Since it's been 40 years since I attended my own high school prom (Class of '68, you know), I felt I could finally stand another one. Also, this one was not a forced societal conformity, so it was a choice, not an obligation. Hence, I had a great time.
Arriving early with Elaine Layabout, this final installment of the Sean Carnage presentation of the Archaeology of The Monolators was to feature Elaine's daughter, Ema and the Ghosts, in an opening slot, which I didn't want to miss. We walked into a brightly lit room where the finishing touches were being put on a puppet show set. Yes, the opening act was to be a puppet show by a troupe called Cristina's Puppet Show.
With all the lights, it was like seeing Pehrspace with no clothes on. All the warts and blemishes were showing and you couldn't help but wonder what the space was in a previous life; a beauty parlor? a car rental office? a restaurant? a residence? a front for illegal trade? No one seems to know.
The prom theme hit home when the person standing next to me, with the neatly parted hair and full dress suit on, opened his mouth and it was Rob (Death To Anders) Danson inside there. The Monolators' Eli And Mary Chartkoff swept in, he in purple velvet tuxedo jacket and she in a beige evening gown, highlighted by an agonizingly green jacket. They came bearing tray after tray of Mary's delicious homemade pretzels. Ashley Jex was an Hitchcockian vision in a grey gown that was part Grace Kelly, part Kim Novak.
Milling about outside and inside, the small crowd assembled on the floor when it was announced Cristina's Puppet Show would commence puppeteering. It was an inspired choice to open the night. They are a kind of mime/puppetry/Kabuki theatre mix involving puppets, live actors, shadow play and highly imaginative sets and props. All backed by an alternately droning and wildly dramatic electronic music score.
What begins simply, with a puppet figure discovering precious gems or artifacts, one of them, a ring (Oh god, I thought, don't let this be based on Lord of the Rings!) progresses to an epic tale of, I think, man's relationship to man and to the spirit world and how they all work to each other's mutual destruction. Perfect prom entertainment, to my way of thinking.
Barely discernible puppeteers, dressed in black with black covered heads and hands, manipulate the figures and props with fluidity and grace, even occasionally with humor. It was a pretty enchanting spectacle filled with appropriately weird and fantastic sound effects and a mind-blowing, cataclysmic ending.
All of us on the floor were stunned when it ended. We applauded, but then everyone remained hushed, trying to figure out what had just happened. I hope the performers didn't think the crowd unresponsive, but few spoke to them after because they had just collectively blown our little brains.
Up next was Ema and the Ghosts, who I have been lucky enough to have seen before and, once again, this completely captivating performer enchanted me. Accompanying herself, first, on the accordion, she sings in a refreshingly confident style, droll tales of life and romance, without affectation. Her musical vocabulary is large and varied, she even sang a Monolators cover which was hilarious, along with her own compositions, which are delightfully original. Her fine voice is easy and unforced, with terrific range.
She also played a ukulele and then sat on the floor at her keyboard and sang and played, making me feel like I was peering into the act of creation by an artist in her own private space. Lit only by a red light attached to a forward right speaker and a dim green one (Xmas, you know)behind her to the left, increased the sense of intimacy. They were, however, more eerie than festive; appropriate to Ema and the Ghosts' other-worldly charms. I look forward to more from this fresh, original artist.
People were feeling exceptionally celebratory by this point, both inside and outside. Running into everyone from Nate of Castledoor and Adam from Fol Chen, Katya from The Health Club to Aaron of Amnion and Matt of Manhattan Murder Mystery, Ethan from The Flying Tourbillon Orchestra to most of Seasons, I was totally occupied, completely missing Dugout Canoe from Denver. But what a great turnout!
I was lured back inside for the experimental electronic ambiance of an ensemble named Kevin Shields. It was an amazing mix of sounds, mixed and looped and over dubbed and everything else you can use to bend sound into a pretzel. It was hypnotic and in the gradual grip it took on the mind, I began to see the brilliance of Eli and Mary's plan for the evening. What we were hearing was futuristic and unique, the massive noise punctured by gorgeous vocals, both realistic and distorted.
The last three weeks had highlighted the past, but the intent of this evening was to focus on the present and project into the future. I thought what the Chartkoffs and Sean Carnage were doing was showing us a possible future direction for music and theatre art. We'd had futuristic puppet theatre, Ema and the Ghosts was a form of performance art, and now Kevin Shields. Eli and Mary and Sean, you are brilliant. I stood there in a trance.
The Monolators took to the stage around one o'clock in the morning, but no one cared what hour it was. They were electric and tore through much of their new Don't Dance CD, after beginning with a Christmas song. It was the culmination of a month of creative programming for one of the most extraordinary residencies we've had in L.A.
Cheers to Eli and Mary and Ashley Jex and Tom Bogdon who all performed outstandingly. You should all be very proud. I wish I could write more about this set but even I was beginning to fade at that time, so I just stood there and let the whole beautiful thing wash over me.
They're back at Pehrspace on December 6 with Ema and the Ghosts (again) and The Sweet Hurt and Karabal Nightlife.