Wednesday, May 9, 2012
Magic at the Aladdin
A gray Friday afternoon—too chilly for May it seems, & the afternoon has opened up to a real driving rain—not the persistent drizzle for which Portland is known. The cool air takes my breath away as I hustle between buildings at OHSU, trying to avoid the downpour & get under cover after my weekly appointment; meanwhile, planning my route home, hoping to avoid this soaking rain as much as possible.
But it lets up by the time I’m waiting for the MAX train by PSU, & I take my usual springtime route, walking home from the Overlook Park station in a light drizzle—the rush hour traffic roaring under the Failing Street bridge, the air still cold & wet in a way that causes my lungs to balk.
I have a ticket for the Zoë Keating show at the Aladdin Theater over in the southeast—a show that’s excited me since I first found out about it on the internet a couple of months ago. But by 4:30 there’s another hard rain, & I know there’s going to be walking & standing out waiting for buses, so this weather has to calm down within the next hour or so.
Which it does. I wait for the bus in a light drizzle; by the time the #9 bus has dropped me at the corner of SE Milwaukie & Powell, the rain has stopped, & since I’m early, I talk a walk thru the Brooklyn neighborhood, a quiet corner of the southeast just barely removed from the bustle of Powell: gardens, a little league ballfield, a neighborhood tavern, an old Hires root beer sign in a parking lot. For the first time in a few days, I begin to feel something like contentment.
The concert itself is a revelation. The Aladdin is a large & beautiful old theater, opened as a vaudeville house in the 1920s, then later as a movie theater—at times with a rather unsavory reputation. Now it’s back to its old glory as a live music venue.
The first act, FearNoMusic is an avant-garde string quartet that also brings in a percussionist for one song & a pianist for another. The song involving the pianist is the third in their set, a duet between piano & the first violinist, the piece by a Japanese minimalist composer; the impossibly keening tone of the violin over the rippling piano arpeggios draws me in, & from that moment on the concert transports me.
Zoë Keating herself is everything I expected & more. If you’re not familiar with her work, I did review her album Into the Trees a while back; briefly, Ms Keating is a classically trained cellist who uses looping technology to deploy a virtual cello orchestra when performing her intricate & moving compositions. Self-effacing onstage, she explains that she suffered from severe stage fright as a teenager, & it wasn’t until she got “off the page”—composing her own music without the need to use a score—that she was able to get beyond this. When a song crashes, she handles it with aplomb, & with genuine emotion—“damn,” she exclaims as she cuts the loop feed from her foot strip; then she plays one of her compositions with FearNoMusic, & takes us all back into the deep & complex soundscape. Her announced last song, “Optimist,” a composition dedicated to her young son, brings a rousing ovation, & she returns to absolutely nail “Exurgency,” the piece during which she & her technology had come uncoupled earlier. All in all, it was an evening of transcendent music.
By the time I wait for the bus on Powell, there’s not even a hint of rain—I feel like for once I somehow beat the odds & discovered beauty.