By Michael Hamad
10:59 AM EDT, August 24, 2011
There's nothing like seeing a couple of great performers at an intimate venue in your hometown.
The Manhattan-based Emily Wells came out onstage wearing a giraffe head, then sat behind a table where she stayed the whole evening, creating beats, looping keys, violin and guitar, pounding a cloth-wrapped snare while she sang mesmerizing lines, adding more and more textures until she had something like her own choral cantata movement going on. The influences came from everywhere: pan-African grooves, '80s new wave, Bjork-ish wailing and teeth-gnashing (see clip below).
Colin Stetson came out and started blowing into the largest saxophone anyone's ever seen, and the walls shook (see clip below). Through circular breathing and no apparent reliance on electronic loops of any kind (that I could see, anyway), Stetson built up three patterns at once for most of his compositions: a repetitive, almost minimalistic arpeggio, a base of percussion brought about by pounding the huge instrument's keys, and a high, elusive obbligato from who-knows-where.
Everything strained as he did this; after each tune, Stetson was exhausted. At one point Stetson acknowledged, "Sometimes I get a headache. Not all the time, but this is one of those times." He switched over to tenor and moved around much more freely, and the music took on a lighter tone when he did.
(At one point, I tweeted, "Colin Stetson mixing industrial with doo-wop harmonies. On a large sax. Alone"; another tweet I re-read said: "The last piece, 'To See More Light,' was like watching a David Lynch movie." I stand by those tweets.)