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Thursday, April 4, 2013

A Cemetery Catharsis

  A cemetery is a very unlikely place for a concert, but that is where I ended up last Sunday, March 31st. I went to hear the Vulpes and Little Fox play at Greenwood Cemetery Chapel.  First of all, if you have not been to Greenwood Cemetery, you need to go.  It is very photographic and artistically beautiful, for a cemetery, that is.  I don't like cemeteries and I wasn't one of those kids to hang out in them, but Greenwood has a magic and it made my journey there into an 'experience', an 'adventure'.

  As soon as I walked into Greenwood Cemetery Chapel, I was smitten and I could tell that I was going to have a very unique experience for Sunday afternoon.  It was mildly ironic that it was Easter Sunday and I was in a chapel, with the appearance of going to church.  Actually, everyone there was in anticipation of music rather than religion so I was in good company I guess.  I mean, it is funny to find a good little Jewish boy in a chapel with a giant Jesus on the wall, everything primed for some Easter service but devoid of all of that.

The chapel had cool Gothic architecture and the stained glass was stunningly beautiful.  In fact, it reminded me a little bit of my college (Kenyon College) with its spires and buttresses.  The venue was just beautiful and could not have been a more perfect setting for the music I was about to enjoy.  It was small, intimate and fit fifty to sixty people quite comfortably in its pews.  I saw Tanya Lam (of Vulpes) in a two-toned blue long dress hugging and greeting people.  We had never met, but immediately she knew I was the blogger she invited to attend this concert.  She's definitely the type of woman you want to be friends with and hang out with.  She just has that energy!

                                      video: Day in the Life of Tanya Lam

Little Fox: The concert started with Little Fox (Kathryn Lee Campo), a woman generating music as a solo act.  It started with her at the keyboard, barefoot.  I was quickly impressed.  She started hitting her microphone and clapping.  However, this wasn't performance art.  It was music!  I've never heard or seen anything like it but it was amazingly brilliant.  She would record a track and then record over the previous track again and again.  She would record layers upon layers of what she would play and sing.  She started playing a melody on the keyboard and then would sing or start playing the violin.  The music was made by her recording the bits and pieces over one another.  She just kept adding layers.  It was live and public, yet very private at the same time, like she was recording something in her apartment.

I thought it was cool to see each song being constructed right in front of our very eyes.  She would make the harmonies all herself and each layer synced up perfectly.  The piece from the keyboard fit with her soprano melody which then fit with the alto part and then into her tapping the microphone.  To most people it would seem weird, but to me it was so fucking cool.  The awesome stuff Little Fox was doing with the audio reminded me of the ground breaking stuff the 60's band, United States of America, was doing with analog back in the late sixties.  Her sound was so trippy and hypnotic; it was very fitting for the soundtrack to a cemetery.  The only downside was that the speaker had some feedback issues when the volume go too loud which ruined the moment of some of the songs.

I also liked that the sound was so basic and primitive (in being unpretentious) but yet it was very high tech.  You couldn't do this type of music without the kind of equipment that was there but the music fought with both the ordinary and bizarre, the other worldly and contemporary.  There was a play of light and dark, and like I said, it was perfect music for a cemetery chapel.  Each song fed perfectly into the next and Little Fox was always totally absorbed into her music, and she seldom looked up.  It really was like being invited to a private recording, like we were seeing something undramatic yet rehearsed.  The dreamy feel of the music transported the listener to a far away land, to the past.  In fact, it would be an awesome act to precede Ginger and the Ghost (another recent band I saw).  I loved that the nature of the music was unpredictable and fresh; the audience was on the edge of their seat to know what was coming next.    It reminded me slightly of Cat Power or Feist but really, Little Fox was unlike anything I've heard/seen.
                                       'Dish Soap' by Little Fox

  Reverb Nation: Little Fox

Vulpes and Impulse String Quartet: Tanya Lam was in charge of both of these projects.  Vulpes is her solo act.  She came out, at first, with a violin and then sang.  She is certainly something of a musical prodigy.  She would move between different instruments with ease.  She mixed jazz and classical/chamber music with a new twist.  Again, this was something I haven't heard before.  Tanya's vocals were shrill (pleasantly so) and precise at the same time.  Her lyrics hit you over the head like a glass bottle but her voice is smooth as glass.  It's a play of soft and hard.  Her voice reminds me a little of Brittany Howard from Alabama Shakes or Priscilla Ahn.  There was something distinct and raw about the way she sang.  Her singing was alive and full of energized power.  Her music definitely has and edge and it isn't something you can get from listening.  You HAVE to see Tanya live.  You just do!  Her energy is kinetic and she is so soulful and passionate with her vocals and lyrics.  She feels every word she sings.

With the string quartet, it was just an extension of Tanya's solo act.  There were four people, three women and a man: two violins (Alex Weill on 1st violin and Hana Segerstrom on 2nd violin), one cello (Susan Mandel), and one viola (David Fallo).  Tanya played an electric guitar.  The balance of acoustic and electric strings made a completely unique and balanced sound.  Again, the hard vs. the soft, the electric vs. the acoustic.  I loved the fusion of classical with electric guitar.  Sheer genius!  There was also an unexpected quality to the music here.  At one point audience members would tap on glasses that made noises like dinghies or buoys lost at sea.  I felt like I was on the ocean, on a boat, being tossed in a storm.  I guess this was fitting, since the theme of this set was water.  It was about the wisdom and taking in the space around you; how you always have to mold to the people and places around you.

I definitely understand the whole elements thing.  I, myself, am made of fire.  Being a double Sagittarius, I am consumed by fire and it is my wife (an Aquarius) whose water ways always calm me down.  The only thing I wished was that the idea of the elements was explained a little more, perhaps in the program.  There was a young blonde woman who explained everything right between Little Fox and Vulpes but with little context.  I think she was late to the show, and perhaps she had a longer monologue.  I'm not really sure.  I feel that Tanya had done a lot of work thinking about the meaning and connection to the elements.  So I would have liked to see and understand her full vision.

Kate Hannington was the arranger/conductor.  But she only came on to conduct for a sliver of a moment in one of the songs.  At first, I was confused at who she was and why she wasn't conducting the entire time.  She sang on the last song, which was included in the program.  I liked that there was audience participation, as we were invited to sing along on our appropriate part with the last song.  Our notes were even played for us by Kate which made us all feel like part of the act.

Tanya reminds me of my friend, Doran Danoff.  Doran is also a musician; he mainly records out in LA though sometimes plays in his old 'hood Brooklyn.  They have the same energy.  She plays different instruments and I'm sure she could play different styles of music, just like Doran.  Tanya's music is atmospheric and you have to see it live.  It sounds different live than it does on a recording.  I actually hope that my friend Doran can get together with Tanya so that they can do a show together.  I think they'd produce something completely out of this world.  Tanya has so much passion and energy for her music.  I love that it makes you connected to the universe.  A cemetery was a very appropriate venue as anywhere else would not have been fitting.  Tanya also reminds me of a mixture of Joan Baez and Ani DiFranco.  She has that 'it' factor.  The magnetic quality that make for legendary performers.

My only disappointment was the concert ending.  I wanted more.  The music carried me away to a faraway place.  It was like I was sleeping, dreaming, but I was completely awake.  For music to have this effect is quite extraordinary.  I have seldom had out of body experiences when listening to music.  I have also not felt the same energy and connection that I felt on this particular occasion.  Sometimes what I'm listening to is solely music, my favorite band, but this was different.  This was beyond music.  It was art.  It was beauty.  It was the human soul expressed in song, poetic and sublime!
Vulpes on Soundcloud

                                            Live at 860 Sessions: 'Money'

                               'Captain's Remourse' from Reflets Dans L'eau

                               Tanya Lam live- 'Obsession' (from 2008)

I encourage everyone to check out Tanya Lam of Vulpes and Little Fox.  A truly different yet mesmerizing musical experience that you will not soon forget!

PS: Apparently my three year old son deleted ALL of my video and pictures from the event.  So instead, I will have to try and find other videos on Youtube and the worldwide web of both Vulpes and Little Fox.

Musically yours,




Jeremy W said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Verbal Litigation's assessment of the merits of "Enraptured".

I met Tanya in her professional capacity on a visit to New York some time ago and became aware of her Vulpes project. And so, finding myself in the city at the time of the show, I went along. Having heard the EP "Reflets Dans L'eau", I had very high expectations of the performance which were actually exceeded.

In Tanya's solo set, I thought the standout was "Still Here". It is a beautiful song, touching and affecting: as good as any song of its type which was still in my head a week on from the concert. There's an acoustic version of it, sung to web cam, on You Tube and I thoroughly recommend it.

But the real highlight, as Verbal Litigation suggests, was the centrepiece performance of "Reflets Dans L'eau". Tanya's presence throughout that "Reflets..." set was totally commanding. Members of the audience actually gasped at times during the first song, "Naturally" - it was a complete tour de force - sung with such feeling. It sounds beautiful on the EP but the live performance added such power to it, the central refrain, "crying comes so naturally" coming from, and heading to, the very core of the soul.

Those tears gave way to two nautically inspired songs: "Sailor's Delight" and "Captain's Remorse". A video of "Sailor"s Delight" from the "Enraptured" set is featured on the facebook/vulpesvulpesmusic page and is well worth a look, particularly for the way the strings complement the vocals and guitar work, with the quartet's work injecting a kind of mesmeric quality. "Captain's Remorse" is a truly original song: I've never before heard a line like "Captain, you'll go down screaming, yelling orders to the sky" and some of the cadences are genuinely thrilling. The EP version contains a wonderful finale.

Tanya's voice is exceptionally strong, the venue a totally inspired choice: she filled the space with those high notes. And there was a beautiful cameo, on "Luna", I think, where Tanya took out her bow, picked up a wine glass part filled with water and played it. You could hear a pin drop. Everything reflected her theme: a blue water-coloured dress, the venue with its lake, the glass: it was truly inspiring and was clearly a special occasion for so many people there. Tanya's own pleasure at carrying it all off was a sheer delight to see and yet she acted with such modesty too, which may explain the slight under-selling of the elements theme itself, referred to in the blog.

Like Verbal Litigation, I, too, thought Tanya has the "it" factor, which left me asking a question: how can the success of such an original and talented performer be accelerated? Holding down a full time job while writing and performing is the duality which characterises the lives of many an aspiring musician but the creation of these ambitious "Elemental Suites", of which L'eau is but the first of four is a truly challenging project. If you listen to "Reflets Dans L'eau" and imagine that developed four times over, you have what in the age of vinyl might have been a four sided concept album. It's truly ambitious.

But then ambition was the hallmark of this wonderful Sunday afternoon show and it must surely mark just one more milestone on the road to considerable success. Tanya's croon may indeed be soaked with the "whiskey and rye" which the sailors turn to in "Captain's Remorse". So - what do you think: in time, Billboard, with a Bulleit?

Jeremy W.

fireonthemountain said...

Jeremy W.-
What excellent observations which really highlight different things that I picked up on. Are you a blogger? Writer? Obviously, you know your stuff! Thanks for adding your commentary.