Thursday, March 24, 2011

Devotchka at the Highline Ballroom

There's something about a handsome man, stroking the empty air tenderly, with his eyes closed, with a romantic yet mournful look on his face. He is not a blind man trying to feel his way around. He is not lost in the dark looking to find the light switch- nor is he a crazy person aimlessly wandering the streets of New York City. No, the night I witnessed a handsome man lovingly caressing the air- with his brows furrowed deeply, his lids shut tight while he pursed his lips... was last night at the Highline Ballroom. The man in question was Nick Urata and he was playing the theremin. THE THEREMIN. That's one of the many little eccentric details about Devotchka that I happen to adore. You just don't get enough music incorporating instruments that don't require you to touch them! Another element of eccentricity in all its off beat appeal is the sexy as hell SOUSAPHONE player Jeanie who's always donning a beautiful dress and killer vampy high heels. Not to mention the extra oddball dimension to that is the percussion prop table full of the expected instruments... but also steel bowls, and pots and pans.

OK, so, Devotchka is more than just eccentric in the details. They are the embodiment of eccentricity. In fact, Devotchka's eclectic mix of noise makers on stage make the other components of the band, the violin, the upright bass, the accordion, trumpet, piano, and flute appear average and standard fare. This is exactly why I love Devotchka. Besides the items with which they perform upon, the energy, spirit, and attitude of their songs are always an intriguing melodrama that I gladly watch play out minute by minute. Whether it was a love ballad, a war cry, a whimper of lovelorn defeat, or a wordless melody of joy I found myself enthralled and dancing along at every musical mood swing.

Despite some issues with the sound system the show was one of the best I've seen this year. The crowd was tame, but it made for plenty of dancing room for me and my cohort. Even as I am writing this, I am shaking my head and humming the songs though it's been hours upon hours since the music stopped. The set list was everything I could've hoped for and more. It was a healthy mix of their entire catalog and included some choice tracks off of their newest album, "100 Lovers". (Side note: I find the new album very crisp with a slight modern-sounding edge to it I hadn't detected in their previous work before.) The few tracks that they'd chosen to perform that night harmonized beautifully with their more classic hits.

The show itself was certainly more stripped down than the previous shows I've seen from Devotchka, but I felt it was a pleasant change of pace. It allowed me to focus more on their musical prowess and not be distracted superfluous flash. That is not to say that there wasn't SOME flash. There were some key moments during the set, where the sudden appearance of scantily clad silhouettes began a sultry dance to entice us- not to mention the dames in their britches spinning large white umbrellas. Though these little ladies were very welcome, for me, Devotchka's musical talent was the real show stopper. I've never seen such a wide variety of instruments switched on and off between songs in my life. Jeanie went from sousaphone, to upright bass, and to flute with merely a subtle bat of the lashes to indicate a shift. I watched in utter captivation as the drummer Shawn wailed away on his trumpet from behind the drum set- while still maintaining a beat! Not to mention the musical shapeshifting of Tom who went from piano to accordion to violin so quickly I never even saw the switch occur!

Nick's voice alone is an instrument that has so much depth and emotional range that the need for added instrumentation should be unnecessary but NO, the man switched guitars so many times it seemed as if he suffered from a severe case of musical A.D.D. then, to top it all off, with a simple swivel to his left, Nick would let his guitar fall to his hips- he'd raise his arms in position and wail away at the theremin. It was nothing but excitingly frantic musical mayhem on that stage, and I couldn't help but dance the night away.

Devotchka at the Highline Ballroom: Setlist

Oh and here's the setlist!

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Zoe Keating: Le Poisson Rouge 3/6/11

When it comes to classical compositions, I am a total and utter novice. All I know is if I find a piece of music striking a chord somewhere deep inside of me, I respond to it. I will purchase the song or the album, and listen intently, soaking it in as much as I can. I seldom buy a ticket to a classical concert, mostly because the musicians I'd WANT to see performing their music have been DEAD for hundreds of years. Besides, the crowds for a classical show are usually not my speed... This was not the case for the Zoe Keating/Todd Reynolds show at Le Poisson Rouge on Sunday night.

Beautiful, Isn't She?
When Zoe departed from my beloved Rasputina to pursue personal expressions in the realm of classical music, like a needy dog- I willingly followed. I wasn't sure what to expect of Zoe Keating's show at Le Poisson Rouge on Sunday night. All I knew was, I have been sitting with and listening to "One Cello X 16" and "One Cello X 16: Natoma" as well as "Into the Trees" for quite sometime now, and it's fair to say, that I have become intimately involved with these songs. It's some of the only music in my entire world that can engage me into active meditation. Almost every morning I have Zoe's melodic cellos droning on into the corners of my mind. The sound is the only sound that keeps the irritants of daily commuting at bay. I confess, I find Zoe's music SO engaging that (like most forms of meditation for me) if I don't stay actively focused... I will inevitably fall asleep from overexertion. It's to the point now when Zoe's track "Exurgency" has a Pavlovian effect on me! When it comes on, suddenly my whole body- regardless of where I am and what I am doing goes into a restive peace. My body slackens, instantly in relaxation mode. I visualize so much when her music begins its dance from my ipod to my headphones into my ears and beyond. I see mountain tops, trees, the ocean, busy city streets, crowded restaurants, caves on the side of an ever expanding ocean, I see the stars in the cosmos, there isn't anywhere I can't travel when Zoe's symphonic rush of cellos floods in! Bearing all this in mind, you can see why I was looking forward to finally getting the opportunity to see her in concert, but perhaps you also see my concern. I knew for a fact that this was going to be an extensive practice in active meditation!

She always had the best shoes...
As striking as ever, Zoe took to the stage with her shiny tan leather lace up boots, vertical black striped stockings, ruched grey pinstriped capri pants, a simple ruched black top, and an exceptional modern interpretation of an Elizabethan collar in swirls of white and french grey felt. The house went positively silent, as she began to play- what else- "Exurgency". I assume you know what happened next, my body slackened, a faint smile was painted across my mouth, and I was off into my own meditative realm, far outside of New York City- hell, far outside of any earthly plane. I am proud to say that although I was in a trance like state- Zoe's intricate cello work, paired with her tekkie prowess kept me engaged for the entire length of the show.

The music was inspiring, and hearing those songs live will reverberate for me for many years to come. Music without words become a soundtrack to my everyday life. I get to add my own heart and voice to the songs. I am allowed to provide my own visualizations, it's something I get to be a part of without violating the integrity of the song for someone else.

Zoe is a kind creative force of nature to be reckoned with. Her upbeat words and enthusiasm between her songs complemented her deliciously layered music. I felt welcomed and comforted. I noticed almost immediately how she and Todd Reynolds were incredibly similar, in that when the song was done she was snapped back into the room with us, as if she never traveled out of it. Then BOOM she would drag her bow across her instrument, and drag her right foot across the controls, and she was gone again.

I'm proud to say I traveled with her on these journeys. 

YES I got to meet her!
Some Choice Tracks from my recollection:
Exurgency.Tetrishead. Frozen Angels.
Escape Artist. Seven League Boots. Optimist.
Beethoven's 2nd Movement (I think? Some classical buff please correct me if I am wrong!)

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Todd Reynolds at Le Poisson Rouge: 3/6/11

Todd Reynolds
I knew nothing of Todd Reynolds when I walked into Le Poisson Rouge tonight. I wasn't sure if I was going to be bored to death or have the very last fiber of my being split in half by disjointed ambient noise. What I received, however, was something completely unexpected. I was gently nudged awake into the well orchestrated composition of a singular violin, whose sound was filtered through a computer, which was looped, which was then played back, while the original violin played a different tune. The end result was an entire string and rhythm section of an orchestra being performed by a single human being. There were splashes of electronic drums to contrast the high pitch squeals of the sometimes joyous and other times mournful fiddle. Todd was a laid back man considering the sounds he created. He joked around with the crowd and even managed quite a few chuckles from his clever casual banter. His attitude, for me, made his music even more accessible.

Todd Reynolds, as far as I'm concerned- without any knowledge of instrumental compositions- was a total success. He put me at ease with one smile and had me at the edge of my seat while he played. His passion for the music turned on and off like a bipolar switch. It was an expertly designed and interesting concert.

Todd's playfulness was further amplified when he invited a random person from the audience to do a little improv music with him. What happened next, piqued my interest beyond belief. As the young man, who we learned was named Trevor took to the stage, Todd unveiled an odd looking white box covered in shallow round-edged square buttons. Todd smiled and asked Trevor if he had any musical experience. When Trevor responded with a "Yes", Todd smiled and said something along the lines of "Well, forget it!" and then asked if Trevor had ever played with a Lite Brite as a kid and likened the instrument to one (at the phrase Lite Brite, an entire generation gasped in nostalgic glee). 

What happened next, was remarkable. Trevor was instructed to hit a button on the little white box (we later learned it was called a "Menome"). The single button instantly lit up while a sequence at the top began to blink and strum notes that sounded a lot like violin chords. An improv jam of sorts commenced with Trevor playing on the little white contraption while Todd switched between plucking his violin like a ukulele & a more  traditional stance of playing. It was so interesting, light hearted, fun... and it actually SOUNDED GREAT!

I may have entered a stranger to Todd Reynolds and his unique sound, but I left, a fan.      

This is a 15 second blip from a song titled "Crossroads"
which was my favorite track of the night.