Monday, February 05, 2007

little beta in slumberland

Per my Vashti Bunyan feature, Friday night finds me seated next to a fellow Voicer as well as Ric and Paulina in the creamy gilded majesty that is Carnegie Hall. This is my first trip to the vaunted, vaulted concert hall, and I'm pleased to find that they don't mind contraband such as water bottles, or in the case of what performer Devendra Banhart continually nips from throughout the night, lil brown jugs.

It's but one night of David Byrne's curation, banding together some of his favorite artists, all under the heading of "Welcome to Dreamland": Banhart, Adem, Coco Rosie, Sibelle, Vetiver, and Vashti Bunyan. All of these performers are of the genre that dare not speak its name, freak-folk. The night, despite a constant shuffling of players (up to 14 at one point), has a theme of sorts, in that all of the music from these six acts eschews forward movement, tending instead to hang indolently and linger, much like incense smoke, windchimes, or dudes crashing on your couch. Not for nothing is one song of the night called "Pillows." It's all carefully crafted music though, taking its time to unfurl or else wander off, the lack of dynamism and extroverted passion replaced by extremely affected personas.

The first to delve into the forbidden genre is Coco Rosie, who I've thankfully never had the occasion to hear before. Against distorted loops of My Little Pony cartoons (as well as some slo-mo Parisian B-girl mime), they soundclash cloying folkiness with two friends beatboxing. Whether the backdrop is harp and cello or else these mouthed break beats, they share subject matter with Khia: necks, backs, pussies, cracks. Why they continually play dress up in Bjork and Tom Waits's kooky wardrobe and creaky mannerisms is beyond me. They need to ditch all that fairy unicorn shit and get with some bubble crunk and quick.

I have stayed away from Devendra Banhart's music for a while now, as my harsh reaction to Cripple Crow warranted. Some 18 months on, I see nothing to dispel my notion that he is still the genre's spokesperson, meaning he still seeks to unseat Raffi with inane songs about spiders and birdies. Against such hammy affections, the plainspoken songs of Adem seem far too normalized to stand out.

The most propulsive set of the night belongs to Vetiver. Rather than rely on outsized personalities, the band just digs into a great bag of songs and does them justice in the new auspices. Drummer Otto Hauser and guitarist Kevin Barker in particular are content to lay back and augment the songs, never overspicing or drawing attention to their soft-spoken talents.

When Vashti Bunyan finally takes the stage and introduces songs into the mic, you still cannot make out a single word she says, it's rendered oh so softly. Whether she selects songs from Diamond Day or else Lookaftering, they alone attain the night's goal, mingling bliss with dreaminess.