Laura Tsaggaris
Laura Tsaggaris and her band invite you to get into the mood on Nov. 27 at Miracle Theatre; courtesy of Tsaggaris

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Friday: El Gran Combo at MGM National Harbor

Sixty years after first forming, Puerto Rico’s El Gran Combo are still drawing large crowds eager to dance to the band’s powerful Afro-Caribbean sound. Nicknamed the University of Salsa due to the number of great musicians who’ve spent time in the ensemble, El Gran Combo can give classes in creating propulsive bass, keyboard, and percussion rhythms, potent horn bursts, call-and-response vocals, and choreographed dance moves. While their longtime leader, 96-year-old pianist Rafael Ithier, only makes occasional appearances with the group, his methodology is ingrained in their well-rehearsed sound. Although they have only on occasion had albums on large corporate American labels, their busy touring schedule and long discography of releases on Puerto Rican and international labels have cemented their legendary status in the Spanish speaking world. El Gran Combo’s acclaimed live sound is tight and proficient yet it’s not formulaic as they incorporate short instrumental interludes with doses of improvisation via skittering beats on timbales and pounding on congas. Skilled at entertaining dancers spinning slow or fast in front of the stage, the group’s trio of vocalists occasionally sing romantic, slow-paced ballads, but most of the time employ fast-tempoed lead and backing melodies. Simultaneously with their singing, the vocalists suavely move their arms in unison and slide their feet like an old-school Motown combo. In 2021 El Gran Combo released an album with Christmas songs entitled De Trulla Con El Combo. It seems likely they’ll kick off the holiday season with some grooves from that effort. El Gran Combo play at 9 p.m. on Nov. 25 at MGM National Harbor, 101 MGM National Ave., Oxon Hill. $119–$199. —Steve Kiviat 

El Gran Combo; courtesy of MGM National Harbor

Saturday: Tim Doud’s Prolepsis at HEMPHILL

Tim Doud’s exhibition at HEMPHILL is composed of three works, with the impression of contained struggle threading through each piece. Painted fabrics are overlaid on canvases and bridge adjacent canvases in one grid work. Another work is a large intersection of several painted fabrics. A third is a collection of painted fabrics arranged in a cubist dynamic. The result is striking bursts of lines and colors, hundreds of details that transform the works individually and collectively from chaos to balance. The painted fabrics appear random at first glance, creating a sense of disorder, but are actually placed in harmony, signaling the artist’s exploration of equity in conflict. Prior to Prolepsis, Doud worked in portraiture and captured costumes in paint. Doud found meaning in the textiles composing the costumes—symbolism from its structure and source. Prolepsis’ construction showcases the artist’s appreciation of this symbolism drawn from fabric patterns, and centers familiarity while being impartial to where familiarity is found. As the exhibition’s press release notes: “Each painting professes the potential for a positive outcome. Each is the equivalent of a social vestment. No doubt you will recognize a fabric you have worn.” Prolepsis runs through Dec. 23 at HEMPHILL Artworks, 434 K St. NW. Tuesday through Saturday from noon to 5 p.m. Free. —Anupma Sahay

Prolepsis at HEMPHILL; Courtesy of HEMPHILL Artworks

Sunday: Bruce Falkinburg at Photoworks

It’s been a melancholy couple of months at Photoworks, first with October’s posthumous retrospective of works by leading D.C. photographer and photography educator Mark Power, and now with a remembrance of the photography of Bruce Falkinburg, a longtime teacher at the Glen Echo-based studio. Falkinburg, who died this past summer, taught large-format photography, lighting, and darkroom technique, and the nearly 30 images on display reflect this focus. Some of Falkinburg’s landscape work is impressive, such as the intricate brambles in a series titled “Trees and Branches.” But his portrayals of discrete objects are more impressive. One series offers lovingly shaded still lifes of such objects as baseball mitts. Another depicts sunflowers—not with their petals perfectly symmetrical, as the viewer expects, but rather twisted and askew, with clear signs of physical deterioration. Similarly, a series of images of fallen leaves lingers on their signs of decay, such as small holes and pockmarks. Perhaps the most successful of Falkinburg’s traditional black-and-white images is “Clouds-1,” which somehow manages to transform the airy wisps of a cloud into a form that resembles licking flames. The exhibit’s most notable work, however, may be “Final Vision and Memories,” a five-by-five matrix of mounted black-and-white Polaroids that range from portraits to still lives to street scenes; the work’s title and visual style suggest an elegiac mood that closely fits the exhibit’s purpose of memorialization. The retrospective runs through Jan. 8 at Photoworks, 7300 MacArthur Blvd., Glen Echo. Saturday 1 to 4 p.m., Sunday 1 to 7 p.m. Free. Louis Jacobson

Credit: Bruce Falkinburg

Sunday: Laura Tsaggaris at Miracle Theatre

Capitol Hill-based singer-songwriter Laura Tsaggaris is a serious artist, belting out confessional folksy and alt-country ballads, both when she’s solo or with her band Laura and the Mood Ring. But when it comes time for the holidays, she shifts gears, lightens the mood, and opens up to friends and community, because she’s all about that holiday spirit and loves sharing that joy with others. “The band reflects the friends and community I’ve built here, and it’s just unabashedly fun,” Tsaggaris tells City Paper about her holiday hustle with her band (plus a trio of backup singers for the occasion). Together, they rock around the Christmas tree, covering classics—Elvis’ “Blue Christmas,” Mariah Carey’s “All I Want for Christmas Is You”—with alt-country, funk, and rockabilly spins, all of which are featured on her album Get in the Mood. This year’s concert at Miracle Theatre is the second of what Tsaggaris hopes will become an annual holiday event: “There was a wonderful feeling from it last year, especially coming out of the pandemic. And it just felt like a big hug from everyone.” She describes the event as a “Thanksgiving palate cleanser.” It’s an opportunity to relax with friends, blood and chosen family, and head into the holiday season with “some good vibes.” She also notes that dressing festively is all part of the joy. Tsaggaris and company have been working on some new covers this year as well as a blues original to share at the concert, which also serves as the vinyl release party for Get in the Mood. After getting in the mood at the Miracle, the party continues over at As You Are Bar for a free karaoke party. Put on your ugliest holiday sweater and dance off those gravy calories while listening to reinvented Christmas favorites. Get in the Mood With Laura Tsaggaris starts at 7 p.m. on Nov. 27 at Miracle Theatre, 535 8th St. SE. $20–$40. —Colleen Kennedy  

Laura Tsaggaris and the Mood Ring; courtesy of Tsaggaris.

Starts Wednesday: GALA Film Fest spotlight, Santo vs. the Evil Brain at Gala Theatre

Film archivists have long had to deal with the fact that only about 14 percent of films made in the silent era survive today. You think the digital age is less vulnerable? Think again. While it may seem like any title you’d want to see is available to stream somewhere, the reality is more complicated, especially when it comes to B-movies that some might prefer to let disappear. That’s why the work of Viviana Garcia Besne and the Mexican archive Permanencia Voluntaria is so important. Garcia Besne, whose family produced dozens of Mexican sex comedies in the 1960s and ’70s, has worked hard to preserve films that would otherwise have been relegated to barely watchable transfers on YouTube. As part of the GALA Film Fest: Latin American Innovation, which runs from Nov. 30 to Dec. 4 at GALA Hispanic Theatre in Columbia Heights, area moviegoers can see the fruits of Garcia Besne’s work: the 1961 feature Santo vs. The Evil Brain, the first of more than 50 features featuring the iconic masked wrestler known as “The Saint.” Directed by Joselito Rodríguez, the film was shot in Cuba in 1958, soon before Fidel Castro came to power. Legend has it the filmmakers had to smuggle the 35mm reels out of the country in order to escape the volatile new regime. The plot involves mad scientists who kidnap and brainwash Santo to make him obey their evil commands. It’s a murky narrative, and the best way to get through it may be to imagine a political subtext at work, but as you watch the repetitive footage of vintage 1950s cars driving the same grand Havana streets, the film gains a dreamlike quality. And thanks to the work of film archivists like Viviana Garcia Besne, the movie looks better than it has in decades. GALA Film Fest: Latin American Innovation runs through Dec. 4; Santo vs. the Evil Brain screens at 4 p.m. on Dec. 4 at GALA Hispanic Theatre, 3333 14th St. NW. $10 per screening. —Pat Padua

El Santo vs. the Evil Brain; courtesy of Permanencia Voluntaria