The best advice I saw tweeted during the first day of the festival was to forget about the music you can’t hear and focus on what you are hearing. Very good advice. Consider that the first evening contained sixteen announced events. And then there were unannounced shows and events. I saw three. Oh, but what I saw!
I started the evening with The Bad Plus in the Bijou. A jazz trio, their first piece ran forty minutes and is a re-working of Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring.” Think about that sentence for a minute. In between being amazed at their virtuosity and nerve at tackling such a mash-up, I realized I could never describe it to you. I expect the whole weekend will be like that. Every musician is every superlative you can name. Every performance will likely be mind blowing. So far, Bad Plus is my most amazing set.
A couple of things about their show really struck me. First, it was visually arresting, thanks to the video and light show behind them. It was mesmerizing. Second, I’m not usually taken with drummers as much as other instrumentalists, but in this case, I was blown away. While I’m sure they are each masters of their instruments, he sparkled and popped all night. Every time my eyes wander away, I’d catch another sound or riff from his end of the stage and be right back on him.
Next I saw the Kronos Quartet with Wu Man. Kronos has been around for decades with their odd blends of sounds and textures. Wu Man is famous in other parts of the world and is the preeminent pipa player in the world. I didn’t know what it was, either. It’s a traditional Chinese instrument and is viewed in China somewhat like the acoustic guitar here. Another great performance and I couldn’t help thinking how blessed we are to have two theaters like the two I spent those first few hours in. Very fortunate, we are.
I ended the night with Steve Gunn in the Square Room. It was a nice way to wind things down a bit. His music is more in line with what would be a more normal listening choice for me. The Big Ears site uses the phrase “psychedelic folk,” and that sounds about right. He’s a brilliant guitar player with a knack for good songwriting hooks and a voice that reminds me of Billy Bragg. He had a proper rock band and they rocked. I did feel the vocals were a bit muffled, but otherwise an impeccable performance.
So, that’s how I’m going to run this: Brief description, photos and video for you to see for yourself what I saw. I hope you enjoy a bit of it through my eyes if you can’t make it down. If this sounds pretty marvelous, consider buying a ticket. Two days of shows are left and single day tickets are available.