Monday, November 22, 2010

hereafterthis / The Everest Ruin / Ian Fisher / Dots Not Feathers - Live 2010.11.07 The Focal Point, Maplewood, Missouri

On Halloween, I saw a friend of mine I hadn't seen in about a year and a half. We narrowly missed each other in St. Louis, Brooklyn, Berlin, Hamburg, Vienna, and probably a few other places, too. It was at this sudden convergence that he told me that he was about to leave the country and go back to Berlin – but before that, he was going to be playing a show in my current hometown of St. Louis. It turns out another friend of mine would be performing as well, and the whole thing was arranged and promoted by yet another friend of mine. Hence, this will be an undeniably biased review – but what can I do? I'm a musician and many (if not most) of my friends are as well, so it is inevitable that I'll see concerts based at least partially on personal interest rather than pure musical interest. I want to be up-front about this potential conflict of interest, but it's not going to stop me! So here goes:

Artists: hereafterthis / The Everest Ruin / Ian Fisher / Dots Not Feathers
Venue: The Focal Point
Location: Maplewood, Missouri
Date: 7 November 2010

hereafterthis would appear to be primarily the work of one man named Jeremy. He sang in a melodious swoon along with his acoustic guitar and piano chords. He seemed to prefer his guitar and mostly let guests (including the promoter, Ben Majchrzak) take a second chair at the keyboard. His stylings and structures aren't the most complex, but he kept my attention with his solid voice. Excepting a few forgivable flubs, the performance was great. Download a few songs here.
Score: B

The Everest Ruin is really and truly just one man, Josh King, and tonight it was just him and his Chinese guitar. He's a tricky one, because most of the focus is on his clever lyrics, although underneath his sly voice is a mean set of acoustic riffs and chords. He sings about the glory of Missouri, the dangers of Facebook in the modern world, his advice from years ago to Ben concerning his love interest, and so on and so forth. Being "in" on some of his jokes is great, but even outside of the insider knowledge, the stories are hilarious. And the guitarwork never slows down behind it all. He's got a bandcamp page with a studio recording of one of the songs he played on this night, and supposedly he's got an album due out soon.
Score: A-

Ian Fisher shares my love of Germany, Austria, Berlin, Vienna, traveling in general, and playing the guitar. Thing is, he's better than I at the lattermost, but when he performs songs about certain ideas and places, it's eerily familiar. It's been years since I've seen him perform and yet he still possesses the same vitality and passion. He asked the audience for some suggestions, so I called out "Candles for Elvis". I think I had heard him perform the song years ago, before he'd recorded it, but my memory is weak sometimes, and hearing him perform it so powerfully on this night felt like some sort of strange mission had just been completed. I'd always liked the lyrics, and I finally caught the story that accompanies them: upon viewing the BBC World News homepage one day, Ian was confronted with two images, side by side. One showed thousands mourning the deaths of countless victims of an earthquake in Peru, and the other showed thousands mourning the death of Elvis Presley thirty years prior. The song was written from the perspective of a somewhat unlikeable man who cares far more for the one man over the masses.

Before I could shout my next request, someone else asked for precisely what I had in mind: "VIE", which hits home especially hard for me, since I can remember just like yesterday the day when I took the S-Bahn to the Vienna airport to head back to the USA. And he played several other solid songs before a guitar string broke and he left the stage. The point is, Ian rocked. I don't know how he does it, but he takes repeated folk-style progressions and adds so much emotion and energy that it's hard not to be swept under. Good luck in Berlin, man. (Check out his Myspace and iTunes page to hear his stuff.)
Score: A+

Dots Not Feathers, the so-to-speak headliners, were the only true "band". A five-piece with a rotating set of string and keyboard instruments, these guys knew how to throw down some solid harmonies. Keeping an acoustic feel, they traded vocal parts as they swapped around instruments to keep their melodies lively. I was a bit confused by what the one song featuring a bass guitar was doing, but generally the instruments did meld together in a cohesive sort of beauty. Something about them reminds of a significantly less deranged Pere Ubu. That's a good thing, I think. (Here's their Myspace.)
Score: B+

Incredibly fun night. Yes, I just gave an A+. He deserves it. This was a really cool event, and the mood was just right.

Overall score: A

Sunday, November 21, 2010

SLSO Blogger's Night 5 Summary

In case you didn't catch the other reviews of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra's fifth Blogger's Night, go check them out on the SLSO blog. Here are the direct links:

Dear Dominik (link from SLSO blog) - I also wondered about some of those techniques, particularly the rubbing. I know what it sounds like on a guitar, and it's usually not pretty.

Jen from Euclid Records (link from SLSO blog) - The first Haiku review I've ever seen.

Urban Hoedown (link from SLSO blog) - I also wasn't sure about the clapping thing. And I love the #70 Grand. It goes two blocks past my home, so I ride it all the time. And the seats were indeed great.

Cici from Washington University's KWUR (link from SLSO blog, which includes some of her related tweets) - Sometimes I'm jealous of young people who grew up on this kind of "classical" music. I think Cici's connection with Scheherazade is akin to my connection with the Beatles or Kraftwerk.

Small Town Girl's Guide (link from SLSO blog) - I was also impressed by Fred Bronstein's appearance in the Met Bar. Yeah, sometimes even just showing up means something. [Edit 2019.11.13: archived link.]

I Went to a Show - I'm glad I'm not the only one who thought Concentric Paths was incredible! The other reviews seemed less appreciative of it, but it was probably my favorite piece of the night. And this line is perfect (I thought the exact same thing): "The conductor is charming and charismatic, and he explains things in a way that isn't condescending or tedious to people who know what's what, but he doesn't lose the attention of the uninitiated with elaborate fancy-talk." Gotta love David Robertson. My university even gave him an honorary degree at my graduation!

That's all I'm aware of. If I'm missing anyone, let me know! To all you SLSO bloggers, it's great meeting you/seeing you again, and I eagerly await the next one.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra - Live 2010.11.12 Powell Hall, St. Louis, Missouri (review)

Following up from yesterday's semi-nonsensical post about the fifth Blogger's Night at the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, this is my review in my normal style of writing and structure.

Event: St. Louis Symphony Orchestra, part of the Russian Festival, conducted by David Robertson
Venue: Powell Hall
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: 12 November 2010

1. Symphony No. 1 in D major, op. 25, "Classical", composed by Sergei Prokofiev, 1916-17
2. Violin Concerto (Concentric Paths), composed by Thomas Adès, 2005, featuring Leila Josefowicz on violin
3. Scheherazade, op. 35, composed by Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, 1888

The night opened up with a relatively small set of musicians – plenty of strings, but just one percussionist on the timpani. Prokofiev began his "Classical" symphony in a traditional style, starting with a big, dramatic, triumphant allegro part before bringing in a slower, softer, more serene larghetto section. While the allegro part hurled by quickly, the larghetto sprawled out and let the musicians descend in and out of a fairytale scene. David Robertson appeared to float through the misty fog of violin strings rather than merely conduct it. He urged the musicians to a dance in the woods, a bit of light, casual fun.

But then – ! Suddenly the the third segment, the gavotte, rushed to the scene. The picture sharpened, the cellists tapped their strings, and suddenly the orchestra was running through the woods and dancing on the air. With hardly a trace of a transition, the finale rocked hard and brought a surprise ending. Lulled by the enthusiasm and spirited vigor of the orchestra, I didn't even see it coming. Fifteen minutes had just flown by.

Leave it David to stick a contemporary English composition smack in the middle of two traditional, very classical Russian works. And yet, he succeeds. Adès' Concentric Paths appears otherworldly, much unlike the Russians that remain grounded in this one, even if they might recall times long past. Adès invokes the darker side of the traditional works for his rhythmic base, but he uses their forms as a springboard to jump into the unknown. The piece starts with something akin to a synthesizer, probably affected by the woodwinds. Led by Leila Josefowicz (whom I previously saw two years ago perform Steven Mackey's Beautiful Passing), the violins flew wildly across the room. Leila jerked around and convulsed, caught in the passion of performance, while the other strings players jabbed and plucked with all their might.

Weird warbles, perhaps emitted by the scaling violins, evoked a theremin, and by extension, a 50s sci-fi flick. The high-tension strings and dark accompaniment set the mood of a spooky planet in some other solar system: an enemy alien has been spotted, it crawls and lurches, and it might just attack. Moments of respite came with flutes and peaceful violins, but deep, thick rhythms exposed the inner anxiety, should the alien being reemerge. By the time the third and final segment, "Rounds", began, Leila appeared as if ready for a challenge. Some other weird tone emerged, sounding like a didgeridoo, before a drumset kicked in and the orchestra began to move. The strange time signatures and dark tones that finished the piece sounded almost familiar by then – something cool was happening, but it was something we'd seen before, so the excitement and tension weren't quite the same.

The final work of the night was the more traditional Scheherazade. (At David's Pre-Concert Perspectives before the actual performance, almost the entire present crowd raised their hand at the question of if they'd heard the work before.) After the raw, intense nervousness and anxious curiosity of Concentric Paths, this work felt staler, entrenched firmly in the past. Some segments felt surprisingly similar – the jabs and punches, the occasional subtle tension, the sweet plucking – but much of the first half felt too methodical, predictable, or premeditated. It felt directed, perhaps too ordered, but yet that makes some sort of sense, since the whole concept is that the eponym of the piece tells a long series of stories (the 1001 Arabian Nights) to try to prevent the Sultan from murdering her. Perhaps Rimsky-Korsakov intended such a deterministic structure.

Consistent throughout the piece was a fugue of just the first violin and a harp. The rest of the large-scale orchestra would drop out and let just the two instruments spin their pretty little bit before the story would continue. The third part, "The Young Prince and Princess", felt appropriately very courtly and stately, in contrast with the charging knights and feudal heralds of the previous parts. This part was perhaps the tamest and least interesting, but this led into the final segment, a series of shorter tales that jumped around wantonly and rashly. Grand rushes and big percussion devolved into a more cacophonous jam, but the musicians remained united and descended slowly before running up and down, back upwards and further upwards and the feelings rose higher and higher to a harmony that felt impossibly good for its towering position.

And then the night was over. For a 45-minute piece, Scheherazade feels long, but not that long. In its own context, the work is adventuresome and complex, but that just can't compare to Concentric Paths, which reached another whole level of exploration and development. Neither of the Russian works offered much of a surprise, but the performances were beautiful. It was easy to become lost in the waves of melody and start dreaming of other places and scenes. In that sense, the performance can only be described as a success: this was probably the first classical concert that I've attended in which my mind was alight with such wondrous imagery. Just as David floated and danced with the music, my imagination transcended the seat and the city I was sitting in.

Score: A-

Thanks to Eddie, Dale, and Shannon.

St. Louis Symphony Orchestra - Live 2010.11.12 Powell Hall, St. Louis, Missouri (notes)

I was invited last night to the fifth Blogger's Night of the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra. After discussing the night with the blogging crew, I shall post two versions of my review. This first one is simply a transcription of my notes that I took during the performance. I'll let the reader try to make sense of it. The second review, which will be posted tomorrow, will feature my traditional style of writing and analysis.

Remember, I came all the way back from Germany for this! Here goes:

7:00 Pre-Concert Perspectives
Prokofiev too fast, like Formula 1
No Communism!
Genetically modified music
singing at cows, staring en masse

8:06 Prokofiev
Big open strings, dramatic
triumphant, sweet
sehr upbeat, grand, dramatic
so many strings, not much else, only perc timpani
drives to one big moment, one big swing, allegro over
Larghetto: soft, serene, slower
David floats, picked pretty bit, woods/brass chill
oh! big! no, released again
soft bed descending bits, fairytale
waltzing through the forest
softens, descends, peaceful a dance in the woods, spring
Gavotte: bigger, grander, sharper,
cellos tapping strings loud page turn
oh! fast! sudden! sharp! whirling about!
flutes really going! fast! through the trees!
woah violins, all over fast [arrow to previous line] dancing on air
row of women changed page for men (cellos)
woodwinds/brass really rockin it!
went right into finish, surprised ending,
lulled into the vigor + sweetness
timpani like a cat

Adès: 8:24 new timpanist + perc now
Leila in a pretty grey dress
David: aware of 300+ year violin tradition
she moves as possessed, just like before
8:32 very spooky, dark, violin squeaky
ominous, descending into darkness, falling
vio all over, wild, heavy
8:33 wavering lead vio
synth-like notes – woods?
vio all over all over, shit dark already
[scribble] those wavering high notes
like a theremin, sci fi
on some fucked up planet
super high v notes, minimal accompaniment
dreamy, spacey, feathery
she is beyond good and evil
strings jerk alien! enemy! scared!
gasp! Percu! shit! hit hard, stop
Paths: jab jab pluck jab stretch pluck
aggressive plucking Bam Again
structure growing heavy shit strange jungle
dark but logical don't take it for granted
she flies convulses the the only one standing but the timpanist
deep comp, crazed v moment of movement [?]
No vs at all, descending creepy something's coming
there it is oh shit, strange, jabs out
ugh thick deep rhythm
oh sweet now, softer, v + flutes alien is away peace on earth
i want that dress smooth serene a bit heavier more dramatic
darker but not evil
beyond good + evil
fucked up v notes
no logic there wont stop
everything else cools
v finally slows finally
Rounds: she awaits the challenge
starts low + creepy Digeridoo [sic] sound! wtf
drums hell yeah strings, woods going, eerie
learning new things, this aint too bad can handle this
v there it is, normal though – sorta cool [?]
she's freakin out generic dark, cool but not as cool
whirling exploration low taps 5/4 oh jab that v
ouch! big final sudden swipe! not totally unexpected
but still big 8:51 lots of clapping

9:19 Rimsky-Korsakov
Big, heavy, ominous, puncuated (Police sirens)
soft, tragic, pointed – harp! Much fuller orch
first v solo more classical, trad
Grand majestic, timpani soft + sweet lilting in the air
decisive scheduled precise strictly non-loose
oh – bigger grander, wilder, is this a dance?
brass make it big pointed directed formulated
pretty but predictable
Another part? slower even more premeditated
still lilting swaying as if to dance
bigger grander really big notes really really big
huge brass notes slower, methodical
nice pointed conclusion bring led from point A to B
harpy + v solo bassoon (oboe?) solo
slow but subtle beauty plucks
sounds classical, medieval, court [undecipherable]
[arrow to two lines prior] oh crap – harsh injection feudal call
riders on the storm comin from afar heralds
shake those vs somethings coming fast
alles shaking trembling okay calmer tense though nervous
tap tap tap nice perc bis triangle yeah
knights coming oh lots of them here they march
tromp stomp tra la la triangle jump!
relative peace soft plucking
fairly triumphant charging in control
coordinated chaos wild strings
jab jab, punch crescendos nice
oh sweet plucks held high oh that harp
subtle but a bit tense rising tension bigger + bigger
big!!! big note [arrow to "tense" in previous line] | pause
melodic strings soft + simple + serene unghh
pretty though floating impatience in the crowd
wheres the action – or am I just noticing
snare!? so subtle + grey
dancey back + forth .............
first v + harp nochmals
crash big follows basic melody storybook
very small + subtle pause
that first v + harp again oh god so much more
dramatic bang big fest big event movement
courtly? grand presentation tambo
let the [undecipherable] big thrusts chase jumping
o, now serene und schön noch wieder
pluck – pluck 1-2 / 1 2 1 2 3 –– !
those threes chasin drama big david is all over it
perc shit big long grand a bit dark
cacophonous but united in a grand front
descend [scribble] [scribble] up and down
dark back sweet top lulled into peace
[arrows sweeping upwards] [scribbles] just over [undecipherable]
squeak whistly [scribble] forlorn
rising to a harmonious top note . . . .
10:03 individuals standing up thx david
hoots and hollers ha ha