Sunday, May 27, 2007

Far From the Madding Crowd

Headed to DUMBO for a show at an improbable venue, the Water Street Restaurant and Lounge, which is the sort of place for which the term "fern bar" was invented - unambitious cuisine served in a genteel decor whose pretensions to fine dining are somewhat at odds with the large television over the bar showing sports. The music was in their downstairs space which is large and generally a fine place to hang out - lots of oddly placed columns, though, which must serve some structural requirement as they don't serve any other and generally make the stage end a bit cut off.

In any event, some ambitious young promoters chose the spot to assemble an evening around Jarboe (now styling herself The Living Jarboe). Anyone who followed the evolution of the New York underground rock band the Swans through the 80s and 90s has a pretty good notion of who she is and what to expect at a show. Her voice is quite low-pitched and she has a strongly emotive-expressive style. On the continuum of singers comparable in one way or another, she falls somewhere between Nico and Diamanda Galas - more technically proficient than the former, not trying to be so dazzling as the latter. Her set was quite perfectly balanced - not much more than seven or so long-ish songs, totalling around 40 minutes, accompanied by adept but not flashy acoustic guitarists (with effects pedals) and Michael Evans (once of God Is My Co-Pilot) on a pared-down drum kit. Although her credit on the first Swans record on which she appeared was "scream", she is quite a conventionally beautiful singer when she wants to be.

Her aesthetic ambience (and that of her audience) is quite noticeably "goth" - while her music is not stylistically so different from what you get at the average "freak folk" show, the far greater incidence of tattoos and black fingernail polish in the crowd and onstage stakes a certain claim (although the distribution of seasonally unsuitable headgear between indie rock and goth shows is comparable).

The promoters also livened up the between-band segments with the short films of Czech neo-surrealist Jan Švankmajer, who I also didn't realize was quite so gothic - more literally so than the black nail crowd as his work includes filmic realizations of several Edgar Allan Poe short stories and Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto, the ur-text of the 18th and 19th century Gothic literary school. I'd recommend a newcomer to Švankmajer start with "Dimensions of Dialog" currently available on Youtube in two parts, although it seems like something that might not last long - while you're at it this excerpt from the film with music by astonishing French bassist Joëlle Léandre also merits a gander.

The show was well worth the trip and, stepping out just after midnight into the third consecutive perfect evening of early summer weather (a balmy 75°F), I ascended to the Brooklyn Bridge promenade, thanked God I wasn't at the beach or anything, and took in the immensity of the city night.

No comments: