Thursday, March 22, 2007

Loney, Dear, Loney, Noir, and live at Union Hall, Brooklyn, 3.12.07

Photo Credit

By Charlotte Deaver

When a single-artist, multi-instrumentalist tours, suddenly a "band," he (or she) doesn't always get his act together, literally, as well as he does in the studio. So I didn't expect much from Loney, Dear's live performance. But my goodness, they were playing right down the street, and I had these damn songs of theirs looping and looping endlessly in my head.

Happily, however, this band was focused and tight. Headed by Emil Svanangen (from Sveden), each band member locked into the other completely, keeping a close eye on their leader, and clearly feeling each voice, each different instrument, and each song. And what gorgeous songs! They're melodic, both lush and spare, intense, private but open, and always driving forward. Many songs build, formulaically yet effectively, as layer upon layer of instruments and voices create a pulsating crescendo, to the point of leaving me, ever susceptible to this genre, a little high, a little ecstatic. "Carrying a Stone," "Hard Days, 1, 2, 3, 4," "Saturday Waits," "I Am John," "Sinister in a State of Hope" -- those songs got me to the show. And there are so many others, as this is at least their fourth release.

Most striking for me, the harmonies were actually better live than on recordings. Louder, freer, and never off-key (as is rarely the case with live performances). The sweet keyboard boy was on top of every note, every electronic shift, and blended every harmony perfectly. And the lovely female singer, also at a keyboard but sometimes percussing or jangling something in her hand, although strictly supportive in her role, sings with that wide-open, "full-throated ease" (Keats) that I've always wished I had. Not a huge or belting voice, but the voice in the band that especially seared into my brain.

Emil's high notes, a major part of his sound, are sometimes too high. I prefer his lower register (still not very low!), and his Peter-Pan-crowing style, which he provides only occasionally. There seemed to be more variety in his vocal textures at the live show, which was welcome.

As I watched and listened to them all I was reminded of what it's like singing in choir, where you learn to keep your eyes up, out of your music or your reverie, and on the director, especially at key moments -- beginnings and endings, musical changes, and tricky parts. I fantasized that they all grew up together in their Nordic, frost-bitten, melancholy local church, singing requiems and hymns and other choral music. The following text on Loney, Dear's myspace site reveals that part of my fantasy wasn't too far off after all: "Textural newcomers include clarinets, floortoms and pumporgans to enhance the sonic landscape surrounding the beautiful melodies that sometimes echo age old church hymns." But no, they surely did not grow up singing together as the band-members' names are not even listed on the Loney, Noir CD or on the myspace site, which is, to me, rude and annoying. Especially after being so joyfully entertained not just by Emil, but by them all.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Scissor Sisters, 3.3.07, The Theater at Madison Square Garden

by Charlotte Deaver

"It does not go away, this ecstatic possibility. Despite centuries of repression, despite the competing allure of spectacles, festivity keeps bubbling up, and in the most unlikely places."
– Barbara Ehrenreich, from Dancing in the Streets: A History of Collective Joy

Bodies slam, arms fly, feet hammer the dancefloor, and the stage erupts. Here we are again with the Scissor Sisters, who celebrate pleasure like it's church. This band performs what Ehrenreich describes as "collective joy," where sexual liberation, the body, choice, difference, and ecstasy are expressed not as spectacle, but as communal experiences. Eherenreich offers Burning Man and Greenwich Village's Halloween parade as rare contemporary examples only, I'm sure, because she's never seen the Scissor Sisters.

Both liberating and socially bonding, a Scissor Sisters performance encourages a dialogue with the audience that is political at its most personal. If individual sexual expression remains the #1 taboo topic in America, the Scissor Sisters supply the best revenge for much that's repressive, cruel, and wrong.

Of the two main performers, Ana is, for me, the main focus. She doesn't demand the attention the way Jake does, but I can't keep my eyes off of her. I love her movements, the way she dances, her tranny-trash outfits and wig, and her irreverent sass. She swears. She's nasty. She's "filthy" and "disgusting." And she's gorgeous. And yet I read her also as an archetypal earth-mother, nurturing figure. I could imagine her as the "mama" of a whole brood of outcasts and misfits, like Lilian Gish in "Night of the Hunter," or Julie Andrews in "The Sound of Music."

Jake, the real centerpiece, is hyper-enthused. His eyes pop, and he runs out on stage like Richard Simmons preparing his overweight ladies for an aerobics class. On Saturday night at the MSG theater, Jake's comfort level seemed to increase with each item of clothing he took off. Fittingly, the more naked he was, the calmer and less strained he became. A welcome effect.

Ehrenreich acknowledges that her book is motivated by a "sense of loss." In the past few centuries "ecstatic pleasure," she writes, "of the kind once routinely generated by rituals involving dancing, music, and so on," has been just as routinely repressed. If that's the case, the Scissor Sisters, then, are doing more than entertaining — they are performing a public service.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Artist Alert: Dane LaChiusa

Dane and I went to high school together. We both ran off to New York right after graduating, and lost touch until about a year ago. He is also a brilliant and accomplished illustrator, but Brazil has been inspiring his paintings, about which I can't say anything better than Dane does himself here:

Dane LaChiusa
Artist statement

Saudades do Brasil, “Longing for Brazil”

It has been said that the less a tourist knows, the fewer mistakes he’s likely to make, and the less likely he is to have to explain his ignorance. I was born in the midwestern United States so I’m only Brazilian by extension.

My grandmother was a Paulista (Born in Sao Paulo). In the late 1900’s her family sold their coffee plantation in exchange for passage to the United States. Pitti, my partner of 9 years, was born and reared in Rio de Janeiro— it is his family that we visit. Which is how I came by my love affair with Brazil. Having never lived there, and only having formed a surface impression of the culture based on my limited travel experience I embarked on the task of translating my affection for the Brazilian people and their country on paper and canvas.

…A hillside peppered with cows, a man with a wheelbarrow of yucca who went door to door in Pitti’s hometown, a little girl who lives in a house made of cardboard, and a businessman wearing nothing but a bathing suit while crossing a busy Rio de Janeiro street.

These excerpts of Brazilian life are painted with a naive hand; expressing a directness of expression and lack of refinement in the stylistic tradition of a self-taught outsider artist. Although, technically, my work would fall into the category of Marginal Art; existing in that gray area of definition which lies between Outsider Art and normal mainstream art. However inaccurate, with regard to designating my work as such, the term outsider artist interests me because I am very much an outsider. Rooted in a kind of otherness, both stylistically and geographically, I am depicting a culture that I am ten thousand miles away from. Considering that I am a New Yorker, which is the polar opposite of the Brazilian landscape, it might even be argued that it is my very distance from my subject that makes my work interesting in the first place.

Yet, I feel terribly conflicted about the subjects I paint. Brazil is a country that is both beautiful and brutal. On the surface it may seem picturesque to see farmers, sometimes entire families, working in the canes. But if you scratch beneath the surface there lies a world of poverty and hunger.

The Indian boy I portrayed selling baskets by the side of the road is cast in a positive light against a radiant sky. Of course he is happy. He is happy to be alive. He can feed his family for several days on the ten reais I gave him for the turtle he carved out of a piece of driftwood.

I feel sadness for the little girl from Rocinha. Water is scarce in the favelas. And fewer and fewer cats. Churrasquinho de gato (Skewered Cat Barbeque) is no joke. The only thing they have in abundance in the favelas are guns. Health, Peace and Love is the slogan of the children’s slum association. Drug traffickers have other ideas.

But what do I know of this? It is just dumb luck that I was born in North America, in the very country, it can be argued, whose closely linked intervention and establishment of Brazil’s military dictatorship on December 13, 1968, and voracious appetite and consumption of natural resources, is a contributing factor to many of Brazil’s problems today. Ironically, I was reared in a suburb of Detroit, which was once one of the most affluent parts of the country. Such was the segregation that you could visibly see a dividing line between the city of Detroit and the landscaped suburban community of Grosse Pointe. I percieved this as a socially and politically motivated division between rich and poor, black and white. The analogy was not lost on me when transcribing my experiences in Brazil.

According to a World Bank study, Brazil has the most unequal distribution of wealth of any country. The fifth largest nation in the world, Brazil has a population of 180 million people. Approximately 24 million Brazilians live in extreme poverty and earn less than $1 a day while the minimum salary of $65 per month hasn't changed in 25 years.

So what are we to feel when we look at my paintings? Do my paintings evoke a sense of nostalgic longing for a pastoral lifestyle; or a sense of guilt and indignation towards the hardship suffered by what many consider a third world country? No matter how one might interpret my work, my intentions are first and foremost to communicate the charm and beauty of the Brazilian people. My paintings speak from my personal vision, experience, and memory and not any compulsion towards what is stylistically in vogue; or even this obsession that we have to sugar coat everything with a thin veil of political correctness.

Of course, I recognize that as an artist, your work exists in the context of the real world and does not retain autonomy. Or to borrow a Brazilian expression, “What do mothers ever know about their children?” Perhaps you know better than I what my intentions are. Art has a life of its own. And others can find in them meanings unsuspected by the artist himself. It is only when someone understands a work of art in a certain way that it becomes controversial. Having never exhibited my work in Brazil it remains to be seen whether it would be viewed as a social commentary or seen merely as a collection of snapshots culled from a tourist’s memories. You may come from somewhere else and bring your own relationship to the work. Everyone is right. --Dane LaChiusa

You can see some of Dane's paintings until March 10th, 2007, in Greenpointe, Brooklyn: