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Power to the 'People'

People Soup
By Hook or by Look: No, it's not an outtake from 'The Night of the Living Dead' but music-makers Mehitabel, stars of last Sunday night's experimental performance 'People Soup' at What Is Art?

What Is Art? answers its own question

By Karen Reardanz

SANTA CRUZ MAY SEEM like a virtual wasteland when it comes to innovative nightlife, but there's a surprising wealth of talent in these here hills. After scouring the coffeehouses, the UCSC theater scene and an endless parade of open mics, a group of cynical performance-art pessimists found themselves in quite a creative haven last Sunday when they paid a visit to What Is Art? for a hearty helping of People Soup.

Believing that the only performers who fall into this vein were either untalented slouches or pretentious poseurs, the cynics wandered in with only preconceived notions in their noggins and complimentary bags of popcorn in their grubby hands. Virtually every one of experimental-performance hot tickets found in this town was nestled into the cozy venue, either taking the stage, masterminding the production or seated in the audience for this two-night avant-garde extravaganza.

Sunday night's People Soupwas mainly a musical endeavor, with local songsters Rick Walker and Chris Vey of the whimsically psychedelic Lackadaisy and Paul Sprawl (who also proved to be quite resourceful as the show's backstage scene-stealer, doling out lame jokes and rescuing a forgetful musician whose mind seemed to wander) holding down the fort. But it was also interspersed with bouts of lyrical prose. People organizer and light master Lopi LaRoe, along with Shreya and That Kaya, He Ain't Nuttin' but a Useless Boy, provided plenty of food for performance-art thought, spouting rhythmic words along with dance and sound.

While the end of the show had the big names, the first half held an unexpected amount of unabashed talent. It was unclear whether What Is Art? boasts amazing acoustics or the musicians had great voices. Whatever the case, they all sounded really good--a fact that was much appreciated, particularly by the crowd in back. Mehitabel put on an entertaining show, interspersed with comedic interludes and mild banter. Guitarist and singer Matthew McAvene started out his set with entrancing Indian music and airplane noises and ended it with a song soothing enough to make you forget all about that silly hat he was wearing.

But singer Debora Holt was the belle of the ball, making converts of the uninitiated and bringing followers further under her spell. Armed only with her throbbing bass and magnetic presence, Holt launched into a short set of her own songs, seamlessly weaving together storytelling, music and mysticism with her deep, hypnotic voice. She managed to cram more acerbic wit and youthful introspection into three songs than a whole legion of Alanises, Jewels and Fionas do on entire albums.

It's rare to enter as skeptics and leave as believers, but this group of cynics did. So the performers may still all be a group of pretentious poseurs for all I know, but with the talent and chutzpah of these kids, who cares? Santa Cruz nightlife could use more of 'em.

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From the July 2-9, 1997 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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