Sunday, September 28, 2008

When Art and Music Collide

Saturday night (September 27, 2008) was the last in a run of six concerts and it may have been the most fun of all. For one thing, it was my first trip to Echo Curio. In a storefront, a few blocks down from the Echo, a shop described as a curiosity shop and art gallery that "strives to funnel local creative energy" (as described on their myspace page) funnelled it like crazy on Saturday night!

I walked in after 9 and The Guppies had just played their first song, so I stepped to the back to listen. This place is very small and people sit around on the floor or on the many available pillows, and sit in rapt attention of the musicians. And the music was this delicate, gentle melody that suddenly exploded into a furious crash of sound, as the band attacked their instruments. After pounding it into the backs of our heads, just as quickly, they scaled it back down to a whisper. They played a terrific set of songs and I could have heard more.

The first person I saw who I knew was Matt from Manhattan Murder Mystery, bouncing to the music in the corner, so I went over and bounced with him. This really is a good band and had the audience eating out of their hand. I was very impressed and introduced myself to The Guppies lead singer, Leo Coronado, who was really nice and shared that they're from all over the southland, not really centrally located.

The venue gets pretty hot during the bands, but everyone piles out onto the sidewalk between sets and it's a great, festive atmosphere out there. What a great audience, everyone so into the music. And inside there's just so much to look at. Art pieces on the walls, handmade clothing, self released CD's, books, and on and on. Got to talk to the people operating the space that night and they make you feel so welcome. It's a very special place.

I didn't know what to expect when the next act set up just a keyboard and assorted equipment. Very is the name of the act and it's actually Brian Cleary of the bands The Movies, Tables & Chairs and Adeline & the Philistines. Beginning with a low rumble, he first built a deep foundation, then slowly added layer upon layer of heavy background ambiance until it flooded your head completely. Just as you're beginning to go numb, he brings in the piano and suddenly your mouth drops open as these cascading rolls of piano work wash over you in waves. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. One could almost visualize these enormous structures being built before your eyes, structures tall and heavy, yet floating in mid air, like in Magritte.

His piano playing is astonishing and I was lost in it. The music is part movie soundtrack, part modern classical, part ambient world music and yet completely unique. It was like a mix of Ravel and Cage, or Morricone and Sondheim, if you can picture that. It made all sorts of music swirl through my head. It was music as art.

Had a great chat with Brian after his set and I asked if he had studied piano his whole life and, when he told me no, he's self taught, I could have dropped down dead! His piano rivalled the best I've ever heard. He also said much of what he plays is improvised. O.K., this was a landmark performance I'll never forget, and that's all there is to it. I got his CD from him and it's filled with wonderful music.

Thailand were on next and this set was accompanied by the Thailand Exotic Specialty Dancer. As they began their set with my favorite "Homeland Insecurity", an unembarrassed and loose limbed dancer provided interpretive movement to the songs. Instead of ruining the set he actually added a new dimension to the artistic nature of the evening as a whole, so, I figured, why not accept it and enjoy it.

I could still enjoy Thailand and their great music and this night all the drumming was handled by a drummer and it gave some songs a rawer feel. It was a real energetic set and they managed to stay focused in spite of the sprite.

Wrapping up the evening was Manhattan Murder Mystery, who performed a brilliant set, not only accompanied by the whirling dervish, but actually blending him into the act. Not like they had much choice, but all transpired with great good humor. I suspect Matt could handle any crowd, but he truly was a master showman this night. The way he positions his mike right out in the crowd makes you feel like he wants everyone to feel like they're in his band. And it works. It also doesn't hurt that his song are really good, too. They feel like such a party band, yet there is nothing sloppy about their playing. Matt has it both ways. Flailing like a madmad and yet never losing sight of the music.

At the end of the evening I was in a state of euphoria...again. After a week like this, filled with incredible artists making incredible music, I begin to think that, that's not such a bad way to live. And as my blog gets read and appreciated by people, I realize I'm doing exactly what I'm supposed to be doing. This community has been so supportive and nurturing, I hope I can give something back. So I just write down what I feel. I'm only pretending to be a writer. Sometimes I feel like it's my pencil that does the writing and I'm just here to hold it.


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