Magik Markers/ Excepter
East River Park
After the last time, I had to give Excepter a rest, but the thought of them performing before the lumbering trajectories of trash barges and speedboats on the East River titillates. Sans watch, I have no concept of time and as I shuffle up, they are wrapping cables in the clamshell, Fell muttering in a bullhorn far from the stage.
Nick Sylvester is (perhaps mistakenly) accredited with floating the theory that Elisa and Leah of Magik Markers, rather than emulate the phallic wankery of rock's past, instead proffer a sapphic version of same self-dating moves. It would explain how hairy, wet, and sloppy Magik Markers shows can be, even with Leah nowhere to be seen and instead two dudes in throwback jerseys "manning" git and bass. Truthful or not, such a viral theory infects the experience, so that when Elisa gets down on her knees to lick her guitar and mic, lots of pale boys begin taking notes. I myself wonder if there's a little toggle switch to be flicked. Elisa is also prone to clutch her guitar tightly to her chest like a bookbinder, hiding her body like a prude as she walks down those high school corridors of her mind.
Stars Like Fleas + Shape-Note Choir
Do you know quite what it takes to look up into the firmament and see it quiver and spin? Do you know just how altered the skull has to be to make the eyes tremble so that the stars spin and jump around like Everclear? Lord knows I've had LCD displays do it and it ain't pretty. Although I haven't seen them previously, I am quite familiar with certain aspects and tendencies of Stars Like Fleas. An old bandmate plays with them and there were many wasted nigh--mornings where I had their early recordings auditioned. At that time, about the only impression left the morning after was how taken they were with Talk Talk's Laughing Stock.
It's hard not to like a band that feels similarly as I do about the stullying boundaries of words, genres, songs, and pushes through that and moves outwards, yet takes it all with them, in the hopes of embracing it all. Tendrils of free jazz, laptop noise, post-rock, chamber strings, and folk mingle, entwine, and converse like some intimate cocktail party. Tonight, they attempt to meld with a 15-person shape-note choir. Before you say "o brother," know that I only cop to the "red" Harry Smith set myself, but no one, least of all the band, quite knows how this ambitious experiment will work out. Rather than the 21-person sprawl they can conjure on-stage, Fleas are trimmed to nine or so, their improvisational off-the-handle tendencies tempered as they seek to find a middle ground with the choir.
My main problem with the show is that there isn't quite enough sonic space for the shape-note singers. Unmic'd, it's hard to discern their voices and even when they are audible, the voices themselves are not quite distinct, sharp, boisterous, or chaotic enough (my favorite aspects of this so-called anti-choir). Early on, the two entities entangle and try to find a place to be, but it seems as if everyone is reticent. About 3/4s through the Fleas's set, it all falls in, the group reigned in yet spacious enough, the choir comfortable and fortified, enough so that the whole thing lifts heavenward (as choirs are wont to do). The performance winds down with hollers of "Hallelujah." Myself, emboldened by enough Maker's Mark and the realization that I too am part of the choir, warble along.
In one of the few instances of the night where Joanna Newsom revisits one of her old songs off of The Milk-Eyed Mender, a line from "Sadie" sticks out: "And all that I've got...I tie in a knot that I lay at your feet." Whereas last time around she could lay down some crocheted placemats, fine and small, Joanna's Newsongs are more like plunking down The Unicorn Tapestries. Which is to say, they're immense, archaic, epic, to where by the end of each piece, it's hard to see all the way back to the beginning. I can't quite call them songs or even suites, in that there are no discernible choruses or verses. Instead, we get stacked stanzas, dizzying imagery, a continual deluge, the universe pouring through and spilling like milk.
If anything, the previews from Ys are structured more like classical music. How the Van Dyke Parks orchestrations will flesh out or buoy such leviathans, I'm not certain, but the canvas is of a similar size. The scope is hard to fathom or assimilate, the imagery, the wordplay, the harpwork is just too much to absorb in one pass. While the rain cloud ceiling provides a pink-rimmed break in their gray opacity for her set, McCarren Pool is not ideal (not that I've found it to be a quality venue anyway), in that the crowd's attention span wanders but two minutes into each Newsong, to where the gossamer details, the golden purls, and exquisite stitchwork quickly gets swallowed and lost in the babble and text messaging. Where's a trash barge when you need one?
Joanna killed it.