While the New York Society for Ethical Culture was a cozy home to the Wordless Music Series in its beginnings, two of my favorite bands to watch live—Beirut and The Books—seemed to lack a tiny grain of their usual luster in that otherwise endearing church; especially in comparison to Bowery Ballroom, where I’d seen Beirut last and saw The Books next. So the move to St. Paul the Apostle Church later that year was a definitely delightful treat of acoustic magnificence, but this year the series has adopted a new home anyway: the new and stylish (Le) Poisson Rouge, which hosts three of the five performances from the summer season. After all, owners of the venue described in one event listing as “Greenwich Village’s latest house of ill repute” are both classical musicians, so not only has the space been renovated with a meticulous eye on sound design, but the goal of broadening the demographic, or “psychographic”, of the classical genre puts the performance space and Wordless Music Series on the same mission.
I got my first taste of the space at a Darcy James Argue’s Secret Society performance on a rainy Wednesday last week. Watch the video, and continue with my findings:
I was delighted to have stumbled upon Darcy’s “steam punk big band”. All that talent (an 18-piece ensemble) packed on to the smallish stage can make one giddy, especially if one has an undying affinity for them horns. There were trombone solos to be had, and trumpet solos galore. Yet, as an eager supporter of the mission to cross-fertilize between two seemingly different worlds of music, I knew right away what was missing for me; why watching the Darcy crew felt like a privilege without it considerably increasing the bars of my happiness.
While scholarly music chooses to be an entity in itself, popular music finds its home in the context listeners provide it in each of their lives—there is that which appeals to the mind, and there is another that appeals to the heart. Non-mainstream popular music (or “indie”) is the genre the cross-fertilization is mainly aimed at, and my somewhat populist view is that live performance is the space where lasting relationships form between bands and audience; that the band cannot fully find itself without giving to the live audience and taking in return; and that this can be done only when the band lets all guards down (which is why street musicians will always be the spirit of independent music).
With Darcy’s crew, the songs weren’t short of possibilities. But I wanted more steam in the steam, more punk in the punk, and more big in the big, which was a matter of how the songs were performed. If those 18 pairs of eyes weren’t on sheet music, and if their knees were unbent into upright positions suitable for just a little bit of dancing, and if they were celebratory enough to stumble freely without falling, the experience would’ve been totally different, the cross-fertilization would’ve truly occurred; which is not to say that dancing is a requisite to a good performance, but live performances are richer, not unlike life, when they are not sealed in perfection; and that is not to say that lyrics must be forgotten or a beat must be missed, but that the process must come before perfection, and that the perfection must come from the heart first and head second. In short, I would’ve liked to see committed vulnerability. After all, stepping out of the comfort zone is one the aims of these smaller venus showcasing highly trained musicians. And sure, everyone was dressed casually in t-shirt and jeans, but there was a little bit of an intellectual guard up.
On the other hand, I have not seen other performances from the band before, so it could’ve been a combination of the slightly intimidating (highly branded) venue and the early slot; it would be nice see them play in an even more laid back setting, for example a drunken wedding. I’m pretty sure, however, that each band will transform the venue slightly, and I’m super excited to see what A Hawk and A Hacksaw will do tonight. The recordings from Darcy’s performance at (Le) Poisson Rouge will be available soon.