I have been hosting a monthly performance night at the Frankenstone Art Center since December; and they have grown from a round table gathering/Paris Salon sort of thang into an actual Open Stage Hootenanny with poets, singers, storytellers, musicians, and even a dancer at the February incarnation of this event that has no name.
As someone who performs in several genres (poet, storyteller, comic, singer/musician) this hosting opportunity has been a wonderful way for me to blow the dust off my performance skill set. I have been trying to imbue the proceedings with a sense of respect for all forms of expression and create a safe space where people can feel comfortable expanding their boundaries and trying new things.
My benchmark of success was always how many people there were who either tried performing/reading for the first time, performing in a new genre, or were at least trying out a new song or piece. And from the first night, when two poets who had never read their work in public before did so with great gusto, that goal has been continually attained and I am pleased as proverbial punch about it.
This next one should be equally awesome, so stop on by and either enjoy the show or be a part of it!
The Frankenstone Art Center is at 3310 W Foster. Festivities begin at 7PM.
Stay tuned for news about the two open stages set for April in honor of National Poetry Month!
Things Falling Apart (a full Arkestra for this one night). Photo by Miranda Barnes.
Please join me for a Pompous, Long Winded Digression:
I’ve seen many things in my day… ATTACK SHIPS ON FIRE OFF THE SHOULDER OF ORION!
Oops, sorry. Just a brief, “Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner” moment there.
What I meant is that I have seen many live concerts, shows and performances of all types, genres, subgenres, and subgenretypes (yes the Word Collider is up and running) in my many years of seeking out new and bizarre forms of expression (pretty much since birth).
From shows in people’s garages and basements to the arenas, concert halls, gin joints, art galleries, theaters and outdoor music sheds of the Midwest; I’ve wandered, searched and even lurked in order satisfy my jones for those events which blur the boundaries created by all these illusory and arbitrary distinctions placed between forms of artistic expression and provide a transcendent improvised live experience.
Gil-Scott Heron in a tiny elementary school auditorium, the Art Ensemble of Chicago at the UW-M Student Union, a collective from Kansas City called BCR (formed many years ago by a bunch of brilliant music students who hung out with Sun Ra and Arkestra for a life changing week) at some KC art gallery, Magic Slim and the Teardrops at a club in Madison whose name escapes me, Tom Waits at the Chicago Theater, Johnny Griffin at the Jazz Showcase; I could name check/drop forever about all the performances I’ve seen (not that I’m alone in this sort of thing, I’m just giving you a baseline here) where, for a brief moment, a level of perceptive transcendence was achieved by all parties (audience and performers alike) and time seemed to stop as everyone was inexorably drawn into the moment.
I’ve also spent much effort throughout my life seeking out musical groups who do not concern themselves with adhering to conventions about genre or style; any musical instrument may be used and any musical style can be employed to achieve the specific sonic landscape desired. If that means mixing electronic samples with doumbek, tabla, cello, bassoon, and slide guitar (or some other equally unconventional assemblage) in a stylistic bouillabaisse, so be it.
It used to be much harder for me to find bands like that (at least ones that were really excellent). But with the continued globalization of musical styles, plus a few generations who were raised on the infinite cultural/musical/artistic buffet that is the internet and trained in the myriad of art and music schools and conservatories throughout the land; eclectic and well executed improvised music is almost ridiculously simple to find. Especially in Chicago, which has become a global hotbed of it in recent years.
It’s gotten so easy, in fact, that one can find three incredibly adept improvised avant garde music ensembles in one place on the same night; not to mention two ass kicking art rock bands.
Now I’ll admit that I’m hardly coming from an objective place, having been a participant in the proceedings and counting several of the musicians as my friend, but I would never give praise I felt wasn’t deserved.
So with that caveat, I’ll just come out and say it: I saw the future of music on that Saturday night (during the anniversary of Woodstock, no less), and the future is in great hands. I also saw that the true values of Woodstock (peace, love, community, and infinite creativity) are still alive and well and being advanced with much greater care and understanding than they were by the original Woodstock Generation. [OH, shut your overbearing whiny pie holes, you smug self-satisfied Baby Boomers!!! I’m not saying that anyone played geetar as great as Hendrix or was as groovy as Country Joe and the Fish or anything like that, I’m just saying that these kids are more committed to the actual values (in a “how you live your life” kind of way) espoused during the Almighty 60’s, and are also conducting themselves in a slightly more sensible fashion. OK? Now take your Cialis and get back in the bathtubs!]
Now that I’ve gone on a self-aggrandizing tangent, thrown down a generational gauntlet, and hyped things up to a fever pitch; let us return to my account of the proceedings (the lineup was slightly different than the poster due to cancellations and replacements), since in 20 years you’re all going to pretend you were there anyway (Yeah, I said it!):
I really wish I’d been able to see more of the set by Origin of Animal, a constantly fluctuating collective of musicians dedicated to unique sound craft. Unfortunately, I was getting wound up for my own show and couldn’t allow myself to get sucked into their performance, as much as I would have liked to. The small portion viewed (with the rest heard through open windows) was astounding, a large group of musicians with a dazzling variety of instruments artfully improvising to create a unique musical experience, and succeeding extremely well. Just the sort of thing that gets my mojo flowing. I need to see them again real soon in a situation where I can really let go and lose myself in their music.
I also missed much of the set of my good friends Cousin Bones, a crazy blues poetry roadhouse punk ensemble, who were bringing it in a way that I hadn’t seen before. Dropping the ironic distance that occasionally hampers their work and kicking out the jams in a fierce fashion, front man Wes Heine and his posse blew the roof off the joint and brought the already overheated crowd to a fever pitch. So much so that I was wondering how the hell I was going to follow that rock and roll asswhuppin’ with my puny little words.
But I did my thing and folks seemed to dig it (see previous posting).
Then it was time for Things Falling Apart. First, some background info generously provided to me by the band’s founder, Bob Aspatore. Things Falling Apart began about 7 years ago as Bob’s solo project, for which he brought in Brandon Welch as a collaborator. Things went very well and the duo expanded the lineup to six musicians and began in earnest as a musical assemblage. The lineup changed a little over the next several years, but they remained a six piece until last November, when a bit of “intraband turmoil” resulted in the number dropping to a core of four musicians.
Further turmoil at a show later that month caused the remaining members to go on “indefinite hiatus,” and the future of Things Falling Apart looked dim [In Bob’s words, “I say ‘indefinite hiatus’ because we were all too passive-aggressive to say ‘the band broke up’.”].
The quartet resumed communication early this summer, however, and began to mend some fences all around. “Then this show was offered to us and we decided to say yes. It felt right.” Bob and company then sent out an invitation to all the members who had ever played with the group to join them for this show, plus some invitations to several people who had become “honorary members” over the years. This brought the lineup for the August 15, 2009 show to a whopping nine musicians, all in the mood for reconciliation and reunion, and with the goal of creating a one time only musical event.
And what an event it was. Concerned mainly with their own artistic goals, the musicians took up residence on the stage (which had seemed pretty big until that point) in a configuration which almost resembled that of a traditional Irish séssion (where the players all sit facing each other in a circle with their backs to the audience) and settled in.
If you’ve never experienced improvised instrumental music of this strain (bands like Tortoise, La Makita Soma, Mono, Explosions In The Sky, Electralane, Canyon, etc. etc.– there are several who till this fertile soil); it usually starts a bit soft and mellow as a few players begin to play a simple melody and/or chord progression, then gets more complex and involved as more of the musicians weave their way into the tapestry, eventually building to a series of crescendos which can last for an extremely long time, depending on the inventiveness of the ensemble.
This particular conglomeration of players was particularly inventive and in an especially intense place, so the audience was taken on an incredible ride. This trip was made even more surreal by an atmospheric fog machine and the mind blowing graphic designs of video artist Matt Jensen, which were being projected onto various surfaces throughout the space. Time seemed to slow to a crawl as the nonet of improvisers brought everyone along with them into a sublime state of sonic inundation, one as powerful as any I have ever experienced (not like the Art Ensemble of Chicago show at UW-M, where I started hallucinating when I wasn’t even on anything, but even they were never able to do that again for me).
Yes, I was very receptive to a musical epiphany, having just had my own great performance experience and being more than a little bit buzzed by that point; but I could have walked into that room off the street sober as a judge and still been blown away by the improvisational skills and musicianship of that particular aggregation of troubadours. Things Falling Apart rocked my world that evening. I also got a copy of their 2005 album, As Above-So Below, which I’ve been listening to constantly for the past several days, so it wasn’t just a one time thing. [It’s almost embarrassing to rave about something this much, but I’ve got to call it like I feel it.]
Fortunately, the End of Times show felt so good for them that Things Falling Apart will be returning to regular playing/recording as a four piece, with an open invitation to the rest of the former and honorary members who can make it for live shows. “Thus, a new line-up with every show, a unique performance of every song. All the wonderful sweaty nervous moments that come with the unpredictability of live shows and not really knowing how to get to the end, just that you need to get to the end.”
Matrameru was more than up to the task of following Things Fall Apart, being of the same eclectic improvisational ilk with the added aspects of intense visionary spoken word coupled with electronic/hip hop influences. Leader Georg Garret really knows how to bring the shamanism and the lilting cadence of his powerful voice glides above the mellifluous roar of the instrumental/electronic soundscapes created by his talented cohorts, most notably multi-instrumentalist Luc Sequiera, who at one point even hopped over to the enormous pipe organ and started working it like Sun Ra meets Captain Nemo, the whole ensemble incorporating it into the piece as if they always dragged a two ton Christ Calliope around with them to gigs.
The night was closed out by Donoma, who I’d seen before and are one of my favorite young bands (and not just because I know and really dig them all). If I were going to glibly describe them as a drink (which it seems that I am), the recipe would be- One Part Flaming Lips, One Part PJ Harvey, with a splash of Portishead and a twist of Cocteau Twins. They are still growing and gelling as a creative unit, and I really like the brand of shamanistic swampfunk progpunk (there goes that Word Collider again!) that these kids are brewing. They had been busting their asses all night making the event flow smoothly and still managed to summon up the mojo to bring the rock and roll with authority, overcoming distractions and technical difficulties to kick out some serious jams and end the night with a bang.
The show was followed by an open jam that was extremely freewheeling and fun; there was even a point where Wes dragged me up to the mic just as the musicians were launching into an intense bluesy jam. Several sheets to the wind, I started some improvised growling which quickly evolved into this Memphis style song cycle featuring some concepts that had been bouncing around my head for several years as a sort of philosophical treatise, but were now flowing out in a Tom Waits meets Thomas Berry meets David Bohm meets Arthur Conley torrent. At least that’s what it felt like to me, other people may have just seen a weird drunken old guy barking out a bunch of crazy crap. Although a few folks seemed to dig it, perhaps even the two slightly sarcastic Chicago Police officers who rolled in a few minutes later to shut things down for the night (my apologies to the good citizens of Wicker Park if I disturbed their slumber).
So there it was, all over but for the tear down and clean up. A wonderful night of artistic rebirth and musical enjoyment for me, one I’m still a bit jazzed by (if you couldn’t tell that already by my rhetorical “flights of frenzy”). I met scads of talented artists and musicians whom I hope to be privileged enough to work with again in the future, perhaps even collaborate on some sound/word fusion pieces.
Wes and Israel (who I’ll be eternally grateful to for the opportunity to return to spoken word) are already working on putting together another event, so keep an eye on this site for more info on that and several other endeavors that will be coming to fruition in the coming months.
Particularly the launch party for Hollywood On Lake Michigan, 2nd Edition; which could turn out to be a pretty big shindig. [That’s all I can say for now.]
Donoma closed the show with authority.
I thought I might provide a breakdown of my experiences at the End of Times event on August 15, both as a participant and spectator.
Since it’s my blog (and I’m so all about me anyway), we shall start with my return to the Spoken Word Performance Art world after a several year hiatus.
It was hotter than all get out both inside and outside of the venue, so it wasn’t difficult to warm up and get that whole “sweat lodge” experience going. Any nervousness about my rustiness was quelled by the warm and accommodating nature of all the performers in the impromptu “green room” (literally, for once) that was the garden area behind the converted church where the event was held. Knowing that these people were all the kind of folks who would be into the sort of thing I was planning to do (I almost don’t care how the audience responds just as long as the other performers respect me, probably a throwback to my stand-up days), I was able to concentrate on getting my shaman on and really focus and emotionally prepare.
This revamped church was the perfect venue for this event and this particular performance of mine; with the curved wooden pews, the lovely giant mural of the Ascending Christ on the back wall, and a still nicely working pipe organ (they even had a tall pulpit stage right). Israel Alpizar (one of the event organizers and member of the art rock assault force that is Donoma) brought me up and I settled in with a few blathering opening remarks and the set up for the first poem I read, one I wrote several years ago, called Johnny Griffin (about seeing the legendary jazz tenor player for the first time). Here it is:
By Michael Corcoran
I’m sitting at the tiny table like a kid at Christmas
Waiting to open presents
I want to turn around and scream
At the old man in the back of the club
Who stands there like some living diorama
History embodied in stooped shoulders
And a laugh like sandpaper rubbing wax
He’s talking with friends he hasn’t seen in a year
It’s just another show for him
A day in his life
But it’s Church/the Grand Canyon/Stonehenge/Voodoo
and the Art Institute to me
And I want the priest/professor/shaman to get his ass onstage
To recreate that missed moment in time I mourn for
Finally he looks up as if suddenly noticing the stage
And remembering who he is
He sidles towards it and the musicians suddenly materialize
Like flickering ghosts called forth
The ceremony’s about to begin
Set the Way Back Machine for 52nd Street!
The sax is a bolt of captured lightning in his hands
That throws off sparks of incandescent joy
Contorting sorties of psychedelic hummingbirds
Weave around our bobbing heads and twitching legs
The barrier’s eroded between heaven and earth
Spirit/Man/Horn now one circuit
A transistor radio picking up the Music of the Spheres
A Pentecostal Reverend speaking tongues of golden fire
Drums beat waves of thunder like echoes of Krakatoa
The throbbing pulse of quasars at the edge of infinity
Sometimes he pulls the horn from his mouth
And gasps in a hoarse orgasmic rasping growl
Like the mating cry of galaxies
The rumble of drifting continents
The universe awakening from a dream
It’s probably the best poem I’ve ever written (not that I’m Milton or anything), and (despite my rust) it turns out that I’m still able to bring it as an orator; so the already warm and receptive crowd was now really on board as I segued into the second piece (which I wrote especially for this show). It is a lyric visionary performance poem that dealt with several of the themes of the event, is untitled for now (just realized I never got past Sacred Geometry Performance Piece.doc- I’ll have to think up a title), and at least for the moment shall only be orally disseminated (that means I ain’t going to print it out here).
That second piece went extremely well (no matter how many times you recite something in your dining room you can never tell how it’s going to actually work onstage), and I really wanted to focus and bear down for the narrative storytelling piece that closed my show.
I explained that it was a segment taken from a much larger solo show I had created as a school project years before, entitled Thirty Circles (pretty much the oral narrative of the first thirty years of my life), then provided some background to make up for the forty five minutes of exposition that precedes this particular story in Thirty Circles.
I intoned an ancient Irish storyteller’s incantation to bring back the sacred story circle vibe that had been broken by all my ‘splaining of stuff and launched into it. The tale seems a bit sordid and loses its effect if I just dryly synopsize it (besides, you folks gotta come see it live sometime), so I’ll forgo any play by play; but it lasted about 12 minutes or so, I really got into the telling, everyone seemed to enjoy it, and it proved to be a very nice cap on what was an incredible performance experience for me and a perfect return to my roots (the rebirth of my artist within- if you will).
I headed to the back garden green room and took a moment to come down from the powerful emotions that are brought up when one does a performance of that sort, then headed back inside to see the next band, Things Falling Apart.
I was going to make this just one big monster post, but it looks as it would be best split it up into two sections to save everyone (especially myself) some eye strain. Next post will be about the 5 incredible bands that were also there that night.
Have a great weekend, ya’all!!!