Thursday, August 09, 2007

Sights & Sounds @ Luna Lounge + Inquisitive Black Girls


So I did really want to write about photographer Ed Marshall's Sights & Sounds (August 8th) at the great space that is the Luna Lounge: (read about the rich history here) great layout, big stage, clean bathrooms (hey, it matters), nice bartenders, lots of floor space for dancing, or standing with your hands in the air like you just don't care, and no obscured views. But it's been a busy day, and I owe someone else some writing, so I'm gonna try to put something short down so I can remember the event. Apologies for the disorganized recollections that follow:

Marshall put together an amazing line-up: The Batterie, Apollo Heights, Social Hero, MuthaWit, and Pillow Theory. And it's a testament to the talent in the room and Marshall that folks came out, and cheered on the bands despite the rain and train insanity. Before dawn, 3.5 inches of rain over as many hours resulted in major flooding that had the NYC subway system completely shut down through the morning rush hour into the afternoon. I was blissfully ignorant on the train to NYC happily talking on the phone to friend from Boston who commented, "oh, you're on the train, so they're running?" She meant the subway, of course, but at least I was prepared for the delays when I arrived.

After a morning of battling sticky humidity, traffic, sardine packed buses, afternoon and evening delays in underground saunas that were many a subway station, folks came in shifts. The adverts billed the doors as opening at 6pm, and the air conditioning came on full blast sometime after 9pm. For real, HVAC is expensive (and it takes a while to cool down a big room)! The renowned Anthology Film Archives has AC in the theater only and that's it, folks. So a lot of people stood outside waiting for the bands to hit the stage. Of course there was also the heat likely generated by The Batterie, who with the train delays I unfortunately missed. Dang. (pictured left: Apollo Heights, l-r: Danny Chavis, Honeychild Coleman, Daniel Chavis, Monk Washington)

If not for the aforementioned fatigue-inducing commuting experiences, and humidity, I think folks would have initially been more lively. Still, the bar was doing brisk business (and using lots of ice!). Most folks were doing the stand-and-sway during Apollo Heights' set. With lead singer Daniel Chavis's deeply physical expressiveness I felt like we were were in a moment from singer/songwriter Stew's recent Passing Strange: essentially a live musical theater experience--'stay in your seats and listen'--but it was also rock 'n' roll, and the band was perhaps waiting for us to meet them a little bit closer to the middle--'hey, people it's a live show.' But then again it was also an art show. As each band took the stage filmmaker/photographer Yuko Sueta (who also provides images for Apollo Heights' shows) projected various images of their performances, rehearsals, candid backstage moments, and press photos from Ed Marshall's impressive body of work onto two large screens on either side of the stage. Thinking about it now, I also wonder how much was a Cocteau Twins thing (big influence on Apollo Heights, see more below). I can't imagine Elizabeth Fraser being as physically emotive as Chavis, but I also can't imagine that even if she were, people would be pogoing, and moshing, or dancing in the midst of their set (OK, I might be a little mistaken about the audience, and Frazer's letting lose at the beginning of the bridge). (pictured right, l-r: Danny Chavis and Coleman on lead and rhythm guitars, respectively)

The 'Heights music does encourage a certain degree of emo-meditative listening. Plus that theater energy which was intense, made me for one inclined to watch and listen. Maybe the "stand-and-sway" stance is also a result of the snake charmer effect created by the band's sound. I enjoyed their guitar wall sonics, which easily could have been overbearing given how heavily they wear their Cocteau Twin influence, plus just the trickiness of creating nuanced sound with multiple guitars occupying the same frequency range, but they were really tight. Unfortunately, I couldn't hear much of the lyrics. There was something going on with Chavis's monitor during much of their set. He kept signaling for more volume, but no matter how much the FOH sound person (OK "sound guy," still not a lot of women in FOH) turned up his channel Chavis never got the mix he wanted. But he was amiably good-humored about it smiling at the sound guy and shrugging like, 'well, what can you do?' Chavis had some sweet second-brother rapport with the background singer (sometime keyboardist?) who had a strong voice, and no problems with his signal. Checking out the band's page made clear the strength of Chavis's vocal talents. That said, for me, some of their harmonies weren't quite reflective of the sonic territory they were creating. I'm not sure if it was going to a major third, or what. Some "power chord" harmonies reference classic rock 'n' roll moments, but because they're such the tried and true go-to harmonies, they sometimes dilute the nuances of an individual writer's, or in this case band's meaning or intention. Admittedly, however, I have been told that I have a thing for tritones; I do like intervals that catch me off guard and take me the unexpected place. Again, those monitor issues may have been at work in this dynamic.

This was my first time seeing Apollo Heights, an interesting set from a group heralded by some as a downtown legend. They've been working with producer (and former Cocteau Twin) Robin Guthrie, and have an album, White Music For Black People, that's going to drop in October (OK, I can't help but think about the semiotics of authority and ownership signified in that title, and the further problematizing of a problem which itself becomes a signification,... yeah, but moving right along...). The lead singer, Daniel Chavis is, like I said, a highly emotional performer, and "3rd wave" rhythm guitarist Monk Washington (pictured right) was himself propelled forward with intense bursts of passion that had him covering half the stage, and occasionally moved to wail a lyric off-mic; clearly emotionally resonating with Chavis. Meanwhile, rhythm guitarist Honeychild Coleman and lead guitarist Danny Chavis (twin to Daniel) carved out their specific spaces on the stage and mainly kept to them. Creating a shimmering wall of guitars, live, is a delicate thing. A lot of charisma was present, definitely a band with considerable stage presence, and serious skills as well. Apollo Heights has three guitarists, a lead vocalist, a sometime keyboardist and backing vocalist, with a digital rhythm section provided via an Apple laptop by Hayato Nakao. I couldn't help but think about all the session drummers whose careers dried up overnight with the digital beat apparatus, as well as the relief of some bands who run through drummers like "sands through the hour glass of time," to just have a rhythm section that can be depended on to show up at a gig as long as there's an electrical outlet. I appreciated their guitar work, which reminded me of mid-80's Cocteau Twins, The Church (e.g. "Under the Milky Way Tonight" without the acoustic intro), and currently TEA, who was associated with the 4AD universe back in the 80's, and manages to achieve this effect on recordings layering her own guitar parts (harder than it sounds). Nakao's work is a great mix of live electric bass and programmed beats, with an effect both organic and still hinting at something ominously industrial (a future-city feel). Things were running long and though clearly they wanted to stay on for another song, and the crowd excitedly shouted for more, after checking with the house they left the stage without playing the number they had planned to dedicate to Ed Marshall. A very friendly band too: most of them hung out after their set and socialized with friends and folks enjoying the energy. (pictured above right, l-r: Daniel Chavis and Coleman)
















Next up was MuthaWit (pictured above with Social Hero's generously lent drumkit), sans drummer and cellist. Well, almost, Boston Fielder proved he does do a little bit of everything when he got behind the drum kit, substituting for the absent Jeremy "Mr. Bean" Clemson (no, the above riff on digital rhythm sections was not a dig at Mr. Bean). Drumming on it's own is challenging, pinch-hit drumming while singing lead and playing guitar is a almost completely unenviable situation in my book, and a lot of people wouldn't have dared; maybe tried for something more ambient(which can backfire), or canceled the gig. So really, hats off to MuthaWit and Mr. Fielder for persevering, with humor (Fielder introduced them saying, "we're The Ed Marshall Band, I'm Ed Marshall," then pointed a drumstick at bassist Sam Fernandez and continued, "this is Ed Marshall on bass," bassist Sam Fernandez smiled and gave a short bow, beside him guitarist Lou Rossi was at the ready when Fielder drawled, "no, no I'm only kidding, I'm Boston..." (pictured above right: Fielder on drums, etc)

(pictured left: Sam Fernandez makin' that bass give it up)

(pictured below: the fleet fingers of Ben Tyree)
(pictured left: the man and his horns, V. Jeffrey Smith)
















I love the subtle layers of Southern-inflected delivery (Fielder's a Mississippi native), but I can't think of how to distill that moment properly here--some of it's in the drawl, often what's said is something that could be corny with another delivery, but definitely isn't in this instance--it's warm and playful. Really, everyone was giving Ed Marshall much love, and Marshall being Marshall was unobtrusively clicking away, documenting the whole thing. MuthaWit had folks dancing, playing a dynamic set, as usual, however brief as they were mindful that the show was running behind schedule. Unfortunately, I had to leave soon after and missed most of the set by Social Hero (another family affair with brothers on bass and lead guitar, and father and son on vocals--gotta love it--dad's got his own music legacy and seriously rocks, no lie. I think was a fan of every Foreigner song to which he added vocals!). I completely missed the great Pillow Theory. I'll have to see if I can catch them another time. A fantastic night and from what I've heard, all of the performers are chomping at the bit to do it again. I too am looking forward to seeing what's next from Marshall. (pictured above right, l-r: Fielder, Fernandez, Rossi, and Ed Marshal photo of Fielder on-screen; pictured above left, l-r: Tyree works the Crybaby™, Fielder keeps the anti-matter time)

* * * * *

(The Trouble with) Being Young, Inquisitive, & Black, and Female
OK, this story from Gender Public Advocacy Coalition (GenderPAC) is making the internet rounds, but it was stunning to me to finally have this confirmed by a study. You know, about 142 years after manumitted black women and men realized this was a problem, and some 300+ years after black folks, who were colonized in their countries of origin and then colonized again in the colonies of the "New World" also came to this clear determination. What "determination" or "problem"? Well, that many educators see curious and bold/fearless little black girls as a challenge to their authority, and treat their excited inquiries as a disciplinary issue: "New Study: Making Black Girls 'Ladylike' Discourages Achievement"

Based on two years' observation at a Texas middle school, the Ohio University study found that teachers' class- and race-based assumptions of black femininity made them more likely to discourage behaviors and characteristics that lead to class involvement and educational success. The teachers' actions appeared to be less the result of conscious racism or sexism than an unwitting tendency to view the behavior of black girls through a different lens than that of their peers.

Among the findings of the study: black girls who actively sought out the positive attention of their teachers in class by asking questions were reprimanded by teachers, while boys and girls of other racial and ethnic groups behaving similarly were rarely disciplined in the same manner for their actions.

(Note that while the above quote doesn't specifically mention it, the study's findings suggest enthusiastic little black boys aren't faring well either.) Check this flickr photo from the the GenderPAC webpage on this recently completed Ohio University study of two Texas middle schools. (BTW, I've been told by Texas black folks that they are a particularly proud bunch--can't tell them nothing.) But this little girl working her lower lip does look womanish, doesn't she? Like any minute a ring of white teachers might enter the frame, encircling the girl, singing, "What do you you do with a problem like Marquita?!" (to the melody of the famous Sound of Music tune). Maybe if black girls knew from an early age they were guaranteed a childhood of respect and encouragement within the nation's public education system they wouldn't throw the heavy attitude. But wait, the report says that when the same behavior--assertively raising a hand and asking questions until they are satisfactorily answered by the teacher, "seeking the positive attention of their teachers"--is enacted by girls and boys of other ethnicities, the reprimand isn't of the same "manner" (read: severity?). Why is there reprimand at all if a student is looking for "positive attention?" Isn't that what most teachers dream of, reaching the students? But one teacher at a school in the study was quoted as saying, "'A lot of the females, especially Black females here, try to have some authority over me in class. I say to them 'Uh-uh—I'm the only adult in here.' But they think they are adults too...'" Further there is the foregrounding of black girl sexuality:

The study found that many teachers described black female students as too sexually provocative in dress and behavior, a finding consistent with a 2004 study which found that girls of color are pre-tracked for underachievement because of teacher beliefs that they are hypersexual and willing to invest more energy in their appearance than in academic pursuits.

Oh, come to think of it this little brown girl does have an expression of some peavishness. But note that while her body is forward, her face is turned away from the front of the classroom, or certainly away from that adult female figure in the upper left of the frame. Could that expression be one of frustration with constantly being ignored by the teacher, and told that she's not being lady-like because the teachers feel that black girl's assertive in-classroom behavior (academic womanishness) is directly tied to sexual permissiveness outside of the classroom (sexual womanishness). Ain't that a blip. You get punished enough for being enthusiastic about education, with implications and then wow, surprise, you start veering towards developing a part of yourself that does get a "positive" response: your ability to be sexual at an early age ("if I can't learn enough in school to make my science experiment better than yours, I'll learn enough outside of those walls so my "milkshake" will be?) Anybody else see the self-fulfilling prophecy, the tragic boomerang catch-22? Anybody else notice that the wording of the report is "teachers" as a monolith, not "white teachers" as a specific demographic. Yes, these issues run deep, as Taneika Taylor, director of GenderPAC's Children As They Are program, comments:
Young girls need to be encouraged by educators and parents to achieve and explore, not to curb their enthusiasm for life and learning in order to be 'proper ladies.'
I think that quote ought to be on a banner in every classroom, and available free as a magnet for every little girl to put on her family's refrigerator and point to at key moments.

Endnote I: After writing this entry it occurred to me to think about what it means for a black man/black men to be mining the emo/shoegazing/etc. territory. It's different than James Brown declaring it's man's world and then howling, "but it ain't nothin', nothin', without a woman or a girl." Plus, as I recall that tune was actually co-written with a woman. Is it like Son House singing in one breath about how a woman did him so wrong that he'll hate her to the end, and in the next saying to her, "but if you ever feel like writing me a letter..."? Or Bobby Blue Bland singing about shadowing his woman's every emotion on, "Ain't That Lovin' You"? I suppose those songs talk about male angst, but all in the context of heterosexual relationships. Maybe there could be other social issues being implicitly referenced, but it's all through the prism of love, or a man's need for and vulnerability to the love a woman (good or bad). I suppose it's just some kind of revolutionary thing that a black man could be emotive, vulnerable, confused, anguished in a song, and not have it hinge on romantic love, but on dealing with complexities of having an inner life, and not have to abandon his cultural background/identity in so dealing. Or have the only allowable manifestation of that complexity be the delineations of tensions concerning his ethnicity and relationship to social structures and institutions. Yeah, maybe that's some kind of serious change.

An interesting piece on Apollo Heights by Ben Malkin on Perfect Sound Forever.

5 Comments:

At 2:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey there I was put on to this article by Boston from Muthawit. I just wanted to say thanks for stopping through the Sights $ Sounds event. It's a shame I have no idea who you are, but much appreciated nonetheless! I have plans to possibly have some other goings on top of the Winter. Maybe I'll see you there?
Be well.
- Ed Marshall

 
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