Some thoughts on Sunday evening's performance at the Rotunda in Philadelphia, probably at least somewhat in contradistinction to the majority opinion. I'm not being really critical here, just trying to figure out why certain things didn't click for me.
The opening set was a brief one, consisting of two songs by Weyes Bluhd (Natalie Mering) on vocals, keyboard and tapes. Brooding and cloudy, her voice rising from shimmering organ-tones, buffeted by rougher taped sounds, I liked it much more than I thought I might. Struck me as honest, if operating within a small sphere. Had she played for 30 minutes instead of ten and remained in that area, it might have begun to pall, but as was, I thought it was fine; made me curious to hear more.
nmperign was up next and was where my problems began. I guess I've seen them, in one context or another, seven or eight times over the years. I've found the performances to range from extraordinary (with Le Quan Ninh and Yukiko Nakamura in Nancy) to...disconnected. The latter may well have more to do with me than them; I think there are simply occasions when I'm not hearing the sound sequence properly, not translating it into a form that registers. The same thing occurred, by and large, at this event. It was almost all on the extremely quiet, sparsely distributed side of things. Both Rainey and Kelley demonstrated wonderful control over their instruments, especially the former when he elicited very soft, yet very pure tones from the soprano. There were moments, to be sure, when matters coalesced for several seconds, where each action, near-unison or otherwise, made a kind of poetic sense, but these evaporated more quickly than I would have liked. Again, this could all be me. It's always fascinating to me how/why one makes qualitative judgments with music this spacious; it careens more into the subjective, I think, than most judgment, which is of course subjective enough. I was talking about it with a friend yesterday and saying it was like looking at a Japanese rock garden and feeling that the placement of the stones wasn't working for one. That "feeling" may be quite real (if wrong); explicating it is another matter, as is the possibility that one is simply missing the gist of the art. The general reaction in the audience, from those I spoke with, was far more positive than my own, so I'm entirely willing to chalk this up to my cottony ears.
Lambkin and Lescalleet I also found somewhat problematic, but in a different sense. Unsurprisingly, their set was pretty loud and rambunctious and, not meaning it as a back-handed compliment, but I found the loudest, most rocking parts to be the most successful. There were a couple of sections where things gelled perfectly and the duo just soared, including the point where Lambkin iterated regularly rhythmic harsh breaths into the mic and Jason ramped things up to ear-threatening levels. It was quite amusing to see him pressing his laptop keys as hard as he could as though they were pressure-sensitive! :-) He's always a pleasure to watch as he restlessly roams around the stage, planting recorders here and there, stringing wires or threading tapes. Lambkin was far more calm, wandering to an area off-stage largely hidden by a curtain, breathing into a mic, injecting only one or two (that I could hear) CD samples of classical music into the mix. So there were several very fine stretches of music, very exciting. But...on the whole, looked back upon as a full set, I wasn't sure how well it cohered. It kind of hit me like a standard rock set, a series of pieces (though there were no breaks apart from an intentional, and beautifully maintained period of silence that seemed to last about five minutes, Lescalleet poised over the keys of an old tape recorder) some of which were wonderful, some awkward, some kind of...routinely good. Not that coherence need have been the point or not, of course, that it might have been the case that I missed out on any number of aspects. The crowd roared its approval. I thought it OK, more or less what I expected, but not quite up to the level of their show at Issue Project last year or that of any handful of Jason's performances I've been fortunate enough to have seen in years past which, if nothing else, tend to have had an intense concentratedness and singularity of purpose that appeals greatly to me.
Speaking of coherence, the above might not have much. Just thought I'd put it out there as honestly as I could, aware that I was in the minority that evening.
Great to see the Philly crew and, especially to see Al Jones after far too long a time. And extra thanks to Yuko, whose pre-trip pork buns made any further enjoyment of the day mere icing on the cake. Their gustatory traces couldn't even be quashed by the dreaded cheesesteaks eight hours later....