Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Concert Review: Amazingly. . .disappointing

It was set up to be an interesting evening. Chris Thile, the mandolin prodigy famous for his three solo albums and his three bluegrass albums with his band Nickel Creek. Edgar Meyer, one of the most proficient double bass players in the world today. They are both masters of their instruments, both well-versed in the standard core related to their instruments, yet both given to pushing the boundaries in search of new sounds and ideas.

I went to the show, held in Seattle's beautiful Benaroya Hall, as fans of Thile. We had never heard of Meyer, but read his bio with great interest as we settled in to enjoy what we assumed would be a night of bluegrass, ballads, and great music. Thile's "How to Grow a Woman from the Ground" is one of our favorite albums, one we probably listen to every week, and thus we assumed we knew what we were getting into.

Unfortunately, that assumption was wrong.

Don't misunderstand. Thile and Meyer were utterly amazing. Their technical proficiency, their sense of musical phrasing, their ability to improvise were all astounding. The interplay between the two instruments was breathtaking to behold. They ripped off lightning-fast riffs with each note played clearly and distinctly, they harmonized in complex, atonal ways, they danced around ideas and tunes, passing back and forth with electric runs and complex sustained chords. Just watching them work their instruments was an inspiration.

It was just that the entire night turned into a 2-plus hour demonstration of experimental music. Their set consisted of music from their collaborations, music of their own composition, plus a few Bach numbers thrown in. Those classical pieces became, for us, the few enjoyable moments of the evening (ever heard a Bach Organ Prelude played by mandolin and concert bass? It can be surprisingly pleasent).

But they never went near any of their more standard work. Not one song from any of Thile's solo albums, nothing like his Nickel Creek days. And after two solid hours (with a short intermission), it all became too heavy. Too "out-there." It was, truly a disappointment.

Maybe if we'd been told ahead of time, and knew what to expect, we might have appreciated it more. Or, more likely, we wouldn't have gone, saving our money for Jolie Holland in Olympia next week. Truthfully - by the time we purchased the tickets, had a nice dinner out, spent the money on gas to get to Seattle and back, we were out a significant chunk of cash. And to hear "How to Grow a Woman" or "The Beekeeper" or "You're An Angel (and I'm gonna cry)" would have been worth it. But we got none of that.

All through the show, we kept telling ourselves "They've got to spend some time here, but they HAVE to pull out some of their other stuff. Too many people are looking forward to it." After the intermission we expected it. For the encore we expected it. But, nope. None of that.  To come with one set of expectations and be given something completely different was just, well, disappointing.

And I don't think we were the only ones. I noticed little pockets of people standing around at intermission, all dressed like bluegrass lovers, who had a haunted look in their eyes. Following the intermission I noted quite a few empty seats. Throughout the second half, I saw more and more people getting up quietly and walking out. Following their final song, when many stood to cheer and call for an encore, many more simply turned and left.

I hate to sound like a hick or a curmudgon, griping about this "new-fangled music" and wishing for something "dumbed-down." Truthfully, if we were on a college campus and had come for a night of experimental improv, I probably would have liked it. But this was so far away from what we were expecting, so different from what we had hoped. . .it was difficult to take.

And after 2 hours of odd chord structures, clashing riffs, atonal harmonies, euclidean time signatures, tweets and growls, moans and groans and exploding runs in the midst of pastoral clusters, after two hours of "Rabbit Cake" and "G222" and "The Fencepost," I just couldn't stand anymore.

It's rare for me to say this after a concert, but this time around, I really wish we had saved our money and stayed home.

Except, of course, that's it's always nice to be out,  and it was nice for the kids to see grandma and grandpa. I suppose those were the ultimate highlights of an otherwise dreary evening.

No offense to Chris or Edgar - you guys are amazing players. I just needed something to which I could tap my foot, and you never delivered.

1 comment:

roshni said...

you should have gone to see the sigur ros at benaroya the night before, it was FANTASTIC!
though, your concert sounds good to me. i understand the disappointment aspect. that is the worst.