheworld.” January 27. 8 pm. Liberty Hall.
The performance behind the inescapable fliers is coming to KC. Boasting a dance presentation of “five thousand years of civilization reborn,” the Shen Yun performance includes ornate costuming, high-tech backdrops and a powerful orchestra to tell the story of Chinese tradition and heritage. January 27, 7:30 pm; January 28, 1:30 pm and 7:30 pm; January 29, 1:30 pm. Kauffman Center.
Perhaps best known for his role on Reno 911!, Nick Swardson has become one of those recognizable but not-big-name comedic actors that you have to look up on Wikipedia while you watch. Most notably, he has been a part of Adam Sandler’s production company and is now touring the U.S. with his aptly titled “Make Joke From Face” tour. January 28. 6 pm. Uptown Theater.
This animated film follows a magical sprite who makes “violin strings vibrate, brass valves slice air and drumheads resonate.” Blending traditional and modern animation styles with orchestral accompaniment, the performances boast the importance of collaboration and diversity. January 29. 2 pm. Kauffman Center.
This absurdist tragic-comedy will run its full production and world premiere since the onset of the pandemic cut its first run short. The play centers around an unhappy wife who just wants to have tea with her artist husband who is completely devoted to building his masterpiece. Meanwhile, the waters outside their apartment continue to rise, threatening change and perhaps tragedy. January 31–February 19. Times Vary. KCRep Copaken Stage.
Bobby Watson Quartet
KCK native and jazz legend Bobby Watson performs for the “Winterlude” series. Working for nearly thirty years, he has become one of the most sought-after composers and jazz musicians, even composing music for the soundtrack of A Bronx Tale, Robert DeNiro’s 1993 directorial debut. The saxophonist and composer returns to his hometown to play some of his signature modern jazz. January 15. 7 pm. Yardley Hall.
Lauren Quin: My Hellmouth
The Atlanta native artist Lauren Quin got her MFA from Yale in 2019 and has been showcasing in exhibits around the U.S. since, appearing alongside other tastemakers in the art world. Her large abstract oil paintings are built from a form that she calls the tube: thick strips of color that take after prisms and overlap to form various patterns. Near the end of her process, she layers paint, quickly carving new abstract forms before the paint can dry to form something completely new. January 19–June 18. Nerman Museum of Contemporary Art.