Got to the Riviera a little late, but not too late to draw unexpected delight from Jonathan Demme’s Who Am I This Time?, an underseen television production that’s not only very sweet (the ending is way upbeat, if logistically unnerving) but also features some peak Christopher Walken and a theatrical set that pulls the film unexpectedly to the performance film side of Demme’s work.
From there to the Tennessee for Matmos, of whom I am an eternal booster and only occasional fan; their production of Robert Ashley’s “Perfect Lives (Private Parts)” is undeniably the sort of thing for which Big Ears exists, but it’s not about to eclipse that year the Square Room kicked them out after sound check for onanistic multimedia and they joined in on Dan Deacon’s round robin set instead.
Speaking of Squaresville, I happened over there to drop in on a Nief-Norf set after Matmos (and again later for Frederic Rzewski) and have to let loose on my only real gripe so far with this year’s festival: That room is inappropriate for any acts that count on silence as a part of the experience, particularly as Rzewski did in an extremely slow-build opener he dedicated to Pauline Oliveros. I suppose there’s nothing to be done about the sounds of the kitchen right outside the only doors open during performances, but they could at least ask the staff to ease off on the shouting, of which every word remains clearly audible. Left super-early from Rzewski, and I’m not going back there.
In between those Square Room shows was Wu Fei at St John’s, which was a pleasure to behold (the set, and the cathedral itself) but also underwhelming, since her conversation with the audience seems to be part of the experience but she was all but inaudible from the back of the room, which was at capacity throughout despite its size. (Only time I’ve had to wait on a one-in/one-out situation; duly noted for Saturday’s Rodelius set.)
And then to the Riviera for a gorgeous restoration of Farrebique, a rural French docudrama favored by James Agee and introduced in that spirit by local treasure Chuck Maland; sadly, the Big Ears sprint caught up with me and I had to duck out after about 40 minutes of deliberately paced farm life, lest I fall asleep. Had no such trouble during Silence of the Lambs, though; hadn’t seen that film in 15 years, and it really is a macabre marvel. (And startlingly direct in its patriarchy-wariness for a generation-old killer thriller.)
After a stop in at 1010 for Nathan Smith’s Ride or Die, a brief video installation that’s at once ridiculous and poignant (and a recommended stop-in as it continues to run from noon-4 p.m. through the weekend), the evening bounce begins: the tail-end of Jóhann Jóhannsson; A Certain Zone’s opening set for the Pilot Light’s “secret” Big Ears satellite show; Lætitia Sadier at the Standard; back to Pilot Light for Deerhoof’s Greg Saunier and ACME’s Clarice Jensen; then Colleen at the Mill and Mine. All winners. Though I sorely missed hearing loungey Stereolab motorik behind it, Sadier’s voice (accompanied here only by her electric guitar) is confirmed as a Special Thing in my life, and Saunier/Jensen’s furious drums vs. cello set was more than deserving of a Big Ears slot to itself.
Finally, despite my dedicated writing-off of the possibility all day, word of an only 98 percent-packed Tennessee Theatre (really, I’ve never seen that room so full) sent me over into the arms of Wilco. I caught about half of their two-hour set, and it’s safe to say that both Big Ears attendees and the many, many locals who picked up their day pass and headed straight for the Tennessee were pleased with how it went down, with the possible exception of the guy who unsuccessfully requested to smell Jeff Tweedy’s hat.
BIG PLANS SATURDAY: Xiu Xiu X Twin Peaks! H-J Rodelius! Something Wild! And the outdoor performance of Gravity Hill Sound + Vision mystifying passersby!
CONUNDRUMS: The hardest conflict of the weekend is Colin Stetson and Horse Lords running in the exact same time slot, and the second hardest may be partying with Deerhoof vs. seeing No Country for Old Men at the Tennessee.
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