Marathon etiquette

Bang on a Can All-stars to perform at Mass MoCA on July 27

by Seth Rogovoy

(GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass., July 25, 2002) -- On Saturday, Bang on a Can’s two-week residency and summer institute at Mass MoCA in North Adams culminates with one of the new-music collective’s trademark Marathons, a six-hour concert beginning at 4 and featuring performances by the institute students and faculty, including minimalist pioneer Steve Reich, as well as the group’s resident ensemble, the Bang on a Can All-Stars.

Six hours straight of avant-garde and experimental music is a daunting prospect for all but the most hardened concertgoer. Indeed, six hours straight of any kind of music is a daunting prospect. So what’s a listener to do? What’s the etiquette of attending a Bang on a Can Marathon?

The good news is that no one, not even the Bang on a Can artistic directors, expects you to sit through all six hours straight.

“We liked the idea that people would come and listen until they reach their limit, go and stand in the lobby for an hour, have a beer, talk to friends, and dip back in,” said David Lang, a co-artistic director and Bang composer, in a recent interview.

“When you go to a conventional concert, everyone has the same experience, but at the Marathon, everyone’s experience is different. You have to eat, go to the bathroom, take a break -- everyone’s path is their own.”

In addition to making everyone’s concert a unique experience, the Marathon prevents the typical syndrome wherein a concert has four pieces which everyone hears and afterwards ranks from best to worst. With 30 pieces from which to choose, concertgoers are forced to think about the music in other, different terms – an echo of the music itself, which is by definition other and different from just about anything else you’ll hear anywhere else.

Lang admits, however, that over the years a runner-like cult of those who have figured out how to last for all six hours without missing a note has grown up around the Marathon. But as for him, if you’re looking for Lang, you’re as likely to find him schmoozing in the lobby as inside listening to the music.

The Waifs’ organic folk

It’s a long, long way from Western Australia to the stage of the Newport Folk Festival, where the Waifs are bound next week, to perform and to rub shoulders with the one and only Bob Dylan, whose songs sisters Vicki and Donna Simpson first began performing a decade ago as a coffeehouse act in their native town of Albany on the southern coast. Donna says the first song she learned on guitar was Dylan’s “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” and the Waifs name Dylan’s “Blood on the Tracks” as “the best album by the best artist of our generation.”

Along the way to sharing a stage with their hero, the Waifs -- one of the most successful independent bands in their homeland -- have become a quartet, having added guitarist Josh Cunningham and drummer Dave McDonald to the lineup. The group’s breakthrough album, “Sink or Swim,” contains story songs of the bohemian life of waitresses and musicians in acoustic roots-rock and pop arrangements that sound like early Michelle Shocked or the Nields.

From the easygoing folk-swing of “Love Serenade” to the perky folk-pop of “The Waitress,” the group’s songs boast a real organic feel. On their way to Newport, the Australian folk-rockers pay a visit to Club Helsinki (528-3394) in Great Barrington on Wednesday, July 31.

Also at Helsinki this coming weekend are eclectic, world-beat jam band Entrain tonight, Texas blues guitarist Anson Funderburgh on Friday night, and Senegalese hip-hop ensemble Gokh-bi System on Saturday night.

Evan Rude’s power pop

Once a decade or so local bar band Evan Rude gets around to making a new recording. Known mostly for playing great versions of Top 40 hits, the band also boasts original songwriting talent in the person of lead singer and songwriter Bob Bowers. Apparently playing all those pop hits in bars for so many years has rubbed off on Bowers, as his band’s aptly-titled second recording, “#2,” is chock full of catchy rockers and ballads that should appeal to fans of pop music from the Beatles and the Kinks to Elvis Costello and Tom Petty to the Wallflowers and Dave Matthews.

Bowers knows how to construct a catchy pop riff based on a simple, conceptual lyric hook as in “What’s Your Name?” and “Word Gets Around,” and his songs have a classic, timeless feel to them as a result. Evan Rude’s fad-proof, pop-rock style on “#2” – a homemade effort from the recording process to printing out the labels -- is perfectly timed for the revival of new-wave music which is about to take the music scene by storm.

Evan Rude plays at the Home Club in Hinsdale on Friday, the Depot in Dalton on Saturday, the GEAA in Pittsfield on August 2, LaCocina in Pittsfield on August 3, and at the Berkshire Blues Café in Lee on August 9. The group, which also includes drummer Mick Eisenberg and bassist Todd Farina, sells its CD for $3 at all its performances.


Various Artists

“The Best of Bluegrass” (Hip-O)

This budget compilation of mostly vintage tracks by bluegrass greats including Bill Monroe, Flatt and Scruggs, Jimmy Martin, the Stanley Brothers and the Osborne Brothers provides a great introduction to the genre for those just getting their feet wet, or for someone wanting to dig a little deeper, historically speaking, than the “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” soundtrack. The dozen cuts here emphasize bluegrass songs as opposed to instrumentals and provide a primer on the standard repertoire, with Ricky Skaggs’s version of “Hallelujah I’m Ready,” Monroe’s “Blue Moon of Kentucky” and “In the Pines” and Earl Scruggs’s “Foggy Mountain Breakdown.” The Skaggs number and Vince Gill’s “High Lonesome Sound,” featuring Alison Krauss’s harmony vocals, represent modern bluegrass. [7/28/02]

Wolf Krakowski

“Goyrl: Destiny” (Tzadik)

The follow-up to his groundbreaking “Transmigrations: Gilgul” -- which first introduced the concept of electric shtetl-rock by setting Yiddish folk, theater and art songs in roots-rock settings – by Northampton-based singer-songwriter Wolf Krakowski builds on that previous effort and takes it one step beyond, emphasizing Krakowski’s hard-bitten vocals, the sinuous, melodic grooves, and the poetic drama of the Yiddish poetry. As proof, Krakowski -- with producer Frank London and ace backup group the Lonesome Brothers -- revitalize that overdone warhorse, “Dona, Dona,” reimagining it as it might have performed by The Band, inflected by mandolin and accordion, and finding the song’s long-forgotten grandeur and dignity along the way. The album is full of moments and discoveries like this one. In any language, one of the year’s best. [7/28/02]

Radio Rogovoy

Another in our series of periodic tallies of the most-played recordings -- most new, some old – on our imaginary radio station:

1. Wolf Krakowski, “Goyrl: Destiny” (Tzadik)
2. David Bowie, “Heathen” (ISO/Columbia)
3. Bang on a Can, “Renegade Heaven” (Cantaloupe)
4. Arnold Dreyblatt/The Orchestra of Excited Strings, The Adding Machine” (Cantaloupe)
5. Ray Mason, “Three Dollar Man” (Captivating Music)
6. Chuck Prophet, “No Other Love” (New West)
7. Shea Seger, “The May Street Project” (RCA)
8. Elvis Costello, “When I Was Cruel” (Island)
9. Jen Chapin/Stephan Crump, “Open Wide” (Purple Chair Music)
10. Shannon McNally, “Jukebox Sparrows” (Capitol)

[This column originally appeared in the Berkshire Eagle on July 25, 2002. Copyright Seth Rogovoy 2002. All rights reserved.]

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