So what does fuzz folk, modern orchestral music, and African blues/rock played by former rebels have in common? Well, this past Saturday I had the pleasure of encountering all three at one concert. Those of you who may be fans of the band may already know that Jeff Mangum of Neutral Milk Hotel was in Boston this weekend, playing his first shows in New England since 1998. For those of you who don't know Jeff Mangum, he's a bit of a J. D. Salinger figure among musicians, having made his masterpiece back in 1998 with the release In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, shortly after permanently disbanding the band and only sporadically touring on his own thereafter. The album has since become a seminal work among musicians, songwriters and fans due to Jeff Mangum's layered lyrics involving siamese twins, Anne Frank, angels and the cycle of death & rebirth, supported by an intermingling of multiple organs, musical saw, and hard-driving guitar.
As if that wasn't odd enough for you, opening for Jeff Mangum was ACME, a string quartet from NYC which, according to their website, "is dedicated to the outstanding performance of masterworks from the 20th and 21st centuries." The selection that really raised the hair on my arm was a work of Gavin Bryars, a British composer whose work "Jesus' Blood Never Failed Me Yet" features an unaccompanied elderly man singing an off-beat religious song. As the performers told the story, Gavin Bryars had filmed this man as a part of a documentary and was so taken by the song that he looped it on a recorder and was listening to it in his office, a shared space with other artists. Not thinking about the music playing on loop, he took off to get a cup of coffee and returned to find that everyone in the office was transfixed by this music, some even to the point of weeping. Realizing the potential and strength of the old man's song, he wrote a composition for it with a slow buildup of string instruments that play on variations while his warbling voice extols a simple statement of faith.
So, on to the final piece--what do African rock rebels have to do with all this? During the concert Jeff Mangum was being a pretty amiable guy and asked if anyone had any questions. When asked what was the last concert he had been to and he answered "Tinariwen." Being the geeky librarian I am, I did a search of our catalog while leaving and brought up several albums which have been stuck on repeat on my iPod this last week. These former Touareg rebels have traded in their guns for guitars and have been produced several albums marrying American Blues music to African sensibilities, bringing the blues back home as it were.
So, I hope that my joy in music will be your gain and that you'll give at least one of these great musicians a try because I don't know if I'll ever come up with a more eclectic list than this!