Atmosphere is just an organic, friendly, not un-feeling word for context; and context can influence, if not wholeheartedly make, something wonderful. Human interaction is fundamentally dependant on mood — of the setting as well as the involved. Music is no different and quite often is universally personal for its audience.
As a brief aside, music makes my world go around. It has helped make some of the most difficult times in my life more bearable and elevate the best parts to transcendent states of nirvana. Almost. My taste is, in a cliché, eclectic. Jazz, fusion, classic rock, jungle, big beat, punk, old school gangsta rap, abstract hip-hop, 80’s and faux 80’s new wave rock, turntablism, well-aged crooners and most everything in the gaps between the aforementioned.
Diner — the film that gave Paul Riser, Mikey Rourke, Daniel Stern and Kevin Bacon their collective start (and is strangely enough a good film)—there is a scene I can’t help sheepishly cringing through:
“Beth. Beth. Beth, come here. Have you been playing my records?”
“So, didn’t I tell you the procedure?”
“Yeah, you told me all about it Shrevie. They have to be in alphabetical order.”
“And what else?”
“They have to be filed alphabetically and according to year, as well… okay?
“And what else?” Beth stalls.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t know, well let me give you a hint.” Shrevie quips, irritated. “I found my James Brown record filled under the J’s instead of the B’s; I don’t know who taught you to alphabetize! But to top it off, he’s in the rock and roll section instead of the R&B section, how can you do that?”
“It’s too complicated, Shrevie. Every time I pull out a record there’s this whole procedure I have to go through. I just want to hear the music, that’s all.”
“Is it just so complicated to keep my records in order? Put the Rock and Roll with the Rock and Roll, put the R&B with the R&B. I mean you’re not going to put Charlie Parker in with the Rock and Roll would you?”
“I don’t know, who is Charlie Parker?” Beth sheepishly asks.
“JAZZ! JAZZ! He was the greatest jazz saxophone player that ever lived!”
“Hey! What are you getting so worked up about? It’s just music; it’s not that big a deal.”
“No, no it is… don’t you understand? This is important to me!”
“Shrevie, why do you have to yell at me? I never hear you yell at any of your friends.”
Shrevie beckons, standing up and shuffling vinyl as if it were playing cards. “Pick a record, any record.”
“Any record.” Shrevie continues as Beth reluctantly makes her choice. “Okay what’s the hit side?”
“Good Golly Miss Molly.”
“Now ask me what’s on the flip side.”
“Just ask me what’s on the flip side, okay?” Beth conforms to Shrevie’s request. “Hey, Hey, Hey, Hey. 1958, Specialty Records.” Beth nods in agreement and subdued bemusement. “See, you never ask me things like that. You never ask me what’s on the flip side!”
“No. Because I don’t give a shit! Who cares what’s on the flipside of a record?”
“I do! Every one of my records means something! The label, the producer, the year it was made. Who was copying whose styles, who was expanding on whose work. Don’t you understand? When I listen to my records, they take me back to a certain point in my life, okay? Just don’t touch my records. Ever!” Shrevie motions to leave as Beth is getting teary-eyed. “The first time I met you? Modell's sister's high school graduation party, right?” Beth nods in misty agreement. “1955. And Ain't That A Shame was playing when I walked into the door!”
Static studio recordings are just that. Very few artists manage to transfer onto an album the kind of energy and fervor a live performance brings. At its best, a live show can be electrifying beyond words and description; the gamut of human emotion: joy, fear, anger, loathing, euphoria and the whole lot can be easily brought on by music and its performers. From experience I can say, almost definitely, that the events that best inspire these phenomena are small venues filled by quirky, offbeat personae who feel just as strongly about music as, hopefully, the people filling that club, bowling alley, garage, back yard, banquet hall, beach, park or whatever else do.
Whenever I get to be a part of something like that I’m happy. Nothing else matters. Not my job, not my steadily deteriorating family life, not school; not my fucking misery. My problems dissolve into the ether of the night. It’s the purest escapism I’ve found in the eighteen short and largely insignificant years I’ve been alive. No drug — and I’ve tried plenty, no person or relationship — and I’ve known and had plenty, no physical sensation or altered state of mind can come close to the unadulterated mirth brought on by a good show.
Shortly before the return of my infamous and much-celebrated chronic bronchitis made its triumphant return last week, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing one of these performances. They’ve become my (somewhat more common) white whale. About 15 minutes from my domicile, conspicuously close I may add, is a classic, almost archetypical, pub: The Abbey Pub. Although most of their shows are 21 and over, inconveniently barring me from attending, this particular event had an early show for the 18 and over crowd. Lucky for me.
The Abbey is a bar with a small-ish dance floor/concert hall just big enough to be cozy and personal. You can order from their well-executed, reasonably priced but somewhat standard bar fare menu, have a seat and enjoy the music. On tap for the night were Kid Koala and the Short Attention Span Theatre, a curiously named band of good-spirited musical malcontents.
Eric san, alias Kid Koala, is the chief instigator. He brought together the whole gang. As he said himself,
“I’ve been playing night clubs for years and years now with some of the people with me tonight. And we’ve gotten a bit jaded. We decided we’d like to do something stranger and quirkier. So this is kind of what evolved out of that desire.”
The first hint that he was serious was the fact that the merchandise people and bouncers were handing out little brocures at the doorway. A tri-fold afair with a tear-off postcard on one side, unusual performer bios and strange line-art drawings. The back also sports a scratch-off panel that is captioned as "Scratch and Win!." When scratched off, all of the handouts say "You Win!"
Along with this, we were handed half of a crayon and a bingo card with matching artwork that was surely a joke. That set the mood pretty well as to what we were about to see. There were three main acts or blocks. Jester, Lederhosen Lucil and Kid Koala with a few others as well as animated shorts by Monkmous — Eric San’s cousin. Quirky, as promised, and surreal animation about life, relationships
and music. Oh, and bingo, there was bingo, too. Jester played a half-hour set of 80’s standards
, newer melodic hip hop
, old jazz records and obscure lounge music
, mixing everything together like an auditory jambalaya of delicious proportions. Because of the fact that there were barely seventy-five people in attendance at this small venue, every person there feels, and rightly so, that the performer is playing directly for them. So it becomes a phenomenon of paradoxically individual sharing of musical goodness among the crowd.
The second performer introduced, somewhat dubiously, by Eric
was Lederhosen Lucil.
“I met this next artist 7 years ago in Quebec, a city we share. I didn’t get to meet her again until 3 years ago and she blew me away, so I knew I had to do something with her. So are you ready?” A self assured crowd ballyhooed in the affirmative. “You think you’re ready, Chicago!”
Sly and overdramatic, as the rest of his humor that night. I’m quite convinced I wasn’t the only one in the audience that dismissed the statement immediately as being a cocksure
MC’s overzealous exaggeration
. How wrong I, and we, were.
The name is fitting; her performance is carried out in a comically exaggerated, tacky Halloween costume of stereotypically German roots. A too-fake blond pigtail wig covered by a felt green $2 Robin Hood hat and furthered by matching Lederhosen overalls
. Something you can picture an overeager kindergarten teacher wearing. To complete the guise, Lucil feigns a thick German accent even though she speaks French English and German fluently. After crowd-warming pleasantries, she elegantly and humorously exclaims, like a gleeful five year-old who’s just discovered pudding, “Take it away Yamaha!”
With the flick of a switch, a twist of a knob and a ho-hum button-pressing the crowd is swimming in a generic backbeat emanating from one of her vintage synthesizers almost worthy of a bar-mitzvah. However, Lucil proceeds to energetically and enthusiastically play the keyboard and profess the finer points of organic fruit. Her alternate, or rather non-alternate persona, Krista Muir, has worked quite frequently under the harsh, steadily demeaning glow of office fluorescents, so Lucil has a few songs about that bag of worms. Also on the program a lovely ditty about the automatic weapons of the world and a few other choice jingles.
Strange, funny, honest, simple, absurd and tributary to the Pet Shop Boys, she is possibly the truest, purest distillation of music’s power by virtue of the aforementioned. Although I was sad to see her leave us, all good things must, well, you know. Next and last as well as densest in the time continuum, was Kid Koala and his co-conspirators. If you can imagine any re-modulation of prerecorded music they did it. It’s hard to believe that someone can use a turntable as an instrument until you hear and see it. At this, Eric is truly a virtuoso. In a haphazard, as-we-go-along style the entire performance is interspersed, sometimes in a clandestine way, sometimes by the man himself, with Monkmous’ strange and wonderful animation and Mr. San’s good-hearted wit and humor. Oh, and bingo, there was bingo.
In the middle of the show, Eric breaks everything off and goes into bingo mode. Using the aforementioned graphic bingo cards (that are excellent enough to justify their existence without being used for any purpose) the entire room plays bingo for prizes. Holding a stuffed koala bear,
“People have been sending be this shit for ten years, so I figured I’d give some of it back!” says the Kid.
One of the rounds ended in a two-way tie which was fittingly solved; after briefly scouring the stage, the boy-girl versus was on. Both parties got an even amount of bubble wrap… now race! Vinyl, books and assorted Short Attention Span Theatre swag was granted to the victors.
A few days later a not unattractive woman in my Non-Western History (A Liberal Critique of WASP Historical Faux Pas) class asked me if I was at the Abbey Pub. That brings the score to Serendipity: 4578 Efforted Attempts: 0