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Friday, April 29, 2005

In A Time Of Flourishing Beauty

Last Saturday's show was a quadruple bill, a veritable mini-festival, at Seattle's Behnke Center for Contemporary Performance, an art institution. Getting to the venue, which is packed away in a little corner on a hill in Queen Anne, was no problem, but finding a place to park was a real pain in the ass. All of the pay-to-park lots were full, the meters were all taken as usual and everywhere else was restricted for one reason or another. It ended up taking me over half an hour to find a spot about six blocks away, which was fine, except that it sent me to the show in not the best of spirits. Everything changed once I got inside, secured second row (dead center!) seats, studied the program and prepared myself for the first of four unique musical experiences. I was happy to be surrounded by people of every style and passion.

His royal hippiness, Devendra Banhart, took the stage first, along with his "brother" Noah Georgeson, (formerly?) of The Pleased. Astute Banhart listeners will immediately think of the song "Noah" off of Niño Rojo, the one about the cowboy that nobody knows. It seems Noah is one of the core musicians that Banhart called upon to play his next LP, his first with a full band. You can read all about that at the recent Pitchfork interview with Monsieur Banhart.

The two of them came with a cup of wine and a guitar apiece, sat down on a rug on the stage and began the festivities. With them seated and me in the second row, I could barely see them over the stage monitors. They played a set of mostly covers and new songs, interspersed with Devendra's storytelling. I'd be lying if I claimed to be a huge Banhart fan, so I could be mistaken, but I don't think he played anything from Rejoicing In The Hands or Niño Rojo, which meant no "This Beard Is For Siobhán" or "Will Is My Friend", my two favorite songs of his. He did play songs that'll probably end up on the next album, including one that might be called "Long Haired Child" that was a big hit with the audience. The covers were mostly not in English, so I can't really say what they were about, though he got quite into them. He was a lot more animated and bouncy than the Devendra in my mind, which was nice; it's always good to have one's expectations trounced.

Here are a couple songs Devendra Banhart songs to introduce you to his music, just in case you've been living under a rock for the last year and a half. "The Body Breaks" is from Rejoicing In The Hands and "Be Kind" is from Niño Rojo, and they are both standout tracks on their respective albums.

Devendra Banhart - "The Body Breaks"

Devendra Banhart - "Be Kind"

Devendra seems to have two websites, one at Young God Records and the other at XL Recordings.

Up next was William Basinski, the avant-garde auteur du jour. I've come across his name quite a bit in the past six months, but I've only listened to a few pieces here and there, which is to say I wasn't sure what to expect from a Basinski live performance. I knew the music wasn't going to be live, I knew there would probably be some sort of huge screen in the background playing an equally esoteric video, and I knew I was looking forward to the experience. Now, I have no idea what the titles are of the music I heard or the video I saw, beyond that they weren't part of the famous Disintegration Loops series. I apologize, I'm just not up on this stuff.

I can say a few words about my experience though. The music took me to a unique place, a place that was mostly new to me. I found myself sitting very still. It was a natural stillness, not the stillness we force ourselves into when we want to really pay attention. The images on the screen and music in the air worked together to give me something that I really appreciated, despite the fact that I know it's not something I need very much of to feel satiated. I was glad when Mr. Basinski walked out at the conclusion of his set; I wanted to see just who was causing me to feel what I was feeling.

As for the images, it was akin to cloud watching or Rorschach ink blot tests; I suppose I saw what I wanted to see. However, to make it more palatable to you, the reader, I'll share a poem I wrote during the intermission between Basinkski and CocoRosie's sets. For now it's called "Star Traffic":

Black dogs climb the waves
Until the waves are black

Stars are in the well
Until the well is filled with stars

Wires separate the city
They are fine and silver

You are wading out to sea
Until you are the sea

You’re caught inside a storm
Until you are the storm

Footsteps on the sky
Until the sky is trodden

Your reflection on the water
Is the water introspective?

You leave your body behind
Until your body is a shell

The clouds are made of fire
I hope it doesn’t rain

To provide a taste of Basinski's music, here is one of the tracks from The Disintegration Loops IV. Though keep in mind it's quite different from the piece I heard and saw.

William Basinski - "DLP 1.3"

For more information on William Basinski's work, visit his website.

If you had told me going into this show that I would enjoy William Basinski's set more than CocoRosie's, I probably would've laughed at you. I was one of the people who liked CocoRosie's debut album, La Maison De Mon Rêve, albeit with some major reservations. In fact, I wrote about the album and one of its best songs, "By Your Side", near the beginning of this blog. I wrote then that CocoRosie "fail interestingly" with that album, which I still believe. Their live performance, however, also failed and, worse, failed to be interesting.

I found myself not having a good time very early in their set. Too many things combined to provoke distaste: the probably-meant-to-be-ironic-but-really-just-lame Care Bare video playing on the aforementioned huge screen, the toy instruments that struck me as gimmicky rather than playful and the tape recordings that arbitrarily pervaded each song, adding nothing and distracting so much. It could just be me, I know, but the overall impression I was left with was that their music works a lot better on record than on stage.

Their set was not a complete travesty though: they did play "By Your Side", which remains my favorite song by them, Sierra sat down on the floor to play beautiful harp and they invited Antony on-stage for a very moving performance of a song from their next album, "Beautiful Boyz". The album is titled Noah's Ark, it's set to be released this September and, despite the fact that I didn't enjoy their set Saturday, I'm still very much looking forward to it.

Here is the song that their label, Touch & Go Records, has generously made available from La Maison De Mon Rêve:

CocoRosie - "Good Friday"

Visit their website for more information and such.

I have no problem admitting that the main reason I wanted to be at this show was Antony. His website describes him as "an utterly genderqueer musical sensation", which is certainly true, but he has entered my heart as a talented songwriter, blessed with a voice that I'm not even going to begin to try to describe. I had heard that he's also a special performer, and last Saturday I was able to see for myself.

For Saturday's performance, The Johnsons were comprised of Julia Kent, Rob Moose and Kevin Barker (of Currituck County). Antony's set began with Barker playing a couple of his own songs, one instrumental and one vocal, solo with acoustic guitar. I thought that they were nice enough, but I was anxiously waiting Antony's arrival. Maybe a part of me couldn't believe he would show, even though he had just been before my eyes at the end of CocoRosie's set. Finally, show he did, far stage right mostly hidden by a grand black piano. The picture above is pretty much the view I had of him the whole night, but he was still beautiful and his voice was still perfect.

His set was shorter than I would've liked, but then again I could've listened to that voice all night. He sang most of the best songs from this year's I Am A Bird Now (still one of the year's best albums), including "My Lady Story" and "For Today I Am A Boy". He sang "Cripple & The Starfish", which I was especially hoping for, despite the fact that it's from his self-titled 2000 debut. He invited CocoRosie back to sing Boy George's part in "You Are My Sister", then kept them on to sing their "Brazilian Sun". And then, as my inner music nerd hoped, he invited everyone back on-stage to sing what must've been an improvisational song. The song was "Water & Dust", so-called for containing only those three words as lyrics. He asked that everyone clap along, to lend structure to the song but also to participate in the true, joyous communality of these artists, all of whom seemed genuinely happy to be sharing the stage with one another. I never clap along at concerts, I feel goofy, but this was different - this was right. He even sang a gorgeous cover of Leonard Cohen's "The Guests", harmonizing with Kevin Barker for the wonderful chorus melody.

He didn't sing "Fistful Of Love", his masterpiece, but I wasn't disappointed. I know that I have been witness to something special when I find myself forgetting to breathe; instead of the natural breaths that I should take every few seconds, I realized I was drawing hearty, needful breaths every half minute. And then it was over. One by one the guests began to leave, the brokenhearted many and the openhearted few, back into the night, into the lonely color of the city, into reality, wherever they left it.

Here are two songs Antony sang on Saturday, the first from I Am A Bird Now and the second from Antony & The Johnsons.

Antony & The Johnsons - "For Today I Am A Boy"

Antony & The Johnsons - "Cripple & The Starfish"

Visit Antony & The Johnsons' website to better know this remarkable artist.

Extra super special bonus track:

Leonard Cohen - "The Guests"

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