Review: The 5 Degrees of Laurie Amat.

Vocalist and performer Laurie Amat of San Francisco performed at The Super Coda at Vaudeville Park on April 5, 2012. The show was constructed so that Ms. Amat, along with a standard solo set, improvised with 5 different performers whom she had no previous knowledge of until directly before show.

The performance is described below in degrees.

Degree 1 “The Spark” : Laurie performs Bernd Klug with Prehistoric Horse

This is a quartet. Cello (Valerie Kuehne), guitar (Lucio Menegon), snare drum (David Grollman), and Laurie on vocals. She is jolly. Dressed in black, petite, with close-cropped hair she organizes the stage to her liking. Drums here, no, there, and performers enclosing here. It is the quintessential fire build. The sticks laid, not to many attendees yet but that will change as the fire grows. The show begins with a vocal pieces, somewhat randomly dedicated to the next performer Bernd Klug (an ideal name no doubt for Laurie’s often nonsensical phrasing) and is quickly developed into the in-depth story of THE BERND KLUG. After a few minutes of soft, warming experimentation’s on guitar, drum, and cello, Grollman strikes the match of BERND KLUG. First Bernd is a superhero with a beautiful cape-the flame jumps-now he is a demon, now a battleship steaming against the ecstatic fusion of guitar and cello. Laurie in the center vocally counterpoints Grollman’s tale. Most of her vocals sound like operatic exercises. Her words, though often simply gibberish, are gripping and always slightly on the edge of breaking from beauty to destruction. Now the fire is caught. Bernd Klug is coming, he’s going, he’s hurling fireballs, he’s sinking us all. BERND KLUG is HERE.

Degree 2 “The Flame”: Bernd Klug

Bernd Klug takes the stage solo. He is as tall as his upright bass, with a swatch of blond, tousled hair scattered over his eyes. Both his design, his name, and his accent betray his Viennese heritage. The bass is amplified. The slightest touch sets it smoking. We all move slightly closer to the edge of our seats, anticipating our first  introduction to fire. Like a flame Klug’s tones are varied and not wholly apparent. First, the prominent orange, bright, the traditional “sound” of the bow on strings. Below that the electrified blues, deep, heavy, echoing, almost painful. Finally, the white transparency at the base of the flame. The sound not heard but implied even when the bow lingers inches from the string, live with the electricity of the instrument. It is the hottest, most dangerous part of the flame. Laurie takes the stage at the end of the solo piece. She stands directly across from Klug, breaking taboos in the tradition of facing the audience, looking at Klug fully in the eye. Laurie thrusts back and forth, spurting out vocals, hands waving, choppy, jumping movements. Bernd responds in kind, gyrating his bass, more jazz, no longer amplified, bobbing in response to Laurie. Their symmetry is blazing. Laurie crescendos, sings wildly, removes her sweater due to the heat. No more fuel need for this fire, time to let it burn.

Degree 3: “The Bonfire” Taka Kigawa

Before sitting down at the piano Kigawa removes the top, opens the lid, lets the fire breathe. Now it will be a robust bonfire. The NYT called Kigawa’s playing “quietly poetic and considerate,” and their synopsis is accurate, save for the deep reservoir of personal feeling that Taka (though briefly) showcases in his music. Like a good fire, he knows his job is to give the people what they want: strong flame, a little Chopin, some Beethoven. But like all fires, were he a bit more deviant, he might break free. On some level he does, riffing off the masters, swelling from one expertly played piece to the next, breaking it down, burning up the musical construction after all its traditional use is gone. He is well-tended, keeps us warm, flickers beautifully. Laurie quietly takes the stage to partake in vocalizations. Now we are by the sea, the fire burning strong. Like the waves, Laurie’s notes bend and turn with Kigawa’s scales. The bonfire is the centre of this whole and Laurie stands close, places her hand on the piano, and with Kigawa’s aid flawlessly creates the uncanny moment of flame reflected on the sea.

Degree 4: “Primitives Dancing with Torches” FAHEY

Now come the primitives. The duo composed of Jeremy Gustin and William Graefe called FAHEY takes the stage. Graefe with an aqua blue guitar, and Gustin with an amber-colored drum set. The stage is rearranged once more so Gustin and Graefe can clearly hear. Laurie stands slightly off the side, her tools set on a stack of full beer cases being used as a table. FAHEY is dedicated to a spectrum of Fahey covers and as the room becomes the fullest it’s been all night, it’s clear that this is what most people are here for. The primitives tell Laurie to join in anytime, and with little intro dive into familiar avant-garde progressions. The spirit of Fahey is being summoned. Surprisingly, this is the least amount of dancing from Laurie we’ve seen all night, but her minimalistic approach is perfectly in tune with the toe-tapping of Graefe and Gustin, who armed with blue brushes, beats an off kilter rhythm so forcefully he has to pause every couple of beats to salvage his rouge bass drum. The spirit of Fahey has arrived. None of the musicians play the same thing, and they are all perfectly in harmony.  Laurie suggests everyone get spiritualized and join in!  She is using bird calls, everyone is stomping. Nobody is tending the fire. Nobody cares to. The speakers start to crackle and pop with the noise, we wait for one of them to blow out with the sound of breaking, burned limbs nullifying down the spaces between the flames until it is 90 percent flame and 10 percent fuel, hottest at its core.

Degree 5: “The Slow Burn” Natura Morta

The final performers Natura Morta take the stage. The fire has burned down to a pile of smoldering embers. Many people are clearing out for the night but to assume the slow burn is not the one of the most dynamic portions of the evening would be a mistake. Made up of Sean Ali on contrabass, Carlo Costa on drums, and Frantz Loriot on viola, Natura Morta utilizes all that is left of burning mound and their self-professed “heated silences” are as compelling as their undefinable sounds, made from prepared instruments and unprepared musical structures. Loriot taps on his viola, while Ali rubs his hands on the bass, caressing and patting its curves. Laurie takes center stage and her cues brilliantly from the clockwork construction-squeaks, bumps, meows, wind gushes with the combination of mouth, glass tubes, wood objects and hands. The beasts are coming out after the fire has burned down, sniffing out the meaning of scorched earth left behind.


Please Note: As with all reviews we try to consider both sides of the coin and present a balanced opinion of the pros and cons of a creative piece. We find it unwise to discourage artistic talent but also unwise to silence constructive criticism. That being said, you the viewer are the most important critic and we welcome differing opinions. If your opinion is well-developed and interesting there’s a chance we will publish it as a response. In the end we think the best way to judge any creative work is to see, hear, taste, or touch it yourself and the best way to improve artistically is by joining the conversation. To submit your response for consideration please email the22magazine (at) gmail (dot) com with the subject line “[Name of review] response.” If you’d like your show considered for review please email the22magazine (at) gmail (dot) com at least a week in advance with a description of your show.

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