Thursday, May 26, 2005

Kultur Week in Review: Early Edition

Traffic is in freefall, so it's about time I logged the week's cultural activities. Since that's what you come here for, after all. The Lord Zim Culture Report. And you are in luck. Not one not two but three count 'em three fancypants nights out.

Monday: Following a breezy, chatty little pre-show reception for season ticket holders, we attended the last Green Umbrella event of the season: "Conductor's Choice" with Peter Lieberson. No notes on this one. Why not? Because I can do whatever I want here, that's why not. A minor observation: As Lieberson led the 25-piece ensemble through his own Horn Concerto, the French horn star by his side, I watched the other French horn player, stuck at the back of the stage, in a funk and a row all his own. Or so I imagined. I couldn't stop wondering how the workaday horn player was feeling about playing second -- fiddle? -- to a horn star. A horn star playing the shiniest brass instrument ever.

Tuesday: dark.

Wednesday: Rush tix for a high-concept dance piece called "Play Without Words." Amazing. Funny, erotic, graceful, violent -- all the best adjectives. Plus the cliché adjectives: smoky, jazzy, cool. The story, based on Joseph Losey's 1963 film "The Servant," is fairly straightforward, as K observed, but the treatment is extraordinary for a few reasons. At any given time, each of the five main characters may be represented by up to three dancers at once. Three guys wearing the same suit and three women wearing the same dress trade partners and enact different attitudes, specific moments, and even possible outcomes, underscoring how complex life can be despite our need -- thanks, laws of physics! -- to wrap results up neatly. I usually like to say that there's no control group on a life, but in this piece, there sort of is.

A wizardly two-story structure on the stage combines two very different styles of staircases, two doors, and a variety of pipes and open areas that serve as apartment vestibule, subway car, peep show gallery, hiding place, and so on. And it revolves. Watching the sultry dancers strut down a revolving staircase is just one of the many pleasures of the piece. And no, there is no dialogue at all.

I'd go on, but I'm boring myself. I might as well just hold up a card that says "9.8," reiterate my endorsement, and move on to tonight's diversion. It's closing Sunday, so hurry if you're interested.

Speaking of interest, I had no interest in watching classical pianist Christopher O'Riley play his solo piano transcriptions of songs by Elliott Smith and Radiohead at UCLA's Royce Hall, but a friend did and her boyfriend didn't, so she called me. She knows I'm a goer. A good egg. A sport. And she was paying.

A few remarkable things:

1. I'm not the world's most punctual guy, but I've never seen so many people show up late. The audience -- 20s and 30s, wearing frowns and current hair -- kept flooding in between songs, long after the point at which people are usually all there. I figured they were unaccustomed to a hard start time; A. surmised they'd expected an opening act. Comical. The worst of it was that just as the lights dimmed we had scuttled about six rows forward from our mediocre $32 seats (!), so with every new influx of legitimate ticket-holders we wondered if our subterfuge would be laid bare. It wasn't, but the rustling of tardy passers-by was no picnic.

And what about all that yelling? I know, I'm a curmudgeon, but if you want to whoop at a show, go see System of a Down.

2. But Yogi, what about the music? O'Riley is very good technically -- occasionally amazing -- and a genuine fan of both acts, but I found the actual music to be overdone and often dull, even verging on smooth jazz at times in the Elliott Smith half of the show. Radiohead offered richer and more challenging source material, so I was able to stop thinking how easily he might break into "Piano Man."

3. Encores. No, not three encores. More like four or even five. I don't know; we left after three. It's not as though another encore was likely to add anything by then. Though it did break my record for number of encores witnessed. More on that below.

Interesting gimmick, good job thinking of it, great job monetizing it. But I've had my fill. You, however, can buy the beautifully assembled book of his Radiohead transcriptions for piano online. A mere three-score simoleons.

Regarding my broken record: Until tonight, I'd never seen anyone return to burn more times than John Cale did 20-some years ago after an exhausting, exorcistic show he played at the World Famous Whisky-a-Go-Go on the Sunset Strip. He and his band had rocked for well over two hours, sweat was dripping off the ceiling, the floor was shaking, and the crowd would not let him stop. These days, people barely clap long enough to let the performers escape the hot lights with some dignity (and maybe that's because I'm going to all these senior citizen venues and skipping the Fugazi shows), but back then, on that Hollywood night, John Cale's fans were adamant.

The band willingly played an encore or two and then, five minutes of clapping and stomping and hooting later, they came out grudgingly for another. And that still wasn't enough. We felt history was being made -- his great rock record "Honi Soit" was just out, the venue was historic, and the show was lasting longer than anybody had imagined it might. The clapping and stomping continued. Finally, several minutes later, Cale returned to the stage alone -- grateful, resentful, and worn out. He summoned a ghostly, wracked version of "Heartbreak Hotel" on the piano. It was a crushing performance, and he walked off, victorious and complete. It was over. We were done. Even I was satisfied.

But ... the crowd was not. The crowd had become The Crowd, that thing you read about in Shirley Jackson's story and Comparative Government class, and The Crowd still wanted more. I was flabbergasted. The man had gone beyond every standard of generosity and emotion, and he had nothing left.

So? So what?


Eventually he slouched back onstage (alone or with the band, I don't remember), tossed off a half-strength tune and told us all to go home or get fucked or something. Then the people knew it was done. I think the bouncers moved in to clear the floor, the lights came back on very bright, and the PA blasted some awful room-clearing music.

I knew even then that I should have left after the spellbinding "Heartbreak Hotel," but car-crash fascination held me rooted. After that display, I lost all respect for my fellow audience members, and I'd like to think it taught me a lesson about artists and their audiences. Or audiences and their artists. Feed me!

To wrap up this longest of all possible blog posts, I'll just note the maxim, new to me though probably old hat to you, "Serve the classes, live with the masses. Serve the masses, live with the classes." That's what's so brilliant about the O'Riley act: Dressing up popular alternative music in an egghead costume lets him reach a free-spending new audience quite apart from the stodgy classical buyer. I wonder if his career as a serious musician has suffered.

Hmmm. How might I apply that lesson to Lordzim? Maybe I should fill my blog with celebrities, TV, and gossip, after all. How 'bout those Hilton girls, huh? And what about that pip Lindsey Lohan? She's a singer too!

Let me sleep on that.


No comments: