Review: Flying Lotus

The Blind Pig is generally a fairly correct representation of my worst nightmare.  It’s smokey, smelly, and inappropriately dark.  The music is too loud and poorly mixed.  The crowd is impolite and pushy.  It’s always a cool-but-what-if-we-had-a-better-venue experience.

So, Friday night at the Blind Pig, I was very pleasantly surprised.  The room was transformed for the Ann Arbor Film Fest and Dark Matter’s presentation of Flying Lotus.  The walls were lined with bed sheets and they hung from the ceiling. There were projections from the sides of the room with multiple digital projectors at once. And, there was a beautiful, old 16mm projector perched above the sound board in the back of the room.  I watched the opening act, Mahjongg, from the back and I could hear the faint clicking of the projector colliding with the rock and roll on the stage.  Though my family never played 16mm films (update! Obviously not 9mm…that would be pretty heavy hitting), I very strongly associate the 16mm clicking sound with home movies and family reunions.  I picture Franklin Delano Roosevelt at his vacation home, sipping lemonade.

I would have had a difficult time seeing Flying Lotus sipping lemonade on a lawn chair last week at the Blind Pig.  The sold-out crowd went nuts every time he changed tracks.  The Flying Lotus albums are not terribly danceable.  The tracks are often a-rhythmic and too weird to move to.  The live set, however, was radically different.  He added a heavy beat and a strong dub-step influence to keep the audience, at least, bobbing heads the whole time.  At times, the gross dude in front of me’s hair was too close to my face to do anything but nod my head and back away.  At other times, the whole dance floor was moving together.  He mixed popular tracks from Radiohead (see video below) and Lil’ Wayne into the heavy electronic music he is known for.

I am generally unimpressed by electronic DJ performances. I have trouble seeing the artistry in playing on a computer.  From the floor, it usually looks like the artist is just choosing the next song from his iTunes catalog.  Flying Lotus, however, put on a show.  He fed off the crowd’s energy, danced around, poked fun at the ‘bored’ girl in the front row, and, more generally, seemed fully in control of the Blind Pig atmosphere.

Unfortunately, the Film Festival continues to have a problem attracting a diverse audience.  The only diversity was in the range of cool kids wearing seemingly expensive outfits to the cool kids wearing seemingly thrifty outfits.  Some were old enough to wear ear plugs.  Most weren’t.  This audience make up is most disappointing because the show really had incredible crossover appeal.  If you got into the show, you were going to dance.

My apologies that the review is a bit late.  Because it is a bit late though, the good people over at Mood Gadget have posted a high video quality, solid sound quality video of Flying Lotus’ mix of Radiohead’s Idioteque.  Check it out below (there is also an HD version on their YouTube site)

Also, review of ‘An Evening With Kenneth Anger’ at the Ann Arbor Film Festival- coming soon.


Preview: Flying Lotus

Flying Lotus

Wowzo Wowzee- huge show tonight- Flying Lotus, live at the Blind Pig.

Flying Lotus is an experimental hip hop, dance, electronic music maker from the west coast.  He creates the ever-elusive intelligent beats that make a dude want to dance.  Flying Lotus is in town to premiere a live score to Harry Smith’s 1972 ‘Heaven & Earth Magic’, an animated experimental film, at the Ann Arbor Film Festival (more on the Film Fest tomorrow- but check it, check it, check it.)  However, the official Ann Arbor Film Festival afterparty- hosted with Ann Arbor cool kids, Dark Matter– is a live set from Flying Lotus himself, along with VJ Strangeloop, and Chicago band Mahjongg.

Look, the dude is the great nephew of Alice Coltrane, he’s making ridiculous beats right now, he puts on a show (saw him at DEMF last summer- zedis!), and he is a well known fan of weirdo drug DMT.

Get to the Film Fest screening and then mosey your ways over to the Blind Pig.  Or Razor scooter, or whatever you gotsta do.

Review: So Percussion

So Percussion (2007 New York performance of Steve Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood”)
So Percussion (2007 New York performance of Steve Reich’s “Music for Pieces of Wood”)

So, this post is pretty delayed. There is no real excuse.  We all talk about how busy we are. Since we are all busy, it is boring to talk about. I won’t bother.

The background on this one is that I am generally pretty skeptical of what can only be described as “weird shit”.  Obviously, the presentation of weird shit stretches across all art forms, across all sectors of life.  Damien Hirst-weird shit. Philosophy- weird shit.  Unicycles- weird shit.  The list goes on. I expected weird from So because they planned to play a set of only Steve Reich. Of course, “shit” may be weird to me and not so weird to you. However, although I can’t be certain, I would guess that there is some consensus to the fact that the work of composer Steve Reich is pretty weird.  Reich, they say, is a composer of contemporary classical music- or, is that classical contemporary?  He works in the realm of minimalism, art broken down to its most fundamental aspects.

First off, the UMMA space was a really great space for this performance.  The apse, in the old part of the museum, had rows and rows of chairs set up and the upstairs had seating around the railing overlooking the main floor.  We sat upstairs to catch a view all of the instruments as well as the audience.  In an improvement from past performances at UMMA, the stage did not have a curtain- it was just an elevated platform at the end of the hall.  We were truly in a museum- even museum security! (Why do I get the impression that museum security guards are pretty square?  Maybe art museums should look into hiring security guards that are interested in art in order that they can also act as guides or helps in the galleries.  Or maybe it’s just the uniform and the mandatory cold glares that make me think they are squares- easily changeable characteristics).  One particularly cool only-in-an-art-museum moment was during the “Mallet Quartet” piece, you could see the shadows and reflections of the percussionists movements on the art and the walls in bright golds and oranges and, well, normal shadows.

And, the music was weird. Definitely. Especially the piece that was not percussion instrument based- “Four Organs” (in which, a UofM music student played the maraca part for 15 minutes.  A crazy show of endurance.  Listen to the song below and think about this kid keeping that exact maraca rhythm for 15 minutes.  You just wanted to cry for the kid and his forearms.  Absurd).  However, despite its experimental force, the pieces found ways to connect with me, rather easily.  In the excerpt from ‘Drumming’, I could hear the United States’ history with Africa, and a US battle march played with all four percussionists on a line of six (yes? I think, six.) drums and their interconnections and intricacies.  In every piece, really, I could find something to latch onto, something to think about and study.  The pieces they played are in the playlist below (except for the newest piece, “Mallet Quatet”, which they were playing for just the second time in the states.  It is a Reich piece commissioned for So Percussion (and a few other percussion groups).

I had the opportunity to talk to these guys for a bit at the Eve after party- a really fun time hearing these young dudes philosophize and tell stories in the hip bar atmosphere.  But, at one point, one of the guys, Adam, was talking about what he has seen from being on tour and playing around the country.  He said that people are trying, again, to understand what is true American culture- like, what is ours and what is theirs? And, perhaps slightly biased, but nonetheless, he got the sense that rhythm and percussion just made sense to people in terms of helping to define American culture.  That, although the Reich pieces were pretty out, people could find ways to relate to their patterns and rhythms.

Great night.  The dudes are working on an album with Matmos for this summer. Matmos always seems to be doing pretty cray cray thangs- so definitely watch out for that.

Booyah, Bennett

Preview: Sô Percussion

Sô Percussion
Sô Percussion

The top of the Sô Percussion website reads, “If you think about it, drums are the new violins.”  Uh, what?  It’s a quote from a recent New York Times article about the rise of percussionists.  I read the article. Uh, what the poop?

That’s not fair.  The article is pretty great- developing the journalist’s relationship to percussion along with the rise of percussion in the classical music world. But, still, I continue to have a difficult time understanding a drum as a violin.

We will see tonight as Sô Percussion, a quartet of young (for the classical music world at least) Yale School of Music grads, plays two sets at the UofM Museum of Art.  The first set (7:30pm) will be performed in the museum’s apse while the second (10pm) will start in the apse and travel around to different parts of the museum.

Then, Sô Percussion after party at eve in Kerrytown with DJ Forest Juziuk of Dark Matter on the ones and twos.  Showgoers and non-showgoers are very invited.

Tickets are steep and almost sold out but any open tickets will be available at the door.  (The $40 ticket price and limited availability raises the question of whether UMS should even be presenting Sô Percussion.  Very antithetical to a goal of inclusiveness.  How far should UMS stray from this mission to present top talent? Oh, Saturday afternoon philosophy).

Farewell me maties, Bennett

Review: The Bad Plus (++++)

The Bad Plus (Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, and Dave King)
The Bad Plus (Ethan Iverson, Reid Anderson, and Dave King)

In high school, in our age of the new driver’s license, I had a crew of friends that became very anti-social.  Most of the kids with new driver’s licenses found a new freedom in planning a night out, not on a dad’s watch- but their own, or not having to ask a mom for a drop off at a girl’s house (or even worse, a pickup at a girl’s house. Awkward).  Instead, these guys asked their parents for use of the family car for the night just to drive around town with each other.  They would pack five in a five seater or seven in a mini van, open all the windows, pass a spliff, and, most importantly, put on a jazz record- full blast.  Then, for hours, just cruise.  The only communication was the focused passing of the spliff and the yelps and groans that were their responses to the jazz record.

I never rode with them. I didn’t smoke but, more isolating, I didn’t know when to yell.  I enjoyed jazz. I always have. But, I enjoyed jazz with the old folk that frequented Hill Auditorium for Wynton Marsalis.  We put on nice clothes on a Sunday afternoon,Wynton charmed us with his anecdotes, and played impeccably. We clapped politely when the set was over.

This was not how the boys in the car on Huron River Drive listened to jazz.  They interrupted when they wanted, responded when they were moved.  They didn’t just let Wynton play for them (well, they quickly wrote Wynton off as a square and a sell out so it wasn’t Lincoln Center from the speakers anyway)- they were fully engaged as a part of the music.  They said this is what jazz, the only true American art form, is about.  Not about playing to concert halls and suits but to people, to individuals, to communities.

So, in order to get a chance to hang out with my friends and stuff, I am trying to learn jazz, “the language of jazz” (as taught by UM jazz prof. and jazz legend Geri Allen).  On Thursday night, as a hands-on lesson, I had the great opportunity to see The Bad Plus, a ridiculous trio with roots in the Midwest.  The Bad Plus is probably best known for covers of well known pop and rock songs including Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit and Neil Young’s Heart of Gold along with a new album of covers- For All I Care- that features vocalist Wendy Lewis.  However, in the second of two shows, The Bad Plus played a set of mostly originals.

These guys are nuts. Ethan Iverson, on the keys, introduces the band and the set list with a stoicism straight out of a Roman sculpture however, upon sitting down, Iverson, the bass man Reid Anderson, and the drummer Dave King swing so hard and with so much emotion.  While Iverson strokes the keys while seemingly doing leg squats over his bench, King pounds then caresses then pounds away at his drum set while pulling out an army of children’s play instruments to augment his sound.  And, King yells just like my friends driving down Main St.  He’s not speaking to his band mates or the audience, he’s yelling at his drum set, the sounds of his trio.  Also, just like the dudes packed into the green CRV, the 9:30 show audience was a hip, young crowd- a bunch of giddy kids in the lobby after the show.

It was still the Lydia Mendelssohn Theater with assigned seating and shiny programs.  There were still nicely dressed ushers escorting us to our seats.  But, Thursday night, the spirit of the communal jazz experience- or, at least, how I am beginning to understand it- seemed to be in full fight with the powers that be, ‘the man’.  Next time, UMS presents the Bad Plus live at the Blind Pig? Doors at 9, $10 cover?  Or, UMS presents Wynton Marsalis and Lincoln Center Jazz playing ‘Flim’ by Aphex Twin (as The Bad Plus did Thursday night)? Or, will I have to start smoking weed to really understand what goes on in the car rides around town?

Over and out, Bennett

(Below are streams of my favorite Bad Plus album, ‘These Are The Vistas’ and the new album ‘For All I Care’) Oh, and for more live jazz, check out the UM Jazz Festival next Saturday.  Christian McBride Band, Geri Allen, Rodney Whittaker, Detroit Jazz Festival Orchestra, University of Michigan Jazz Ensemble.  Going to be crazy.  Schedule here.  Tickets here from Ticketmaster (or, as others have noted, ‘TicketBastard’).


Review: Cyrus @ Sundance USA

Usually I’m running ten minutes late and only hoping to find a seat before the film starts – trying to find a red velvety chair rather than the lap of a stranger.  Thursday night at the Michigan Theater, however, was an event.  There are 1700 seats in the main theater because film going used to be an event – a night out at the cinema.  Unfortunately, Ann Arbor rarely packs the Michigan Theater full these days (recent sell outs have included Michael Moore’s Slacker Uprising and Fahrenheit 9/11 as well as a Lord of the Rings showing).  Thursday night held a sold out crowd, full of excitement.

Honored to be a part of the Sundance USA inaugural series, the crowd cheered Michigan Theater Executive Director, Russ Collins, announcement that we were making history as well as the pre-taped thank you message from Robert Redford.  Unfortunately, once the film started, the crowd’s energy quickly faded.

‘Cyrus’, a new movie from the Duplass Brothers (The Puffy Chair, Baghead), tells the story of Cyrus (Jonah Hill- Superbad, Funny People), Molly (Marisa Tomei- My Cousin Vinny, The Wrestler), and John (John C. Reilly- Chicago, Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story).  Cyrus is the 21-year-old son and life partner of Molly while John is Molly’s first boyfriend since Cyrus was born.  ‘Cyrus’ tells the struggles of this love triangle.  It is only about this relationship as it takes place.  We never receive information about Molly’s past or Cyrus’ childhood- we never even know what city we are in, just a generic American suburb.  ‘Cyrus’ is, at its core, an in-depth analysis of the power struggles between the three.  It makes us question the Oedipal suggestions of Cyrus and Molly’s relationship, the honesty of a divorced and depressed John, and the nature of innocence.  The movie, however, is about a power struggle that has been played out and examined in culture too many times to count.

The Duplass Brothers did not want to make another crass, vulgar humor movie – Jonah Hill’s specialty.  In the mostly-failed attempt to appeal to a wider, more mature audience, the opportunities to laugh with the whole theater were few. Instead of full on laughs, the movie tried to feed us awkward chuckles.  When the movie finally finished, I felt drenched in the soppy relationship humor that plagued the movie.

Jonah Hill saved himself a few points when he came on stage wearing the traditional, maize & blue, block M fitted cap.  His girlfriend, a Michigan student, gave it to him- he told the curious crowd.  The Duplass Brothers saved themselves a few points as they introduced their editor and friend, Jay Doobie- a Northville native.  Sundance USA, the idea, seemed to thrive in the Michigan Theater setting- ‘Cyrus’, the movie, failed to match the hype.

A ridiculous week of arts events awaits us- The Bad Plus on Thursday night, University Dance Company’s (Re)Visionary Dance on Friday Night, and Só Percussion on Saturday Night. That is truly absurd.
When will I do econ, Bennett

‘Cyrus’ Trailer:

Sort of weird, Sesame St. mustache video: