Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium was full to capacity to hear them play two late Beethoven quartets, No. 12 in E-flat Major and No. 15 in A Minor, Op. 127 and 132 respectively. These deeply pensive works seemed somehow fitting for a farewell concert.
From the exclamatory opening chords of the No. 12 onward, the Guarnieri Quartet (violinists Arnold Steinhardt and John Dalley, violist Michael Tree and cellist Peter Wiley) displayed the masterful ensemble playing for which they are known. Their ability to generate a rich and complex depth of sound often gave the impression that there were more than four instruments on stage.
Certain moments stood out as particularly exceptional. In the Adagio, cellist Peter Wiley was able to bring a delectable, murmuring melodic motive up from the depths, retreat until it threatened to fall back into the dense harmonic texture and then suddenly bring it forward to make its presence felt once more. There were times his singing timbre made it sound as though a second viola had entered. During the Scherzando, the entire group played a galloping mezzo-staccato couplet theme in perfect unision, drawing the full melodic meaning from this difficult texture. The old joke that Beethoven was the greatest composer who couldn’t write a melody was put to lie; the challenge is to find and draw out that melody, and this group certainly did that whenever it was called for.
Opening the second half with the A Minor, the playing in parts of the first movement seemed a bit restrained, almost rote. This was soon remedied by the extreme, intentionally jarring dynamic contrasts of the Allegro ma non tanto. The middle of this five-movement work, the Molto adagio, was sublime and absolutely magnificent. The GQ interpreted the many different shades of this long, meandering segment with the utmost skill and dexterity. At times it felt forward looking, an almost Dvorăkian hymn to the splendorous, wide spaces of America. At other times it seemed as though Beethoven was quoting the main theme from Pachelbel’s Canon, and the GQ captured this sensitively, rendering a warm, woody intimacy that called to mind a chest of viols from a far earlier era. Their superb interpretation, their ability to intuit the spirit of the many different musics Beethoven seemed to be invoking was rapturous, and the auditorium felt breathless and transformed as the movement died away to a whisper. The Guarnieri Quartet plays at Reed College again tonight, featuring a concert of late Brahms, including the famous B-Minor Clarinet Quintet featuring Festival A.D. David Shifrin on clarinet.
Crossposted at NW Reverb.
Monday, June 22, 2009
I'm not familiar with Sarah and Tegan, the group they seem to get compared to in some of the other articles I've read about them. Just as well I guess; I didn't become hypnotically addicted to this music almost instantly just because they reminded me of someone else; it was lead singer Sherry Soto's fucking phenomenal vocals that hooked me in and wouldn't let go. The CD is short and over far too soon, but I guess this isn't much of a CD review anyway. I love every song on it simply because Sherry Soto is singing it. Check out the MySpace page linked above if you've any interest in hearing her amazing pipes.
The story of the biblical hero Samson proved fertile ground for Handel’s boundless imagination, and there are few as well-equipped to realize Handel’s vision in our day as Nicholas McGegan.
Thomas Cooley, singing the title role, delivers a mixed performance in this release. While technically never less than precise, some of the arias, especially on the first disc, come off as just that—technical. While such precision is admirable, if it is not accompanied by sympathetic emotional interpretation, it may come off as dry, a risk that runs particularly high when singing works from the Baroque. Alto Franziska Gottwald, in the important role of Micah, has a voice that is heavy and oft overbearing.
The great advantage to a work of this length is that even if some portions occasionally suffer for want of interpretation, there is so much to hear that it is worth listening to that the less satisfying segments do not detract from the overall enjoyability of the presentation. One Cooley aria in particular, ‘Thus when the sun,’ is truly exceptional, a breathless moment of reverie as Samson contemplates the fate he must now know awaits him, the punishment for his treachery coupled with the bittersweet redemption for failing his God. Cooley here displays a true emotional verité, encapsulated within yet never confined by the stylistic strictures of the baroque. Soprano Sophie Daneman as Dalila provides a welcome respite from the largely lower-range and dark-timbre voices featured in this oratorio; of particular delight is the rich, argumentative duet she sings with Samson, 'Traitor to Love!'
McGegan and the FOG are absolutely spectacular—in addition to the the flawless accompagnato skills they bring to the table, the sinfoniae that are scattered throughout exhibit crystalline perfection and could stand alone. The NDR Chor is as able and exact a baroque choir as one could want, and their English diction (for a non-native speaking choir) is superb. Early music lovers will find everything delightful about the baroque era in this three-hour epic masterpiece.
Cross-posted at NW Reverb.
Monday, June 15, 2009
Spencer Moody and The Murder City Devils
Perry Farrell, god of rock 'n roll hedonism.
Perry and Dave
(NOTE: The next little bit is a big digression. Skip to the end for the short version of why I love Jane's Addiction so much.)
Eric and Perry
Other random connections that make JA important to me is the fact that my cousin Stacey used to hang out at Scream (a punk club in LA where Jane's Addiction got their start) and she's hung out with Dave Navarro (who she said was cool) and Perry Farrell (who she said was a dick) before they were big.
Back to the rock fest....
I saw Perry fronting his new project Satellite Party last year when the opened for Smashing Pumpkins. I was glad that they did a bunch of JA and Porno for Pyros tunes but it still was nothing like seeing JA, all of them together. Perry is the consumate showman, and knows his audience well. He uses phrases that endorse psychedelic exploration (long now a thing of the past for me) and the expanding of consciousness (something I'd like to think I continue doing without the use of chemicals) and the embrace of sensuality, of Bacchanalian hedonism. "Being here with you all is making my dick hard,' he said, without any trace of false modesty or rancor. He urged us to take out our cocks and play with them as we visited each other's tents, saying that it doesn't matter how big it is, but, he joked, it never hurts to be....
So they played lots of good tunes from Nothing's Shocking, Ritual de lo Habitual and of course the self-titled debut album (which we usually called 'Triple X' in honor of the record company that released it.) Nothing from Kettle Whistle, not even City, my favorite non-studio-produced JA tune.
It was the radical comparison between Spencer Moody and Perry Farrell's approach to the whole queer question that really struck me. I guess there's really no 'question'...some of us are queer, some aren't. 'It's just the way I'm wired,' my friend Scotty used to say, and that's a phrase that's stuck with me for a long time. It is, indeed, the way I'm wired.
As Spencer insulted, cajoled, challenged, so Perry incited, lured, enticed. There is a time for both, for fighting and loving, for....oh never mind. No need to rhapsodize. In the words of the immortal Forrest Gump, 'that's all I have to say about that.' I'm queer, so love me or leave me. I'm learning to do the former.
Monday, June 1, 2009
It might seem an odd thing to attach the term--'the true spirit of rock' to a gig like the Sasquatch Music Fest. Nothing against it specifically--after the heyday of the touring rock fests like Lollapalooza, Lilith, Warped, etc., in the 90s, a new dynamic of large, annual regional rock-fests came to the fore: fests like Sasquatch, Bonnarroo, Austin City Limits and Coachella (to name a few) filled the gap as the novelty (and some would say overall quality) of the touring fests petered out. (Zack Adams, Festival Founder.)
But the true spirit of rock? Does that coincide with $9 cans of shit beer, with countless thousands of impossibly beautiful, impossibly thin, impossibly white twenty-somethings traveling from around the country on their parents' credit cards, with loudspeakers blaring about the great deals from the Verizon Wireless booth?
You get the idea. In one sense, Sasquatch is nothing but a giant money-making machine, over-charging you for everything and blowing pop-culture smoke straight up your ass to try and make you feel good about dropping a grand on a three-day long music festival.
But sometimes, something squeaks through. Something honest, sincere, direct and in-your face, something that cuts through the frilly shit with the focused intensity of a laser beam and hones in on that rarest of commodities--the truth. The naked, raw, brutal truth, observed from varying angles and displayed, even if unintentionally, for all to see. That happened for me, and for a lot of other people who were most definitely not comfortable with it, outside of George, WA on Sunday night.
I won't write a review of every artist I went there to see, maybe just a brief rundown so I can get to the meat of what I really want to write about. Truthfully I missed a lot of bands that I either vaguely knew of (most sadly for me I didn't catch Gogol Bordello) or wanted to hear because of the buzz surrounding them. Here's a laser beam of truth for ya: I missed them because it was so goddamned hot and cloudless, and I had to sleep off my morning drunk in the early afternoon each day and decided to do that at my campsite instead of at the fest.
I wanted to see Vince Mira, whom I wrote about in my review of last year's Sasquatch fest, but he was the opener at noon on Saturday so I had to miss that. New acts to me that I did catch were Animal Collective, who played a lot of spaced-out psychedelically tinged ambient rock that I thoroughly enjoyed, and Silversun Pickups, who (despite the fact that I really like their big radio hit Lazy Eye) bored me to tears with a pukey brand of distorted emo. I also saw The Decemberists again (unfortunately.) I know they are the most important band from PDX in the world right now, and I wish I could like them simply for the sake of hometown solidarity, but I've seen them twice now and I just can't stand them. I will allow that there were actually one or two songs of theirs that seemed alright this time, but these wimpy, heart-on-your-sleeves crooning singers (like the guy from Silversun and the one from Death Cab for Cutie) just make me want to drop a steaming-hot microwave burrito down their pants and then kick the crap out of them. And I'm not a violent man.
The Yeah Yeah Yeahs were a big reason I wanted to go this year: they are perhaps my personal favorite brand-new band that I've discovered in the last five years or so. I've got the raging hots for their gorgeous lead singer Karen O, and their songwriting is fearlessly original, even if her voice does occasionally sound like Siouxsie Sioux and some of their music is reminiscent of one of my favorite bands of all time, Throwing Muses. If ya gotta have influences, they might as well be good ones. Karen O had great energy and they rocked the place hard, and I even enjoyed their heart-aching love ballad Maps (the song that turned me onto them in the first place) despite the idiot girls behind me singing loudly through most of the song. Guess what? I know all the words too, and could sing it just as loudly as you can, but I wanted to hear Karen O sing it. Thanks a lot for ruining that for me you self-absorbed idiots. Thankfully someone shut them up before they ruined the entire song.
Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs
Despite their compelling story and one or two songs that I enjoy, headliners (all four of whom are brothers) Kings of Leon didn't really excite me. They seemed to play well enough, but the next day even seasoned KOL fans remarked about how lacklustre the performance was, so it's no wonder it didn't catch the attention of a marginal fan like me. Seattle's Fleet Foxes sounded good although at that point I was hiding in the few feet of shade afforded by a rickety wooden fence, desperately trying to avoid the merciless afternoon sun. TV On The Radio impressed me yet again with their strange electro-soul rock. I don't know that I'd rush out and buy any of their CDs, but I've seen them live twice now opening for other bands I wanted to see and I've liked them both times.
I watched this poor bastard wake up...he was still too loaded to care.
Erykah Badu was the main reason I stayed for all three days; she was the penultimate act of the fest, right before the Monday night headliner Ben Harper, who I can most definitely live without. I've loved Ms. Badu since I first heard her. She does hip hop with a huge dose of soul, jazz, blues, r&b and gospel influences, spinning it all into an incredibly entertaining, intensely personal style that I just can't get enough of. When I listen to her songs I always get the feeling that I'm sitting at the front table in a smoky bar late at night, it's dark except for the blinding light shining on the diva onstage three feet away, and she's singing right to me.
And diva she was...she ran a very tight ship and it showed in the results: a very tight blend of very complex, multi-layered music being performed by an eight- or nine-piece band. She's known for her fashion sensibility and I loved her bright, super-shiny pleather pants with big silver zippers all over them, her gray Public Enemy hoody, which hood she was wearing underneath a shortish stovepipe hat. Still, I couldn't help but think that her band looked vaguely terrified of her most of the time: they were playing good music but it didn't seem like they were having much fun. She ran that show like an Irish nun at a Magdalene laundry. (I think since I'm Irish I'm allowed to make that joke...)
Ms. Badu's always comin' for real...
So I ended up not even staying for the whole set. The call of a real bed and the dreaded thought of having to be at work 350 miles away at the crack of noon the next day pulled us back to the Wild Horse Campground (seriously--this is the place to stay if you are ever camping for a show at the Gorge. Take the time to make reservations as soon as you buy your tix.) Just as we finished packing up our super cool camping neighbor Liz got back; we had been planning to stay and leave early the next morning, so she was bummed we were leaving. I hope she gets ahold of me; after a long hug I gave her my name and told her to look me up on Facebook.) We took off, stayed at a motel in Yakima and were out early the next morning.
(More on that whole 'true spirit of rock' thing in the second installment when I write about the two main acts I wanted to see this year: Jane's Addiction and the Murder City Devils.)