Essential Americana. Much in the spirit of the Coen Bros. and Fargo, this is both a fond attempt to capture the essence of the Midwest as it is a subtly stinging rebuke. In her latest US show, titled Minnesota Miracle, Carolyn Swiszcz’s intricate technique and craftsmanship make a vivid contrast, sometimes amusingly, sometimes pointedly, with the deceptive simplicity of her subject matter. The tire tracks left behind in the show define this exhibit, and they’re everywhere, meticulously etched into the parking lots and driveways at generically anonymous buildings like the 3M Headquarters in St. Paul. Hope Lutheran Church points ludicrously to the sky, its parking lot empty of traffic but full of evidence that there were believers there earlier. The best of all of these depicts a Fashion Bug store (where the overweight shop) and its characteristically empty lot: the store is hastily and simply rendered, cartoonishly bright, the tracks in the show before it a maze of subtle inflections and painstaking work by Swiszcz. Midwesterners especially will resonate to this, but just about anyone will get it if they allow the images to sink in. Through May 23 at M.Y. Art Prospects, 547 West 27th St., second floor, open Tues.-Sat. 11-6.
This was at the top of the page at artcal, and for good reason. Ellen Driscoll’s latest exhibit, titled FastForwardFossil is a must-see, as hauntingly intense as it is apropos to our time. The theme is environmental armageddon, its centerpiece a massive, floorsized sculpture constructed mainly from cut-up pieces of plastic spring water bottles. A conflation of three real-life oil drilling sites, it packs a wallop the size of an ice sheet, even if it’s melting (and part of it is: there’s a big hole in the upper tier with a half-frozen pool below it where the water has “landed.”) Every ominous portent of the aftereffects of two centuries’ of burning fossil fuels is here, whether overt (the big sinkhole into which somebody’s house has disappeared, the splintered, dead trees) or less obvious (the tiny gallows adjacent to the empty cages). This deserves to wind up in MoMA along with her other works on display there.
The watercolors are awash in richly evocative earthtones, sharing an eerie apocalypticism. An oil refinery sits silent and abandoned, victim of a new ice age. A tanker meets the same fate, as does a stadium. There are also a couple of marvelous multi-frame works, somewhat in the style of a Chinese scroll, the first depicting a pipeline rising from the ground, eventually turning into a highway for a caravan of armored assault vehicles, the second a coastline view from the wall encircling an amusement park, to the polluted beach, to the water as it gets deeper, almost submerging a tin-roof shed and an abandoned car. The exhibit runs through at the Frederieke Taylor Gallery, 535 W 22nd St., 6th Floor through May 16, Tuesday through Saturday, 11-6 PM.
Concert Review: Paul Wallfisch, Sally Norvell, Ken Stringfellow and Kerry Kennedy at the Delancey, NYC 4/16/09
Through the bottom of a wine glass, darkly, emerge images of Thursday night that no hastily scribbled, largely illegible notes could bring any closer into focus. Wine may be essential to a civilized life, and it’s become sort of the official drink of Small Beast, Paul Wallfisch’s weekly residency/salon/show at the Delancey. No disrespect to all the beer and whiskey drinkers out there – there was plenty of that too. Paul Desmond once said that the ideal tone was the musical equivalent of a dry martini, but for Wallfisch it probably equates to a ballon of good bordeaux. Even though the club was a mob scene, the room emanated a comfortable red wine buzz instead of the usual beery obnoxiousness that you find at the other bars on the Lower East.
It was the usual treat for cosmopolitan people both rootless and rooted. “Is anybody actually here to listen?” Wallfisch asked guilelessly, a couple of songs into his solo set at the piano. Many of them had no doubt come out for once-and-future REM sideman Ken Stringfellow’s first New York show in five years. Others dug in and watched Wallfisch respond with an especially menacing cover of Stan Ridgway’s Town Called Fate along with a long version of the snarling anti-fascist gypsy dance How, from his band Botanica’s Berlin Hi-Fi cd. The he brought up a longtime collaborator, Sally Norvell for a too-brief set of noir cabaret including some of the tracks they’d done together on the marvelous 2003 cd Choking Victim. Most of the noir cabaret chanteuse crowd project an icy distance, but Norvell was just the opposite, the bitter drama in her voice drawing the crowd in, banishing whatever evil spirits might be lingering.
Stringfellow followed with a long, long set of pleasantly melodic, smartly tuneful guitar pop, moving from the little stage across from the bar, to the inner room in the back, to the middle of the floor and maybe even on top of the bar too (the memory starts to get fuzzy right about here). Then it was back to the noir with Kerry Kennedy. Putting her on the same bill with Norvell was a smart move because the two share a love of the darkness yet project a disarmingly down-to-earth, warm stage presence. Kennedy was actually nervous: “We have another order for two glasses of red wine,” she entreated the bartender. Then with Wallfisch on piano again – this was his third set of the night – they validated Kennedy’s status as headliner. Without their usual drummer to propel the keys, two electric guitars and upright bass, they were a lot quieter than usual and a little loose, but with the added benefit of allowing Kennedy’s beaujolais voice to pour brightly through the mix. Kennedy not only writes achingly dark, southwestern gothic-tinged songs, she also collects them and has unimpeachable taste, whether in an understated version of the haunting James Jackson Toth ballad One from the Mountain, an impressively relaxed version of the Little Annie/Wallfisch collaboration Because You’re Gone and a handful of originals. Of those, the 6/8 ballad Wishing Well got an especially poignant treatment, and Dive, a duo with just piano and vocals, allowed Wallfisch to show off some surprising honkytonk chops. This from a guy who never met a chromatic or a gypsy motif he could resist. By two in the morning, the crowd hadn’t dispersed yet, but after an evening of galleries, this, wine and more wine and then a precipitous decline into the harder stuff, it was time to see if the trains were still running.
Every day, our top 666 songs of alltime countdown gets one step closer to #1. Saturday’s song is #466:
10 CC – For You & I
This artsy 70s British band alternated between cloying pop and a kind of nerdy Genesis-lite. This is their finest moment, one of most beautiful examples of synthesized orchestration that actually worked, understated epic grandeur rather than cheese. From the 1978 Bloody Tourists album, download it here.