It’s on a rare occasion that I experience a performance that removes me from my comfort zone and in which I completely lose myself in the music. Zoe Keating accomplished this last Friday night with her performance at the Aladdin theatre. I’d had the pleasure of seeing the tail end of her set a few years back when she was on tour with Amanda Palmer, and I was so impressed by the song and a half that I heard that I committed her name to memory and made sure that I would see an entire performance by her at a later date. That day finally arrived last weekend and I was not disappointed.
The opening act, FearNoMusic, were a group of classically trained musicians with a modern twist in their style that brought to mind experimental rock groups of today. When the quartet came onto stage they appeared mildly uncomfortable and nearly over-explaining their set before they started to play, but as soon as they hit their first note the energy they created was not at all what I expected. The only shows that I’ve experienced that I would compare it to were put on by metal groups and noise rock bands. It was dissonant, heavy and at times heartbreaking, as best demonstrated by their third piece, a minimalist composition written by a Japanese composer after the tsunami of 2011. After their set the stage was emptied their rather elaborate arrangement of strings and grand piano was replaced by a stool, one microphone and a laptop. As the house lights dimmed an interesting looking girl with a dreaded mohawk carrying a cello walked across the stage. She smiled, took her seat and proceeded to make a few quirky comments on the topic of classical music until she was ready to begin her set.
The first song began with a simple melody plucked on the strings of her cello which was soon recorded by her laptop, and played back as she bowed a harmony atop it. After a few bars of that the harmony was recorded and looped as she played another section on top of it. Followed by another layer, and then another, and as the song progressed the layers of cello created a wall of sound that Keating appeared to be entranced by as she created it, swaying back and forth in time. Soon I felt the same way, and as she constructed her one woman orchestra that was I felt as if I was being pulled into the music, lost in the sound that she was generating. The song stopped abruptly, and after a second of silence the crowd expressed their appreciation with shouts and applause.
The set continued on in this fashion. Zoe would create loops, layer and structure her pieces to create full and energetic compositions that I found to be moving and innovative in their delivery. About half way through the set she explained how her set up works. For each song she plays she designs a record and playback system, setting the computer to record, fade out and drop sections at different points in the composition and enabling her to give her songs the kind of power they call for without needing to put together an entire string ensemble. Even so she still demonstrated her willingness to collaborate towards the end of her set as she invited FearNoMusic to play a piece with her. The rest of the set was as beautiful as it was haunting. She closed with a song called “Optimist”, which she dedicated to her two year old son and which was probably my favorite piece of the night. I left the show with a sort of high that I have a hard time putting into words, but I feel that the San Francisco weekly described the sensation almost perfectly in an article they published about Zoe. “Swoon-inducing, like taking a triple shot of absinthe before stepping outside of the bar just in time to see the sun exploding.” This is the kind of show I would recommend to anyone, be sure to catch her the next time she’s in town.
Filed under: Performance Reviews