A Night at the Kitchen part two
(a rather lengthy part one can be found here)
So now for the second half of my night at Town Hall for the Kitchen Gala.
Jon and I are smoking outside. I see Fred Schneider of the B-52’s. He is dapperly dressed, and is the only man I know who can make Paisley work. I don’t go up to say hi. I go to the bathroom to get some water instead. We’re filing back in. John Schaefer is taking the stage again to announce that, as Richard Foreman might say, OVER OVER THE INTERMISSION IS OVER.
Town Hall is a beautiful place, but I think that they’re honestly not set up to handle a sold out crowd. The halls are narrow, the stairs don’t fit that many people, there aren’t that many entrances. The lobby is teeny. The bathrooms have like four people in them max. I have a feeling intermission has been longer than fifteen minutes, but whatever, on to Robert Ashley’s “Love Is A Good Example”.
Robert Ashley, like many of the composer/performers here tonight is like a genre unto himself. To give you some idea, Love Is A Good Example is one of 49 songs ranging in length from 15 to 120 minutes that make up an opera called The Immortality Songs. Each “song” (they’re really bizarrely stilted monologues) is about a character or group of characters. The Immortality Songs is apparently an opera for television. Maybe if the televised part of the opera was played during the song I would’ve gotten it but honestly, it left me a bit cold.
“Love Is A Good Example” isn’t really even a song. It consists of Ashley talking at different pitches and in strange rhythms while someone manipulates large amounts of reverb on his voice. There are two other speakers. They say “sure” after every time he says “love” and they say “person” after every time he says “schizophrenic”. There is so much reverb that I can barely understand what he says. He keeps sliding through different pitches and it basically sounds like poorly performed Chuck Mee. I can tell the man’s smart, and what few sentences I can make out are well written, but as a recital the three people at music stands lacks a bit of punch.
My mind wanders:
The last time I was at Town Hall was to see Eddie Izzards “Circle”. He was heckled. Often. But he made it work.
I wonder how “First You’re Born” is going tonight?
I can’t wait to hear Laurie Anderson’s new piece.
I wonder what Jon thinks of this.
Schizophrenic people? What does that have to do with anything?
The Kitchen. What a great idea. The Kitchen, part of the holy trinity of performance art, along with BAM and PS 122. All three exist to give cutting edge performance a house to play in. PS122 does theater though, and the Kitchen really doesn’t. But it’s amazing that this place is still around.
Look at this crowd. Who knew old people liked this music! Who knew so many young people could afford tickets to see it. Who knew you could sell out a night at Town Hall for what Laurie Anderson used to call “difficult music listening hour”
Oh wait, Ashley’s done. Maybe I’m an idiot, the crowd is hooting and hollering, but I just couldn’t get there.
It’s pretty clear when Schaefer comes out again that everyone really really wants to see Laurie Anderson’s new work-in-progress. I last saw her at Lincoln Center where she performed a stripped down piece called “Happiness”. It was awesome. I wrote a paper on her in college, and I have many of her Cds. If you’ve never heard her, go buy “The Ugly One With All The Jewels” today. All the stories on it are true, and they’re all amazing.
She’s also the only person in this group to have had a #2 hit single in the UK. Good old “O Superman” a song which might drive you crazy, freak you out, or make you burst into laughter depending on your mood.
The new piece is good. The piece seems to be primarily about beauty, but it also has a real mean streak and she’s attacking non-gender politics, something she doesn’t do all that often. I mean, there’s not a whole lot of progression in the Anderson oeuvre. She performs stories and poems, sometimes singing, sometimes talking, sometimes playing on the violin. She manipulates digital effects and soundscapes using a synthesizer, foot pedals, a sound board, a sampler and some other stuff. Often there’s multimedia work involved and crazy new musical inventions. She’s most famous for the inventions, probably, many of which involve totally fucking up what a violin in supposed to be.
She also has a hypnotic idiosyncratic way of talking. Kind of like Garrison Keilor with a lot of menace. I’ll try to approximate it versically (this is, of course, a paraphrase of what she said at one point):
And then I got to thinking
You know, it was like
Right after the Iraq war started
Walking about in a daze
Just walking about in a daze
“Why do they hate us?
Why do they hate us?”
And then we all decided
They hate us cause we’re rich
They hate us cause we’re free
They hate us cause we’re democratic
And I kind of thought
This is like when you’re in high school
And the pretty girl says
“Everyone hates me
cause I’m beautiful”
And you’re like
Everyone hates you
Because you’re a jerk”
The audience goes crazy when she says that. Everyone’s loving it. She does a bit about the 9/11 memorial site. Seems no one finds that one funny but me, although it’s clearly meant to be. Guess you can’t mention 9/11 and crack a joke at the same time. Anyway, Jon has never heard Laurie’s work before, and I hope he likes it (which it turns out, later, he did. Very much).
Laurie wraps up her set and even quotes her legendary “United States 1-IV”: “Hello? Can you tell me where I am?” It’s chilling when asked like a genuine question.
The crowd is happy to hear something new. Happy to hear something political. Happy to hear something leftist. Happy to see a rock star in the middle of this evening.
John Schaefer presents an award to Robert Hurwitz, the founder of Electra Nonesuch which carries many of the artists performing tonight. Robert Hurwitz seems like the nicest record executive ever.
The evening closes with a new Philip Glass piece called “Track Sweat”. “Track Sweat” is the result of a collaboration between Philip Glass and legendary kora player Foday Musa Suso. The Kora is in there in the top ten favorite instruments with the cello. It’s basically an African lute-harp. It sounds like a guitar from another planet. I love it. There’s a guy who plays the kora in the subway at 59th street. If you get a chance to hear him play, it’s hauntingly gorgeous.
Foday Musa Suso’s Kora has his website on it in big letters. Accompanying him are Glass on piano, Michael Riesman on keyboards and Andrew Sterman on saxophone.
Is there a more divisive figure in modern so-called high culture than Philip Glass? Some people think he’s a symbol of everything wrong with post-modern art. Some people rally around him, praising his simple beauty, buying boxed sets of Akhenaten and going to see the latest slow-mo collaboration between him and Robert Wilson. I’m somewhere in the middle. I love Glass’ music, but at the same time believe that too much of his work gets out in front of an audience. Every little piece he writes gets published or put on CD and the sheer quantity of it diminishes the greatness of his great work. And his great work really is great. Beautiful, soaring, moving, delicate. Pick up his solo piano CD or the soundtrack to Kundun if you don’t believe me. They’re both amazing.
This new piece doesn’t sound anything like anything I’ve ever heard from Philip Glass. There’s barely an arpeggio or duh-nuh-duh-nuh-duh-nuh in sight.
I’m having trouble trusting my judgement about this one, because at this point I had been in Town Hall for close to three hours, and the gin and tonics I had drunk at the before-party were taking their toll on my ability to focus. That said, and having spoken to several other people were there, the new piece is kind of dull. Beautiful, but really underwhelming. It doesn’t really go anywhere, it doesn’t really develop at all, and it even lacks the usual hypnotic quality of Glass’ work. What it is instead is pretty and easily forgettable. I blame part of this on the Soprano Sax, which makes it onto my top ten list of least favorite instruments. Really, the Kora is so delicate that bringing in the warm, overpowering Kenny G tones of the soprano sax seems a real mistake. And the song basically is one thing repeated twice and then it’s over and on to the afterparty.
The afterparty is a lot of fun, more booze, more food, more good people and now they’ve switched to old .45s of garage rock played along with archival video of the Kitchen in performance. All in all a great evening, and a historic opportunity for this young lover of postmodern music.