Endless Sounds: Jonathan Wood Vincent, Andrea Parkins, Beach Fossils, Anna Bolena at the MET and Pray for Polanski

The past few days have been truly incredible. I am coming down from quite the music high and I have to tell you all about it before CMJ starts tomorrow and a new week full of amazing music hits all over again. Unfortunately, I left my little Lumix at home this weekend so there isn’t any photographic evidence of my doings, but I promise I’ll show you all more photos this week.

On Thursday, I went to The Counting Room in Greenpoint (Williamsburg? The nebulous border between?) to hear Andrea Parkins and my friend Jonathan Wood Vincent. Andrea Parkins is a sound artist and pretty well-established in the “scene” here in New York. (I quickly learned upon my arrival here that there is a “scene” here for pretty much everything.) She has a fender-amplified accordion, a laptop, an upright bass player with his own laptop, and a plethora of noise-making objects; rolls of tape, bells, and odd bits and pieces. She holds these little objects to a microphone and manipulates them to elicit the mostly crackly of tape crackles, the shrillest ring of high, shrill bells as long, low tones ring from the upright bass. I couldn’t really tell you exactly what sounds were made or what “happened” during her performance because I was in a meditative state. The noise of my own overactive brain was completely dulled by the insanity of noise that is Andrea Parkins’ music and I, finally, felt that I could completely relax and empty my mind. The overwhelming wall of sound, with no structure or form, no beginning middle or end, completely enveloped me and allowed me to forget myself entirely. If you don’t have ADD like I do, this music is probably not for you. Listen here.

Jonathan Wood Vincent is a graduate of the Contemporary Improvisation program at the New England Conservatory and is a masterful player of innumerable instruments, but plays most often on the piano and the accordion. I have fully disclosed our existing friendship and, though I write about my friends a lot (there will be more of my friends later in this post,) it is only because I am lucky enough to be friends with some wonderfully talented people. Vincent’s performance this particular evening was, once again, entirely different from the past 3 times I have seen him play yet just as mesmerizing as before. He played the accordion and talked and sang in an endless flow of sensical and nonsensical music and speech that was as impressive as it was frightening. I watched as he put forth a torrent of thoughts, feelings and accordion sighs until, at the very end, he suddenly landed on a familiar chord and fell into a song I have heard him play before. I don’t know the name of the song but it is profoundly beautiful. Sparsely arranged, with just a few chords, Vincent sings “We all have a job, you do not like your job.” This music is haunting, funny, impressive and utterly unique. To write about it is nearly impossible. Listen here.

On Friday, I went to see Beach Fossils play in Williamsburg in a show put on by their label Captured Tracks. I have written about them here before and my previous statements still stand; I love this band. Their album sounds very different from their live show, but I really dig it so much. Their recorded music is languorous and I immediately feel the heat of the sun on my face and the sound of the waves, I always listen to this music when I’m homesick for L.A.. Strange, since Beach Fossils is, after all, a Brooklyn-based band. Their live show never fails to be a great time this show was a high-energy blast of crazy. I nailed an amazing spot, standing right behind a pile of Amps right next to the stage, and I could see the band, from just a few feet away, as well as the insanity of the underage, somewhat violent moshing crowd. The crowd was sweaty, berserk, and knowledgeable, singing along to pretty much every song and screaming at the most recognizable opening riffs for songs like “Sometimes” and “Youth.” Frontman (and friend, again) Dustin Payseur always delivers a solid and visibly stoked performance and when he put down his guitar, grabbed the mike and stood at the end of the stage, fervent concert-goers hugged him around the waist and shoulders and squeezed him tight, enveloping him in a giant, sweaty raucous love-hug.

THERE’S MORE. My life is awesome.

On Saturday, I went to the Metropolitan Opera to see a brand-new production of Anna Bolena, an opera written by Gaetano Donizetti in about 1830. You might be looking at the name of this opera and thinking to yourself that, “Hm, that sounds rather familiar….but, no, it can’t be.” Oh, yes, it can. This is a Bel Canto opera, in Italian, which tells the story of Anne Boleyn and Henry the VIII, which happened in 1534. There are a few goofy elements here. Many of the English names, like Smeaton, the young page boy, in love with Anne, or Seymour, as in Jane, who becomes Henry’s third wife as Anne waits to be beheaded, don’t totally translate into Italian and feel a little clunky amidst the beautiful Italian libretto. However, the story is so juicy and Anne Boleyn so tormented and mad that I quickly bought into the reality Donizetti presented.  The production was IMPECCABLE, truly. The perfect period costumes were created by Jenny Tiramani, a veteran of the Globe Theatre in London, whose lush velvets, rhinestones and pearls made every character look as wealthy as their real-life historical counterparts, a quality often lacking in underfunded stage productions (in my head, I kept seeing images of Showtime’s The Tudors, whose costumes were so costly and detailed, and Tiramani’s versions lived up to the standard set by the high-budget television drama.) Three of the lead cast members were Russian; Jane Seymour was played by Ekaterina Gubanova, Henry VIII by Ildar Abdrazakov and Anne Boleyn by……….ANNA NETREBKO! One of my all-time favorite Sopranos. She is stunningly beautiful, by any standard, of normal human proportions (not over 300 pounds or under 100) and is an incredibly dynamic and captivating actress, in addition to having a sublime voice. My only complaint is that, during the first act, Netrebko was not in top form. There were more than a few moments where her voice cracked as well as two very anti-climactic high C’s. However, act 2 dawned on what felt like a completely different day for Netrebko, who was suddenly the commanding and mad diva I know her to be, with impeccable vocal runs and shockingly loud and clean high C’s. I love her, so I can try to forgive her the first act, but it was a tad disappointing. The real standout for me in this cast, though, was Tamara Mumford, the mezzo-soprano playing Mark Smeaton. Her voice was so rich and deep and the specificity of her runs was surprising and wonderful, as though she were an oboe playing each individual note with perfect clarity. I can’t wait to hear more from her and it’s exciting to see such a talented American mezzo coming to the forefront of the opera community. The end of the opera was the most exciting part. We all know what happens, Boleyn is doomed from the beginning, but, in this version of the story, she goes mad as she awaits her fate in the Tower of London. In Opera, when one goes mad, one sings. The “mad scene” as it is fondly known in the bel canto style of opera, was stupendous;  Netrebko was delightfully nutty and her singing reached near-critical levels. The screaming that ensued at the end of her aria (yet only midway through the actual mad scene) was deafening. At the end of the Opera, as she accepts her fate, Netrebko lifted her hair off of her neck and turned to show us the back of her head as she walked off stage, singing. And, on the second story of the set, an executioner appeared, holding a sword as a red silk curtain plummeted from the top of the stage. And then the entire audience screamed as we rocketed to our feet, applauding.

After I walked forty blocks to recover from four hours of sitting at the Opera, I went back to Williamsburg to see my friends Pray for Polanski, who were visiting from Boston, play at Legion. I have been friends with these folks for quite a while now and I’ve always really liked their sound. It’s frenetic indie-billy punk music and it rocks. So hard. Front-people Aviv Rubenstein and Anne Warnock belted song after song, each one heart-breakingly, teeth-gnashingly, fist-pumpingly good. They had one of the tightest shows I’ve ever heard and Warnock’s high belt is so impressive, Amy Lee ain’t got nothin on this. Their songs are catchy without being invasive and Rubenstein’s shockingly honest lyrics give this hard music a welcome, soft edge. The feelings he expresses are relatable and wonderfully portrayed. “Silver Pewter Chain” describes an obsessive kind of love and Warnock puts all her baggage in the trunk of this one as she sings, “If you really loved me, you’d still be in bed ’cause I’m trying hard to memorize each hair on your head and I mark the perfect parts with an X until there’s nothing left.” Listen to their new album here.

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One response to “Endless Sounds: Jonathan Wood Vincent, Andrea Parkins, Beach Fossils, Anna Bolena at the MET and Pray for Polanski

  1. Well that was truly hilarious! I loved that you reviewed a performance artist, avant garde Jonathan, Anna Netrebko and Pray for Polanski all in one review. You have a light funny touch. brava! keep it up!

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