men, back again: (l-r) Hall and Oates.
Photo by Joe Putrock.
All in This Together
By Paul Rapp
Egg, Feb. 28
A Kronos Quartet concert is typically a joyride across time,
space and genre. Friday’s show at the Egg was wilder than
most, in turns fun and provocative and goofy and dead serious.
The first half of the show featured selections from the 2002
album Nuevo, Kronos’ modern Mexican collection. Any
other string quartet doing “modern Mexican” would present
a nice but undistinguished collection of neoclassical pieces
from some unheard-of pointy-headed composers of Mexican extraction.
Everyone would applaud politely and not remember a thing about
the concert the next day. Not the case here. Kronos’ set included
arrangements of a popular bawdy song from the 1940s; a contemporary
folk tune celebrating drug banditos (a waltz, wouldn’t
ya know); a prime example of Esquivel’s space-age bachelor-pad
jazz, a lovely composition titled “Miniskirt”; the theme song
to a long-running Mexican TV show; and a deliciously cheesy
orchestral piece that featured a taped solo played by a guy
blowing on an ivy leaf. The musical leaf sounded like an old
and unstable synthesizer, otherworldly yet unmistakably human.
With oddities and fireworks like this, it’s not surprising
that the set stalled only with the more modern, “serious”
pieces. Particularly the set closer, a collaboration with
the Mexican rock band Café Tabuca, utilizing lots of taped
ambient sounds and repetitious string codas, wore out its
welcome pretty quick.
The rest of the show was equally eclectic, except that Kronos
left Mexico and headed eastward. First up was a cut-and-paste
piece by überhip New York composer John Zorn, 90 percent of
which was a straight (and deliberate) steal of Carl Stallings’
cartoon scores. Which doesn’t make the piece necessarily bad,
of course, just sadly unoriginal. Within the first 30 seconds
of the Zorn piece, cellist Jennifer Culp barked like a dog.
Later on, the violins and viola traded scratching riffs. Scratching
not in the turntables sense, but rather in the bow-against-string
fingernails-against-chalkboard sense. It was as unnerving
as it was hilarious. A piece involving taped phrases and words
from liberal journalist I.F. Stone was too obvious, went nowhere,
and continued for too long. Why do people think that words
become so much more intensely meaningful when repeated ad
infinitum? Most of us do get it just fine the first time,
and everything after that is patronizing.
And then came the masterpiece. Kronos performed an arrangement
of a simple, dirgelike song by Icelandic group Sigor Rós.
With the sound noticeably punched up, the song built slowly
over an ascending chord pattern and just flowed off the stage
and over the audience. Where the other songs Kronos performed
may have been abrupt, this was complete. Where the others
were jarring, this was soma. Where the others were provocative,
this required no thought. The piece could have gone on for
12 hours and no one would have minded.
Part of Kronos’ genius is their equal treatment of all of
the music they play. The same attention, the same respect,
the same intensity is bestowed on every piece, be it by Anthony
Braxton, Thomas Tallis or Esquivel. There is no showboating,
and no playing to the cheap seats, even when one of the players
is barking like a dog. The decorum is precisely what you’d
expect from a string quartet. Whether this is deadpanning
or whether Kronos just believe they are the messenger moving
information along is something I’d love to chat with them
Kronos relied heavily on prerecorded material, with mixed
success. There were extended periods during which the most
interesting things happening were coming out of a computer,
and not the quartet. Some pieces, perhaps, weren’t meant to
be performed live.
To wild rock-show ovations, Kronos encored with works from
Indian and Turkish composers, wonderful pieces that reflected
both ethnic difference and sublime sophistication, and that
underscored some basic premises of the ensemble: that this
is one world, and if you go looking for beauty expecting to
find it, you will.
the Love of Live
Hall & Oates
Theater, March 5
What a strange career trajectory these guys have had. Packaged
in the mid-’70s as an ultra-hip niche duo (I saw them open
for Lou Reed in 1975 in New York City), they surprised everybody
by hitting the Top 40 charts hard, and then stayed there for
the next 10 years. Then Hall & Oates pretty much disappeared.
I understand they have put some things out (remember 1997’s
Marigold Sky? Me neither.), but the only time they
hit the radar screen was in ads for casino gigs. It seemed
only a matter of time before they were stuck in a blue-eyed-soul
revival tour with the likes of Kajagoogoo or Rick Astley.
A more ignoble fate could not be imagined.
I cringed when I put their new CD, Do It for Love,
in the machine. Dropped by their record company, the former
hitmeisters had to put out this record themselves. I was expecting
a modest effort, something to keep the old fans happy. That’s
not what I got. Do It For Love is Hall & Oates’
reclaiming of the blue-eyed-soul mantle from the tepid and
manufactured pretenders who have sold so many millions of
units to little girls over the past few years. It is a magnificent
piece of work. This, kids, is how it’s done. This may be their
best recording since Abandoned Luncheonette.
Live Tuesday night they just plain delivered. In front of
a muscular five-piece band (including longtime collaborator
T-Bone Wolk on bass), Hall & Oates provided a reminder
of why they once ruled the charts and why they still should.
The hits rolled, one after another, and small oddities (from
solo albums, ’90s albums) were stuck in here and there. The
biggest punch came from the very earliest works and from songs
off the new album; these were the songs that went deepest
into soul territory. The ’80s hits tended to sit lifelessly,
as the grooves were static, and the songs (which aren’t particularly
great songs to begin with) left Darryl Hall no room to do
what he does best, which is to wail like some crazed albino
preacher about the gospel of love. This didn’t matter much,
though, since these hits tended to turn into a big treacly
sing-along, relegating the band to the role of animated jukebox.
Hall acted as though there were no place on earth he’d rather
have been than on stage at the Palace. He sang with joy and
with humor, and with a real soul that belied all the critics
who’ve called him just a good technician. John Oates, who
has a genius for looking busy, led the band in this stripped-down
production, which was devoid of gimmickry, props, costumes,
or even elaborate lighting. Maybe the sparseness was due to
budgetary constraints, but bells and whistles weren’t needed.
When they came out for the first encore, I looked at my partner
and asked, “What hits do they have left to do?” They tore
through three of them. Then they came back for a second encore
and did two more. God bless ’em.