Thursday, 27 September 2012

Stewart Lee and Friends perform John Cage's "Indeterminacy"

I had never really heard of John Cage. I knew two facts.

  1. He wrote 4'33", a musical piece with no sound other than the sound of the space it was performed in.
  2. He was in The Velvet Underground.

That was John Cale. So out of the two facts I knew, one of them was wrong. I even originally thought J J Cale was in The Velvet Underground till I was forcefully corrected on Twitter.

I researched him (i.e. looked at YouTube) and found this marvellous piece from 1960.

My friend Mike told me about this show and I happily agreed to go with him. We met up at 7pm but were forced to sit in the cold with our beers outside as the musicians were soundchecking. The honks and parps echoed round Dalston. We got in at 8 and found a seat with a reasonable view (near the toilets - a good tactical decision) and awaited. Neither of us were sure what to expect, but after reading a review of an earlier performance I was hopeful Harry Hill would perform Water Walk. Unfortunately it was not to be.

Things started off with a piano and trombone improvisation by Steve Beresford and Alan Tomlinson, which showed us the madness that was to come. It was instantly funny, but people seemed scared to laugh. People were giving the performance a lot of chin stroking respect, but as soon as Tomlinson honked a bicycle horn into the end of his trombone as he played, we all relaxed and realised that, yes, it's fine to laugh!

Tania Chen performed an off the wall piano solo on her "prepared piano" and as well as some traditional jazz stylings she ended up climbing into the piano and plucking the strings from the inside.

The highlight of the first half for me, though was the trombone solo. (There's a sentence I never expected to write in my life.) 

Tomlinson explained Cage's unusual scorings, particularly the instruction to remove a piece of the trombone and use a particular mute, but as he explained, when you take that piece out, all the air goes out the wrong end anyway, so the mute would have made no difference. A little joke on Cage's part perhaps?

This was really odd. A lot of single notes at various volumes, pitches and timbres, evoking a didgeridoo at one point, and at another he span as he played, giving a slow phaser effect.

Here is a short clip. But I know it doesn't do it justice. I missed the funniest bits!

We had an interval and outside I overheard conversations about French philosophers and Becket. Yes, I was certainly in Dalston.

The second half started with Chen, Beresford and Lee sitting at a table with all manner of unusual instruments amongst them. The musicians would provide an improvised backdrop for Stew, who would read 40 of Cage's stories randomly chosen from selection of 90. Each one was read at different speeds in order to either fit them into, or stretch them out so they each lasted a minute.

It was a great 40 minutes. After a while the sounds sat in my head comfortably, but always surprising me, and I struggled to hear Stew on a few occasions when the sounds got louder, but this was the intention. We left the show happy and I had a quick chat with Stew at the end where I said that Tomlinson's trombone solo reminded me of Diamanda Galas's "Schrei X" and he said "Oh, I think he's played with her before"!

It's not a show I would normally go to, and naturally the draw for me was the always magnificent Stewart Lee, but hey, I'm a hipster now!

Thanks to @muzrobertson and @chillmaid for the live photos.

Monday, 24 September 2012

Eddie Izzard

I saw Eddie Izzard last month and forgot to finish writing this blog. The day was hard. I had been to see a Private Hell special the day before with Michael Legge and Stuart Goldsmith. Even though Stuart isn't the usual style of comedian I would go and see, I thoroughly enjoyed his set, and Michael's show was very nearly ready! I had a few beers with Michael and some of the audience afterwards and was planning on going home, but Nadia persuaded me to go to the other Phoenix to see Lou Sanders and Grainne Maguire. It was a great evening, but on the morning of Izzard, I had a brutal hangover.

I was excited about seeing Eddie Izzard, and have been for a while but 1115pm seemed like such a long way away. He was playing in the small room in Soho Theatre and it was a work in progress gig for next year's world tour, "Force Majeur". I have never seen Eddie before, but he is a true comedy hero of mine, up there with Billy Connolly and to see him in what I insist on calling The Gregg Jevin Memorial Room (ie a room with about 140 seats) is much more exciting than seeing him in a massive arena.

I left the house at 930 as I had arranged to meet my friend in The Soho Theatre bar at 1015pm. I thought it best to get there early in order to try and secure a good seat, but I guess in this room all seats are pretty close to the stage. We bumped into Rob Sedgebeer and his lovely lady and settled down to watch the show.

Eddie announced that there would be an opening act.A German comedian. Of course I instantly assumed it would be Henning Wehn. Eddie announced Michael Mittermeyer to the stage. I had never heard of him before and he had a few good lines, but most of the material was pretty hack, with talk of Germans getting to sun loungers first and the fact that the German language sounds aggressive rather than sexy. Things took a turn for the worst when speaking about the Beijing Olympics, which involved him speaking in a "comedy" Chinese accent for an extended period of time, which just ended his set uncomfortably. I had trusted Eddie to introduce us to someone amazing, but he let us down. I've never said this about any comic on this blog, but as I plan on avoiding seeing any more of his gigs in the future, I will. He was awful.

After a very short break, it was time for Eddie to take the stage. Now this is the embarrassing but of the blog. I thought I had written this and posted it 2 months ago. Turns out I hadn't. So I can't remember very much so the main part is going to be a little truncated.

He started a little unsure, as a lot of this was new material. I can't remember a great deal of it, but there was a fantastic truly improvised piece about opera singers microphone technique which made him laugh a lot as well as us. There was another part that I had seen before about the tigers massacring the animals on Noah's Ark. That's pretty much my memory of the gig. Sorry about that. Then we left into the cold dark night and had to get a night bus home as all the tubes were shut.