Gigs, dance, art

February 16th, 2010: Sainkho Namtchylak

@cité de la musique

I’ve been uneasy about the exotic theme of this series from day one, but this time was worse. I mean I’ve heard amazing stuff from Sainkho Namtchylak, and to me that she comes from Tuva is a footnote, exactly the way Phil Minton’s being from Englang is a footnote. If anything, maybe Imre Peemot, though from Estonia, would have been a better choice to represent the traditional Tuva, in its museum-ready side. Sainkho Namtchylak is much more challenging, she brings Tuva as just another place belonging to the present.

Her medley of traditional styles in the beginning of the set was very nice, and there was a presence there that I wish would have carried over to the rest of the set. But overall it was a frustrating performance for me. I guess it was her mainstream side, but still. She did so many great things, and like many skilled vocalists of her generation, I think she thrives on a challenge. Her technical mastery was flawless — amazing diphonic overtones on understandable lyrics — but a bit freewheeling. That’s exactly what leaves me unsatisfied with most of Minton’s performances so far, so I guess I wish these two could clash and push themselves to greater heights.


February 25, 2010 Posted by | Music | , | Leave a comment

February 14th, 2010: Yungchen Lhamo / Tenzin Gönpo

@cité de la musique

This gig was fitting as it took place on Losar, featuring two Tibetan performers. I was really getting fed up with the place though. Video footage of this concert is available over here for a couple of months. Go there instead of reading my drivel.

For some reason I strongly felt the venue was not right at all for Tenzin Gönpo‘s set. Too big, as he was alone on stage, though with many different instruments. He came in dancing and drumming, then performed songs in a wide range of styles, but that’s part of my unease with it: it felt like just scratching the surface. I would like to hear him again in another setting. Though I think I wouldn’t like it that much anyway. For some reason it made me realize that I bought in to the nomad/sedentary divide, and my preference runs squarely to the former. This was very interesting, but my interest remained all too intellectual. I’m sure that’s saying more about me than the music, but I felt there was something academic about this particular performance.

Yungchen Lhamo is special. Her voice is just wonderful. I really was upset by the world music arrangements that were almost spoiling it most of the time. I thought that crap had died out years ago. It didn’t really prevent her from being awesome, but when she was singing on her own… Just wow. I was instantly awed. Why she even brings these guys along eludes me. I still think the place sucks, but these songs made it worthwhile, because the acoustics of the place did justice to her wonderful voice. The video on their site doesn’t come close, it’s not even in the same zip code. Anyone who has a chance should hear her live. I sure wouldn’t miss her for any reason short of major favorites performing — that means Cynthia Loemij or Juliana Hatfield, period. She’s amazing, and I just wish she comes back — preferably without those guys.

February 25, 2010 Posted by | Music | , , | Leave a comment

February 13th, 2010: Blackfire / Nabarlek

@cité de la musique

Belated catchup mode, after a busy spell and some internet access trouble, and a definite drop in motivation as well. The whole premise of this series of concerts — resistance — was flimsy, but this gig reached the apex of disconnect. A garage band and a punk band in what was designed as a classical music concert hall, and they didn’t even remove the seats. I guess they already had a hard time filling the place as it was, but still.

My plan was to stay unobtrusive and tucked away in some corner, but I had to get those seats out of sight, so I went up front for Blackfire‘s set. The set began with a hoop dance to traditional Diné singing, but from then on it was punk/alternative, more melodic than raw punk, and with musical skill that probably shows how long they’ve been at it. There were some Diné bits thrown in, but never as a gimmick, it always made sense in context. I like their music, and I love their attitude. The lyrics were often political, but not the mandatory kind often on display, and there was no trace of the selfish fake nihilism too often prevalent in that genre. I may have been fooled, but they really seemed genuine. And that’s so refreshing to me, I guess I’m not your typical french know-it-all. They even had a translator to make sure they got their point across the language barrier — though that particular barrier wasn’t the harder to crack. They also had beautiful stuff they made themselves on the merch table, just another clue that these people are very interesting. This was my first introduction to them, and it left me eager for more. I hope I’ll get an opportunity to see them again in a friendlier setting. I just checked out their site and they scored even more points with me by having a picture taken in front of Master Tseng’s tea house — “the new place” to me, even though I have to say her success has kept me away recently, and that’s a mistake and my loss.

Nabarlek was less to my liking, but that’s really because I’m not that much into garage. They didn’t overuse the didgeridoo at all, another band that blends the imported genre with their cultural background so that the latter fits naturally. As garage goes, I think it was good enough, but after Blackfire it was a step down for me. I think they could have skipped the obligatory Men at work’s cover, but Aussie sources have muddled the issue enough that I guess that’s more interesting than I thought. There’s awareness of the cheesiness at work, combined with a sense of pride and a tongue-in-cheek-but-not-firmly side of giving the foreigners what they expect. Throw in the aboriginal descent of many in that band and it gets more confused. Which is a good thing (Hail Eris!)

February 25, 2010 Posted by | Music | , , | Leave a comment

February 12th, 2010: Tinariwen / Tartit

@cité de la musique

I liked Tartit a lot. Many voices, a few drums and instruments I didn’t know — one bowed, one plucked — and good music with some unfamiliar rhythms. All good things. The setting wasn’t totally right, but the big stage was useful. There were a few dance parts too, some was quite striking, but the most surprising for me was those done sitting with only swaying and arm movements. Maybe not much, but very nice. I thought the female voices supported by drums and clapping conveying a deep sense of community, both as sharing and as belonging. Another kind of music I didn’t know and like, so that was a good evening for me.

No such surprise from Tinariwen, as I’ve seen them twice before. I still like their music, even though it’s a little on the classic rock side for me. Coming on the heels of Tartit didn’t help on that front. The set was OK, but I think the venue took its toll, with the big room and especially the seats dampening the performance. I guess they would not have filled the room had they removed the seats, but it felt wrong, and having seen them before I know they can do better.

February 21, 2010 Posted by | Music | , , | Leave a comment

February 9th, 2010: Alain Platel – Out of Context

@théatre de la ville

I guess there’s something I just don’t get. I haven’t really been into Alain Platel‘s work since his unretirement. Again, I was underwhelmed by that lukewarm feeling. It’s not that I got bored, and the dancers are good and have strong personalities. I just think Platel could have gone further.

The beginning — with the dancers coming onto the stage, undressing to their underwear and wrapping themselves in blankets — really reminded me of the last show of his I saw — but no Magic Malik in sight, to my relief. I don’t remember whether the sniffing and specific leg/foot swiping were in there, but I strongly felt I had seen that before and it went on so predictably for too long. The two stumbling dancers with mics did bring something interesting, but even they got predictable quickly.

The middle part with snippets of popular songs and fake-club dancing was the most annoying part for me. In a sense, I felt I had seen this done before, and better, by someone who comes from his dancing tree. And it felt a bit like an anti Jérôme Bel, in that there was some claim to elaborate dance, and a wink to the audience instead of confrontation. But not really more interesting for me. Again, that particular system was quickly set up then droned on for too long in my opinion. It just lacked an edge that used to be there in his work. Or at least that I used to notice.

I’m not about to give up and stop going to see his shows because I just loved the end. Then different things were going on instead of a single theme. The mics were upgraded from props to a part of a couple of dancers, and the original stumbling dancer had a very nice moment taking the mic stands around the stage, with steps that were still close to the original fumbling but that had crossed over to an equine majesty. Those closing minutes made the show very much worth seeing. I just wish Platel could be a little less verbose and get back some of that vision and urgency, and just cut off some of the obligatory Platelishness.

February 15, 2010 Posted by | Dance | , | Leave a comment

February 6th, 2010: Ishmurat Il’bakov / Raushan Orazbaeva / Tsogtgerel


I think I was just too disappointed to appreciate this show as much as I should have. Tuyatsetseg Tseren was sick and didn’t sing, and I was so looking forward to hearing some long song. I don’t have many opportunities, so that was a major downer.

That certainly made me not so attentive the first time Ishmurat Il’bakov played, and with my knowing nothing at all about Bashkortostan and its music, I’m sure I missed a lot. I’m not all that fond of flutes, but he added throat singing to his quray playing, and that did get my attention, and he did play a second time later on. The combination was less eerie than with voice alone, but the flute playing was so different it added a fascinating contrast. Wrong and superficial reasons, I’d say, and my lack of focus was downright disrespectful.

I heard Raushan Orazbaeva a few months ago so I was expecting a great performance. I’m fond of the kobyz to begin with, and she played two kinds with equally great skill, but I probably liked the bigger one better. Anyway, my appreciation for Kazakh music keeps growing, and I’ve probably barely scratched the surface with such a big country. I’m all too aware that my lack of understanding makes me like the sound of the instrument and vaguely appreciate the musician’s skill, but just enough to get the idea that I’m missing much. I’ll have to work on that.

I had only heard Tsogtgerel on the CD he cut with his father, but that had made me think he would have been interesting along with a long song performer. I still think so, as I think both his overtone singing and morin khuur playing are a bit rougher than those I heard last year — and that’s a good thing to my ears, as I don’t imply any lack of skill by this. On the other hand, maybe I paid closer attention because I did notice more details in his play, things that make me start to figure out how the different styles do fit together, and that added quite a bit to my experience.

They played a couple of songs together at the end of the show, and that was very nice, as the instruments and voices played well around and with each other, with bits of melody going around.

February 11, 2010 Posted by | Music | , , , | Leave a comment

February 5th, 2010: L’Ocelle Mare / Simon Queheillard

@société de curiosités

Simon Queheillard played first, and that was a great performance despite their having just arrived from Germany. The sounds he gets out of his guitar are just amazing. Using a small motor as a pick, he can get something just as steady as an e-bow, but with far more versatility. It can sound like feedback, but also like it was played in reverse. All this from his inventiveness, control and physical engagement. And all this sound exploration was never without purpose, always weaved into music that made good use of the material while coming first throughout.

L’Ocelle Mare was just as good. He played banjo most of the set, but it was much more diverse than the last time I saw him. The most extreme variation came from his moving the bridge right next to the neck, but he didn’t really need this to change a lot in a short time. And of course he displays such a commitment to his music that I was just pulled in. I think the smaller venue fits his music well. It demands a focus that isn’t really compatible with a big space. A bit like his new record, which requires and rewards a little dedication.

February 8, 2010 Posted by | Music | , , | Leave a comment