Gigs, dance, art

March 29th, 2008: Blue Sabbath Black Fiji / Ero Babaa


Well I saw something else the previous day but I didn’t like it. I’ve been too negative of late so I decided not to write anything about it, not even as a private entry. No such problem for this gig, though.

Ero Babaa went in first. Anything goes as usual, maybe even more. I thought it was fun, but I probably wouldn’t enjoy that too often, or if I didn’t know these guys. That pure mayhem probably gets old quick. But it had been a while and that was good enough, as far as pure chaos can be. If I see them again soon, I hope they can get something going though; on the other hand that’s not the point. Assuming there’s one, and that looks like a big assumption.

Anyway then it was time for Blue Sabbath Black Fiji, who have been one of my favorite bands for a while now. I was pretty exited about this, and it turned out even better than I expected. After seeing Steve Coleman last month I was pretty sure that would be my favorite gig of the year. I’m not not sure right now. BSBF were that great. The small venue — it can’t get much smaller than that bar’s basement — probably helped as I just sat down in front and just went in.

I guess it was not as loud as previous gigs, or maybe I’m getting used to this, but that was less of a physical experience. But that feeling of being engulfed in waves of sound was there anyway. And once I had settled comfortably in that embrace, I could make out all the rest, these patterns and phrases beyond the noise, in a process not unlike making out shapes in the dark as my eyes get used to the faint light. Once accustomed, there was a lot to take in, with the sound getting through very different textures, ending with a colder, almost electronic feel. That set really struck a chord. Perfect balance between an overpowering cloud of feedback and shimmering jewels nested inside. I’m afraid this translated poorly into the couple of recordings that were made, but I hope I can get one anyway.

Having slept on it, maybe I’d still say I liked that Coleman gig better, but it’s a close call and Jen Shyu’s voice is really the difference maker here.

March 30, 2008 Posted by | Music | , , , , | Leave a comment

March 27th, 2008: Gilles Jobin – Text to speech

@théatre de la ville

I guess that’s the drawback to reducing the price of tickets to fill up the place: a lot of people were obviously not ready for this and made it perfectly clear by copiously booing after the performance. I actually liked it, but I think I can understand that reaction, even though I’m probably too familiar with Gilles Jobin‘s work in particular, and this kind of experiments in general. Maybe that evens things out for my dislike for a recent show that turned out to be quite popular.

I would say that there were a bunch of slow times with not much happening like when a guy went kicking a tire for too long in my opinion. And the early “text to speech” gimmick was better as an idea than as actually executed: a transposition of Iraq war reports to Switzerland — complete with references to militant protestant terrorists. But all that was more than offset by the good bits. One was the way the stage was transformed by a few simple lines. At first there was just a long red table and too smaller squarish ones, but the dancer proceeded to crisscross it with long rubber strings, from the top of poles to weighs placed on the ground. I loved the overall effect of this trick, partitioning the space and completely changing my perception of it.

I think many people were dismayed at the relative lack of actual dancing. I don’t think that’s right because I have seen many shows were there was far less, and because I really liked most of what actually was here. The first dance sequence was beautiful, performed by a single dancer at medium speed, with a lot of circles lead by an outstretched arm. There was some really interesting use of getting closer to the ground then rising. Another dancer joined her and held her hands as she bent far backwards, with may not exactly be dancing but was great visually.

There were other sequences, but my second favorite was near the end, two dancers moving together as one, a slow progress through the strings that went smoothly from standing to rolling. They joined a third one standing in the back and broke contact, encircling her with their arms and moving in opposite circles. Then the started circling in one way while the standing dancer turned on herself in the opposing direction while progressively lowering herself to the end. Finally they carried her by rolling on the ground, and the whole sequence was great visually. Some said that’s not dance, and I would disagree to the extent that I care about the distinction, which is not much.

March 28, 2008 Posted by | Dance | , | Leave a comment

March 24th, 2008: Absolut Null Punkt / KK Null

@instants chavires

I fought through the harbinger of a industrial strength cold to get there. I think the hour or so I spent waiting for buses on various windswept streets on my way back from that hip hop show are taking their toll. Next time I’ll just walk.

Anyway, it was well worth it. KK Null first did a solo set, and that was one of the most interesting use of electronics I have seen in quite a while. Including the underlying rhythmic loops, there were up to four distinct lines meshing. Each with enough to stand on its own feet but the sum was definitely greater. Trying to follow all that was going on kept me busy for the whole set, but that was very much worth it. I hope it doesn’t spoil me too much and make me set unreasonable expectations for future gigs.

Speaking of which, I did like the following performance with Seijiro Murayama, but not as much. The drums took hold of my attention and I failed to listen enough to the electronics, so I’m very much to blame for missing part of it. But the drums alone were good enough, so even though I whiffed I still got a lot out of the set. That changes my plans for next month, now I really want to see his solo performance.

March 25, 2008 Posted by | Music | , , , | Leave a comment

March 23rd, 2008: Sugar Hill Gang / Kurtis Blow / Melle Mel / Grand Wizard Theodore


A gig billed as “ presents the hip hop anniversary tour” sure smells funny. But I’m lame enough to have never seen any of the guys in the lineup, and despite all the warning signs — including the venue — I just couldn’t pass on seeing Grand Wizard Theodore. I was hoping he would DJ after the gigs, but that didn’t happen. Or maybe it did and I missed it; I’d be a fool then, but that’s not exactly news.

It all started well enough, with Sly the mic buddha DJing. Maybe not great, but for a warm-up act, it was really good, enough to make me make a note to maybe check this guy out in a better setting; I think he was not expected to steal the show anyway and mostly played records, as opposed as playing the turntable. He did a very good job of that, letting on that he can probably do more. A very nice — if distracting — touch was the screening of Wild Style on the flat screen scattered around the room. I take it as a personal good sign that I was more fascinated by the trains than by LADY PINK this time around — it was too close for comfort though, I’m not out of the woods yet.

Grand Wizard Theodore was first, and that rang alarm bells. He’s amazing, don’t get me wrong. There was a lull at some point, but most of his set was mind-blowing. It’s not pyrotechnics and showing-off. Just the right mix. There were a few displays of technique that were extremely smooth, which is the most impressive to me, but I never got any feeling that he was putting on a show, it just flowed naturally. Playing the turntables but with a respect for the music that made toeing that thin line look easy, even though my experience seeing such acts makes me think it’s anything but. I don’t know how long he played but it seemed awfully short. Even the fact that he sported a A-Rod jersey didn’t make him any less grand in my eyes, and that’s telling something — that’s a joke, I think. That was the best DJ performance I ever saw, but I couldn’t really pinpoint why. It just struck a chord deep within.

Then he was joined by Grandmaster Melle Mel, who made his entrance to Nirvana’s Smells like teen spirit. That was a nice touch, if I suspend disbelief. His first entrance, actually, because he want back out after saying he should have made that to some old-school hip hop tune. These antics went on for the whole of his set. He does know how to work a crowd, no contest. His shout outs to dead figures of hip hop was nice to hear, even though it went on a tad too long. Hearing the crowd screaming for J Dilla was heartwarming though. But still, the history lesson was fitting and nice, but there was little else to his act. History is important, but I think the message is all the more powerful when there is some good MCing to back it up. I was left with the impression than this was more of a stand up act, unfortunately. His performance of The Message was disappointing. I know it’s an old saw for him by now, but I still think it deserved better than what it got. Anyway I was pissed off that Theodore had been cur short was in the back and couldn’t get anything going, so I guess I could not be fair anyway.

Kurtis Blow took things back to a higher intensity level. The guy’s smooth and proficient on so many levels. He works a crowd like putty, and can still go through the moves while taking shots at his age, holding his back and all. At times it was hard to keep the old cynical fiber off, but somehow I want to believe his cheesy message was heartfelt, and his MCing with his son was a cool thing — I somehow care about this handing off to another generation thing. It could have been done better, but his reminding the audience about what hip hop was in the beginning felt right. From the comments I overheard, it was lost on part of the audience, which was extremely ironic because it was overwhelming white and privileged — well off white people playing tough ghetto boys is kinda depressing to me. Airforce crew provided some dancing, which finally completed the circle; that was oddly satisfying for me, given how much of a poser I am. I guess he was disappointed in how little reaction Basketball got out of the crowd, but this is soccer territory. I love the guy for his positive attitude, but I have to say that his railing against commercial hip hop would have sounded more credible had he restrained from name-dropping the sponsor of their tour so much. I hope he gets good money out of this, for his sake, as a trade-off for ruining part of the experience for me.

Then it was time for Sugar Hill Gang. I didn’t expect much from them, and got even less. That dance contest thing they put on was borderline disgraceful. I’m only qualifying that because their rendition of Rappers Delight sucked big time. Bringing people on stage just highlighted the lameness. I kinda like that record, in a light hearted, unpretentious way that was altogether lacking. Judging from news I got from other performances, it was not a good one for them though. I think I need to record that they did a couple of “Big 3” tunes after that, meaning the crew that put a record together for this tour, Sugar Hill Gang, Kurtis Blow and Melle Mel. Not including Theodore pretty much ruled out my buying it, and the live performance didn’t do anything to make me reconsider.

There was a signing session after that and I actually got Grand Wizard Theodore to sign a flyer — completely out of character for me, that’s how awestruck I was. I had planned to stay, hoping Theodore would be on again, but as he had just signed that thing I looked at my watch and it was — what else — 4:19. That was just too good to pass up, so I took my cue and left.

March 24, 2008 Posted by | Music | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

March 22nd, 2008: Datashock + Time Life / Tom Carter / Glenn Jones

@les voutes

Go there to listen to all three sets.

Three very different projects, allegedly tied together by guitar playing, even though that turned out to take some creative thinking for the third one; not that I care.

Glenn Jones played twelve strings guitar for most of his set, with a couple of tunes on banjo and a brief appearance by a more regular electric guitar. I’m usually not a fan of that style of playing, too neat and technical for me, but this time I did enjoy it. I really liked a song he said was about Martha’s Vineyard, but I can’t remember the name. Maybe I was just won over my the guy’s stage banter, or maybe it’s my not having heard this kind of music for a while, but the technical excellence did not annoy me; I’d rather chalk that up to his having more than just technique.

Tom Carter also did a solo guitar performance, but that’s about where the common ground stops. Loops, a lot of feedback and some e-bow fun, which I’m always partial to. Weirdly enough though, it turned out not to be that interesting in the long run. Nice sound, but I thought it was a bit too predictable. Just another sign that I need to widen my horizons, I’m becoming picky.

The closing act brought Datashock and Time Life together. There actually was a guitar in there, but what really got my attention was their using tapes. Again a completely different style, and having five people instead of one increased the contrast. At times it reminded me of the less structured tendencies of volcano and the most cohesive moments of sunburned. There was that aha moment when the separate sounds and exploration kinda fell together, then pretty much went up until the end. My favorite set of the evening.

March 24, 2008 Posted by | Music | , , , , | 2 Comments

March 19th, 2008: Karine Ponties – Holeulone

@les abbesses

This was pretty enjoyable on several levels. One good sign was that even though there was some intriguing images projected on the slope in front, I didn’t pay much attention to it. The pair of dancers on staged took hold of my attention and didn’t relinquish it much. Also, it was rather short, clocking under an hour, and I appreciate that. Not that I can’t stay focused longer, but I went through too many shows that went too long. Maybe some parts were a bit below average, but I thought the timing was great in that there were a lot of ideas in there, and no attempt to overuse any of them at all. I would probably not agree with the superlative praise I had heard before, but it was good indeed.

The part when the legs of one dancer would be extended below the torso of the other — in an illusion promptly shattered by the physical impossibility of the ensuing moves — was a crowd-pleaser but that reaction didn’t include me because I had seen that before, and I think Josef Nadj is pretty hard to match as a poetic trickster. Indeed, that was one of weaker sequence in my eyes, even though it was well executed, and I only mention this to highlight how good the rest was. There were so many moments that called nothing to mind, that were so fresh and new, that even comparing to such great things was a letdown.

There was a lot of spinning, but always with a new twist, sometimes literally, most often figuratively. And that was even more true of the many ways they would carry each other, there were so many combinations, most of which were completely new to me. I’m always on the lookout for new sights, so this really made my day. There were so many in that case that it leaves me with something to chew on for a while. A very satisfying outcome.

March 20, 2008 Posted by | Dance | , | Leave a comment

March 18th, 2008: Robyn Orlin – Dressed to kill… killed to dress…

@théatre de la ville

OK, third strike, I’m out. I give up on trying to get her work. I did like the first one I saw, but since then I have seen a wall rise higher each time. I could blame it on been stuck in the middle of the front row, but even though it didn’t help, I can only blame myself for being that dense. It was both too obvious and literal, and too familiar. She has a system in place and sticks to it. Even the most elaborate dance sequence — performed by a guy in a wife-beater during a parade of sharp dressed people — was painfully ironic; of course that was intentional, but it was so predictable. Each time I thought I could get in, through dance, music or the videos in the background, I was defeated by that heavy handedness. I don’t think there would be any point in writing down my memories of this show, knowing full well I just whiffed and completely missed the point.

March 18, 2008 Posted by | Dance | , | 1 Comment