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Beautiful Struggle

SON RA says space is the place. It seems that the granddaddy of the nine-piece horn freak-out has been preaching a pretty vital lesson with his Arkestra. Two acts this week used space to great effect, while tackling setlists that had absolutely nothing in common.

Last Tuesday, TALIB KWELI took the stage at the Catalyst. Lacking the kind of choreographed and image-managed bluster that BONE THUGS-N-HARMONY conjured up a few days later, he did manage a powerful display of lyrical gymnastics.

Taking the stage with a DJ and two singers, Talib marched from side to side of the stage in a constant state of motion. Even when the rhymes were most frenetic and the beats most compacted, he threw his entire body behind the rhythm to push it through to the downbeat.

Space was key to Kweli's power. While most hip-hop shows have a tendency to be one long reverberating boom, his DJ cut up the beats skillfully, increasing their intensity by occasionally leaving a measure open for Talib to fill in. Nine times out of 10 that little break was given up to the crowd to sing. If BONO can do it, why can't Talib? It's so goddamn fun to be to be part of the song rather than just watching it unfold. Kweli clearly knows the joy of the singalong and broke the crowd into parts and played them off each other to get people into the groove.

Talib also broke a number of concert stereotypes during his set--though he was guilty of the ubiquitous locale shoutout. At one point, he got everyone to admit that they were either high, drunk or some combination thereof and then proceeded to deliver an anti-drug song. He asked everyone to scream, then reminded them about childbirth. He talked about poverty, pride and prejudice and even refrained from bringing the booties up onstage to dilute his message. Props to both of his singers; though blessed with less than adequate coverage sonically, they both did a damn fine job of being heard in between the beats and the bellow that made up the mix.

Different Kind of Space

And now for something completely different ... After biking up in the blistering heat and avoiding several badly driven SUVs full of lost parents, I managed to wrestle my CORTINA into the arboretum to simultaneously witness NEW MUSIC WORKS' AVANT GARDEN PARTY and to get some peace through music.

Immediately overwhelmed by both the tranquility of the garden and dehydration, it took a while to recognize that the concert was already going on. From all directions at once, musicians were walking toward the stage with rocks in their hands. Keeping no particularly recognizable pattern, about 15 rock musicians meandered through the crowd, tastefully banging away. Once they reached the stage, they abandoned the rocks in favor of instruments to realize CHRISTIAN WOLFF's Burdocks. This graphically represented piece is a marvel of choreographed improvisation, but even its delicacy and wonder was overwhelmed by some surprises that were still yet to come.

NMW pulled out a rather interesting curio from the closet in WILLIAM WALTON's Façade. A GILBERT AND SULLIVAN meets the local loony bin piece, its musical elements were augmented by some truly frenetic poetry. Within minutes, the arboretum went from placid and peaceful to the land of the Blue Meanies. MICKEY MCGUSHIN usually can be found either artfully conducting a choir or playing the piano with such grace as to inspire tears, but here he was in full annunciation mode, dashing frantically through the couplets of EDITH SITWELL. Topsy-Turvy.

New Music Works remains one of the most interesting things going around these parts. Certainly new classical music is not destined to dash up any charts and it often results in about as many wrinkled noses as cocked eyebrows. But PHIL COLLINS and his band of merry pranksters continue to bring uncompromising and truly innovative music to those ears willing to hear it. They also throw a party that beats the living hell out of any graduation anybody had to suffer through last weekend.

Peter Koht

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From the June 15-22, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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