Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Not Another Night of: "Hello, *insert location here*!"

Last night, JR and I went to the Oberon Theater in Harvard Square to check out the Amanda Palmer and Jason Webley project EvelynEvelyn, which has prompted a some controversy on the internet. I preferred to reserve judgment on the whole thing until I actually saw the show and heard the music. I loved Amanda's music in The Dresden Dolls, but I haven't listened to her solo album: "Who Killed Amanda Palmer?". It wasn't intentional; I just wasn't interested when it came out. But I did like the teaser music that EvelynEvelyn had posted on MySpace, so when JR proposed going to the show, I was game. (I never really believed that EvelynEvelyn were real people, although I never had confirmation one way or the other.)

So JR and I got in line at the Oberon around 7:15pm and were finally let into the theater about 20 minutes later. (I had been feeling lousy all day, but I wasn't going to let the not inexpensive tickets go to waste.) We had bought reserved seat tickets, so we went over to the area with cocktail tables and booths and got seats with a great view of the stage, which were also perfect for people watching. The crowd was quite diverse in terms of age and, for lack of a better term, scene. (Ie. there were scenesters, but not everyone was a scenester nor was everyone who was a scenester from the same scene.)

We ended up sharing our table with a young couple, Matthew and Molly, who had been to several other ART shows this season, and we were chatting a bit about that before the show began around 8:30, with a short solo set by Jason Webley. He was able to take the audience from 0 to 10 in about 3 short minutes with some audience participation. He was followed by a solo set by Amanda Palmer, who thanked her parents (who were sitting two tables behind us) and her neighbor and sang a song about her childhood home that I really liked a lot. Then, the totally awesome Sxip Shirey, who had acted as the MC earlier in the evening, came out and performed a set. JR and I were just blown away by this guy, who uses pitch changers and found objects to compose and perform really interesting pieces.

After a short intermission, Sxip came back out to introduce the Evelyn sisters. [What was not readily apparent was that Sxip was now playing a character in the EvelynEvelyn piece. Once we figured that out, it made a lot more sense because we had loved him, and now he was being a jerk.] The Evelyn sisters (played by Palmer and Webley) came out and performed a "side show" musical telling their backstory with Sxip playing their handler who was obviously abusing them in addition to exploiting them. There was a definite script to the performance, but it was obvious that things weren't locked yet. There were several funny moments when each of the performers broke character.

The original music was very good and spanned a bunch of different genres, from vaudeville to country western to 80s rock ballad, while the Evelyns switched off between the piano, the accordion and ukulele. They even played the first movement of "Moonlight Sonata" while Sxip played around with shadow puppets. A lot of the original music juxtaposes dark lyrics with lighter music, and something about one song, "Have You Seen My Sister Evelyn?", reminded me of "Uncle Ernie" from The Who's Tommy. The music concluded with a ukulele cover of Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart" that reminded me of the version by Broken Social Scene that was in The Time Traveler's Wife.

As far as the production goes, I think that the cast of EvelynEvelyn was fortunate to have such a loving and forgiving audience last night because there were several production issues in the theater last night that were distracting: mike levels changing, a guitar's amp cut out, difficultly switching between instruments. Hopefully those problems will not occur again tonight. I think that last night needed to be considered a "preview", and once the tour properly begins a lot of these rough edges will get smoothed out. On the other hand, those rough edges were some of the best moments of the night. I did think that the stage at the Oberon was too small for what they were trying to do. They needed more room, and I hope that can be fixed at other venues.

We stuck around for the Q&A, and I asked a rather nerdy question about the eclecticism of the music, which resulted with me inventing the word "cross-genrely". (In my defense, it was past my bedtime.) I AM interested in process, especially in something which I felt was a musical departure from what I expect of Amanda Palmer, and she and Jason did give a fair answer to my question. On the walk back to the car, JR and I agreed that it was a really good night of live music, and it gave us something to think about too (although I don't think that it was offensive in the way that some people were concerned it would be). I particular enjoy it when you see music performed in way where you didn't feel like the band is going to take that exact same show to another town the following night. The uniqueness of the evening is going to stay with me for a while.

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