Sunday, December 17, 2006

two nights, two ends of the Buffalo, NY music spectrum

I've been in Buffalo, New York for a little while, visiting my sister Kate. She plays second oboe in the Buffalo Philharmonic, and last night I went along to witness their "Holiday Pops" concert. I was happy enough to check out their concert hall (an "acoustic wonder of the world", I'm told) and to see her on stage doing her thing, but to be honest, I was expecting to cringe my way through the evening. I was stuck at Philadelphia Airport for a few hours on my way here, and heard endless, excruciating versions of "Santa Claus is Coming to Town", "Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer", etc....I really couldn't face any more of that.

The concert turned out to be quite OK (as far as these things go): superb musicianship, a rather lovely arrangement of "Greensleeves" (featuring the principal oboist, Pierre), a bit of Mahler, a medley of Yiddish-sounding Hannukah tunes and the Empire Brass quintet playing a version of "The Kid on the Mountain" (which Inge and I used to play) among other things. What really saved it was guest conductor Marvin Hamlisch's irreverent attitude and ultra-sharp New York Jewish humour - he and I seem to be on the same wavelength as regards Christmas. At one point he asked the audience to shout out possible titles for "a new Christmas song", chose "Global Warming Christmas", sat down at the piano, and improvised a perfectly respectable, and rather amusing song, in front of 3000 people. Not bad. Apparently he's scored numerous films, Broadway shows, etc. - Kate reckons he's a musical genius. Even without any musical ability he'd be a comic genius. AND Jerry Falwell has refused to rule out the possibility that he might be the Antichrist. Quite a qualification.

I couldn't hear Kate at all, despite the wond'rous acoustics. Apparently the "pops" concerts are always dominated by the brass section. Oh well.

Marvin Hamlisch   GreggreG
Marvin Hamlisch vs. GreggreG

At the other end of the musical spectrum, the previous night I followed up an interesting looking poster I saw in the window of "Rustbelt Books" and went along to Hallwalls (an arts centre in an old church, which Ani Difranco set up) to witness "Buffalo Undersound". This consisted of Jack Topht with The Vegetables and GreggreG, and it was pretty wild. I arrived to a young hipster crowd in a church basement attentively watching Jack Topht, in indescribable orange headgear, lurching around streaming consciousness, deconstructing modern American culture, over drumbeats and keyboard noises produced by "one-woman punk band" The Vegetables (a.k.a Lindsey Lemberski). Projected on the screen behind them was some kind of disturbing cheerleading instructional video. Go team, go! I tried to buy a $3 CD of Jack, but he didn't have any change for my $20 bill, so he ended up giving me two free copies. All very Dada. I overheard someone make a comparsion with "early Ween, but with less drugs", which brought back an amusing memory of seeing Ween touring their first album at Democrazy in Gent in 1991, huge smiles on the faces on the usually sullen Democrazy crowd.

Jack Topht with the Vegetables
Jack Topht with the Vegetables

The cheerleading gave way to Parisian ballet footage, and GreggreG took to the stage in blue spandex tights, a cowboy hat, wraparound shades and a dreadlocked beard. He and his friends produced a stream of twisted beats and guitar noise which went on for hours. I kept meaning to leave after a while, but it became strangely compelling and I ended up staying. A woman in a ridiculous dress with an LED-lit mini-megaphone and kitchen knife graced the stage, a bass clarinet/baritone sax player roamed around squawking furiously, someone tortured a guitar in one corner, a cheerful looking young woman played intricate guitar lines through a battery of effects, sitting crosslegged beside a serious looking young man (both in suits) manipulating a bank of electronics. In the other corner, GreggreG gleefully worked his unique magic on a tangled mass of electronic devices, Grooveboxes, a theremin, occasionally stepping to the mic to proclaim something so distorted as to be indecipherable. A full-on sonic assault (although fortunately not overamplified), which left me feeling strangely peaceful after about two hours.

I don't think I've ever before witnessed such wildly divergent music on two consecutive nights (or ever will).


Anonymous Jack toft said...

I'm glad you were able to see us play

10:55 AM  

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