Monday, June 04, 2012

Artistic Consumption Log, May 28, 2012 - June 3, 2012: Music-Dominated Edition

BROOKLYN, N.Y.—This week turned out to be dominated more by music, both live and recorded. Believe me, I still love movies! It's just that I don't only love movies.

tUnE-yArDs doing "Bizness" live at Terminal 5


Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry (2012, Alison Klayman), seen at Walter Reade Theater in New York
Another week, another artist-centered documentary that I liked well enough but didn't completely love. A review of this for The House Next Door is forthcoming.

The Mercenary (1968, Sergio Corbucci), seen at Film Forum in New York
I was originally going to spend my Saturday afternoon catching up with Joachim Trier's much-praised sophomore feature Oslo, August 31st after having regrettably missed it at New Directors/New Films...but the lure of seeing a young Franco Nero in a spaghetti Western—as opposed to the bearded, grizzled villain that I know and love best from Die Hard 2—was ultimately too great to resist.

Ultimately, I don't think The Mercenary is a great film; to my mind, a lot of the narrative threads and stylistic tics feel more like imitation Sergio Leone than anything else, right down to its guitar-twang- and whistle-heavy Ennio Morricone score (though certainly no one did that kind of operatic thing better than Morricone himself). It's still a pretty entertaining time, though, thanks to its cynical, pitch-black sense of humor and some exciting action sequences. Plus, it was cool to discover the source of the music Quentin Tarantino used to underscore David Carradine's death in Kill Bill, Vol. 2.

Prometheus (2012, Ridley Scott), seen at Walter Reade Theater in New York
I'll perhaps save my thoughts on this—which I saw at a preview screening for members of the Film Society of Lincoln Center (it comes out in wide release this Friday)—for a later post, because, as much of a failure as I think it ultimately is, it's actually a pretty interesting one, offering a surprising amount of intellectual food for thought to go along with its sometimes formidable visual and visceral thrills. If anything, this supposed "prequel" to Scott's 1979 classic Alien is a failure of ambition more than anything else—not a bad thing, for sure, though alas this film seems to think it's smarter and more profound than it actually is. Anyway, more later...maybe.


Wagner: Die Walküre (1966, Sir Georg Solti/Wiener Philharmoniker)
I have little to say about this except that both this recording and the work itself are awesome in just about every way.

"Memorial Birthday Recess Rock-a-thon" with Education Reform, Madam Macadam, Fahey, Wilder Maker, and Dru Cutler and the Heart and Hand Band, seen live at Cameo Gallery in Brooklyn, N.Y.
A friend of mine fronts the band that calls itself Education Reform (not the most appetizing of band names, I must say), so I can't pretend full objectivity or anything like that. So I'll just say this: It's the first live band I've seen that actively had me counting beats in my head while listening just to figure out the meter of one of its songs, so rhythmically complex it was. The rest of the bands weren't bad, either; Madam Macadam especially brought down the house with their hard-rocking set. This turned out to actually be a pretty good week for my discovering new-to-me indie bands via live performances (see below for more).

BiRd-BrAiNs (2009, tUnE-yArDs) [second listen]
W H O K I L L (2011, tUnE-yArDs) [second listen]
I reheard both of these albums in preparation for seeing Merrill Garbus & co. live in concert Friday night (see below). BiRd-BrAiNs remains a strikingly lo-fi, wholly original debut (I had forgotten that, in "Jamaican," she includes a child's cough as part of a recorded loop); her follow-up is more polished but no less fascinatingly idiosyncratic.

tUnE-yArDs, Micachu & The Shapes and Delicate Steve, seen live at Terminal 5 in New York
As I hoped, Merrill Garbus & co. put on a rousing show, the highlight being a rendition of "Bizness" that included an extended bit of saxophone improvisations in the middle; see the video towards the top of this post for the complete performance.

I came for the opening acts, too, knowing nothing about either of them beforehand. Micachu & the Shapes is, I learned afterwards, an English band led by guitarist/lead vocalist Mica Levi; their songs were punchy and almost defiantly strange, rejecting conventional melodies and structures in favor of repetitive rhythms/bass lines and musical ideas thrown at you in short bursts. It's the kind of music that demands that an audience meet it halfway; thankfully, it helps that they often hit upon infectious beats. I found myself intrigued, if nothing else.

Delicate Steve—a band fronted by New Jersey native Steve Marion—has, to my ears, an easier sound to immediately embrace, with their unabashedly retro, psychedelic instrumentals and colorful range of sonorities.

Both turned out to be excellent curtain-raisers for tUnE-yArDs's own brand of musical madness (mostly of the W H O K I L L variety rather than the BiRd-BrAiNs style, though Garbus did offer up "Sunlight," the one hit single from her debut album, as an encore). Maybe I'll eventually get around to checking out their respective extant albums.

"A Musical Journey with the Orient Express," seen live at the Allen Room in New York
Another full-disclosure disclaimer: Aysegul Durakoglu, the pianist who organized this musical tour on the legendary European passenger train, is the mother of a friend I met in my Rutgers days, so again, I can't pretend to be a wholly objective party. Nevertheless, I admit to finding this a conceptually alluring but wildly uneven program, with a second half that verged on the sleepy. The concert still offered its share of fireworks, though, courtesy not only of Durakoglu herself (especially in a thrilling performance of Franz Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 11), but also clarinettist Ismail Lumanovski—putting on quite the virtuosic display in Bela Kovaks's Homage to Manuel de Falla—and cellist Adrian Daurov, so intense in Astor Piazzolla's Le Grand Tango that he nearly knocked his sheet music over at one point. 

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