Arts Desk

ToDo ToDay: Video Game Art and Tons of Live Music

Marble MadnessAny parent knows the value of the Smithsonian American Art Museum’s “Art of Video Games” exhibit: It’s state-subsidized baby-sitting. There’s at least an hour’s worth of bliss waiting for the ADHD set, from playable games—a list limited to five rather fusty titles, including “Myst” and “Pac-Man”—to presentations on five eras of graphics. For art viewers, it’s less clear why this exhibit is happening.

For starters, it’s a crowd-sourced affair. In spring 2011, the museum put the exhibit’s games to a public vote; whether or not 1983’s “Attack of the Mutant Camels” for the Commodore 64 represents an artistic leap forward, it netted sufficient votes to be one of 80 exhibited games from a pool of 240 choices. No doubt, the people have good taste in gaming: “Phantasy Star” made the cut, warming this RPG nerd’s heart, as did essentials such as “The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past” and “Metal Gear Solid.” But judging video games as art ostensibly requires a different set of metrics than playability or CGI cut-scene quality. And to that end, the exhibition isn’t making much of an argument. It’s commendable that bizarre titles like “Marble Madness” (shown) and “Portal”—both clever advances in video-game design, controls, narrative, and player-friendliness—have solid constituencies among the Smithsonian’s audience. But the connection between these games and, say, “MassEffect 2” isn’t art. It’s a popularity contest, and a pandering one at that. The Art of Video Games” opens today. "GameFest," a festival featuring playable games, talks by video-game developers, and film screenings runs today through Sunday. The exhibit is on view 11:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily to Sept. 30 at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, 8th and F streets NW. Free. (202) 633-1000. (Kriston Capps)

ALSO TONIGHT

A little while back, we gave the One Track Mind treatment to Bike Trip, the shambling ensemble led by Santa Barbara transplant Maxim Massenkoff. "I’m pretty lazy, so often when a guitar string breaks I wait for weeks to fix it,” Massenkoff told us. “But it’s sort of conscious too, because using a guitar with less strings makes me think differently about tuning and chord voicings." The local band headlines the Rock & Roll Hotel tonight with openers Megaphone Barons and The North Country. 9 p.m. at 1353 H St. NE. $10. (202) 388-ROCK.

SATURDAY

Yes, it's St. Patrick's Day, also known as the second biggest amateur night of the year (first = New Year's Eve, of course). There are oodles of Irish-themed events happening around town—a St. Paddys party at Acre 121a big drunken party at Duffy's, rugby and Irish dancing at Fado—but if that ain't your jam, there's also a boatload of good live music happening Saturday night.

Like EMA, who returns to D.C. less than six months after her October show at 9:30 Club. Her band is still focusing on material from her 2011 album Past Life Martyred Saints, but no one's complaining. Here's what we said the last time she came 'round. EMA and Nu Sensae perform at 7 p.m. at U Street Music Hall, 1115 U St. NW. $12. (202) 588-1880.

If you show up for EMA, you may as well stick around for a while: City Paper favorite Volta Bureau (shown) plays a live set at U Hall later that night with Starks & Nacey and Brian Billion, the DJ/bar designer/artist whose artful, minimalist posters we wrote about this week. 10 p.m. $10, or free with RSVP (for 21 and older).

Area drum & bass heads should look no further than the huge all-night D&B party at Warehouse Loft, which is being billed as an old-sound-meets-new-sound kind of thing. If that stokes your interest, buy tickets in advance—it will probably sell out. 9 p.m. at 411 New York Ave. NE. $20 in advance, $30 at door.

“I make every nigga irrelevant. I’m sex-intelligent,” coos The-Dream on 2010’s Love King, and it’s clear which part of the title really matters. With his gilded, atmospheric production and vocals Auto-tuned into liquid, the beat-maker born Terius Nash basically laid the sonic groundwork for the recent bumper crop of solipsistic R&B artists, from megastars like Drake to Internet phenoms like The Weeknd and Frank Ocean. This year, The-Dream will complete a tetralogy of love-themed full-lengths, but the producer/singer—who’s responsible for hits like Rihanna’s “Umbrella” and Beyoncé’s “Single Ladies (Put a Ring on It)”—definitely isn’t a romantic. His most straightforward ballads win on technical merits; the moments that really transport are either freaky (think Prince), heavy on swagger (think R. Kelly), or plainly opulent: “Don’t let your good girl go bad,” he sings at one point. “Drop five stacks on the make-up bag.” The-Dream got a little vulnerable last year on 1977, a free “Internet album” released under his given name, but that record’s primary mode is anger—at an ex, at artists who’ve aped his sound—not ardor. If the audience is lucky, both Terius Nashes will show up tonight. Either way, don’t consider it a thematically reliable backdrop for a first date. The-Dream performs at 8 p.m. at The Fillmore Silver Spring, 8656 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. $25. fillmoresilverspring.com. (301) 960-9999. (Jonathan L. Fischer)

SUNDAY

In a city where go-go reigns supreme, it’s almost impossible to classify Black Alley’s self-described fusion of funk, soul, and garage. While the local septet is widely considered a go-go band, its sound is much more inclusive. Sometimes the group morphs into a full-on rock band with abrasive guitar riffs and crashing drum cymbals; elsewhere, they explore subdued R&B melodies, with lead vocalist Kacey Williams tackling the all-familiar topic of romance. That multifaceted mixture has served the band well so far: Black Alley has performed with Chuck Brown and opened the HFStival at Merriweather Post Pavilion. So tonight’s show at the Rock & Roll Hotel is a celebration of sorts, as Black Alley performs songs from Soul.Swagger.Rock.Sneakers, its long-awaited debut album. Black Alley Band performs with Funk Mnkyz at 7 p.m. at Rock & Roll Hotel, 1353 H St. NE. $25 in advance, $30 at the door. (202) 388-ROCK. (Marcus J. Moore)

"You'll hear a lot of talk in just about all music criticism about innovation and innovators. But it's not often you hear discussion of an innovator who actually developed a new way to play an instrument," writes Michael J. West in this week's Jazz Setlist. He's referring to guitar innovator Stanley Jordan, who plays a cluster of shows in Georgetown this weekend. Stanley performs Friday through Sunday at 8 and 10 p.m. at Blues Alley, 1073 Wisconsin Ave. NW. $27.50. Some shows sold out. (202) 337-4141.

Look, all of us have our Evie Sands moment—you know, when we just can't let go. Do you need help? Marcie Lovett's The Clutter Book: When You Can't Let Go, might be the straight talk you need. The professional organizer talks trash at 2 p.m. on Sunday at One More Page Books, 2200 N. Westmoreland St., #101, Arlington. Free. (703) 300-9746.

This is just a sampling of stuff happening this weekend. For more, check out our A&E calendar.

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