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Pop Is Dead (Long Live Pop)

CHRISTOPHER O'RILEY kicked off this season's UCSC ARTS & LECTURES series with a solo piano recital whose programming staggered RADIOHEAD tunes with the works of DMITRI SHOSTAKOVICH, a mid-20th-century post-tonal composer. "I love a fugue as much as the next man," said a friend in attendance, "but every other tune?"

While tenures can depend on whether a piece of music has enough structural and harmonic complexity to be included in the canon of music literature, I think O'Riley's goal for the evening was to show that all music, even if just a "pop song," has merit. His expert harmonization of "Like Spinning Plates" suggested that it holds as much thematic variation as the Shostakovich Prelude and Fugue in E major that preceded it.

While I lack both the piano chops and the knowledge of Shostakovich's harmonic language to ably comment upon O'Riley's interpretations, I can say that they were played with grace and an ear for their contrapuntal blueprint. It's unfortunate that in today's educational environment most people don't really learn about how incredible some elements of classical music are. While overexcited music teachers fetishize everything that Beethoven touched, the real message--how to write and organize music--is left untouched until someone is foolish enough to major in music in college. While best experienced in small doses, fugues do, in fact, rule.

On O'Riley's versions of Radiohead, I have a few more thoughts. First of all, O'Riley is an insanely talented pianist. Watching him carry both guitar lines of the breakdown in PARANOID ANDROID with his right hand while pumping out the bass with his left was a marvel to behold. But that arrangement, like all of his transcriptions, fails to take into account all the unique sounds that Radiohead inject into their songs. It's their orchestration that makes them so compelling. Yes, O'Riley was able to play the crescendo to "Let Down," but the fuzzed-out bass line that leads to the downbeat isn't nearly as powerful when played on the middle register of the piano. On a similar note, "Talk Show Host" was missing all the ambient weirdness that animates this otherwise blasé tune. Likewise, "No Surprises," without THOM YORKE'S tortured wailing, loses all of the inherent irony that's set up between a happy little riff in F major and the crushing depression of life in a row house, with "A heart that's full up like a landfill and a job that slowly kills you."

Props to O'Riley for his sheer skill and arranging acuity, but I firmly believe that these songs were meant to be sung along with in a sweaty mosh pit, the smell of cannabis and pheromones and evaporating sweat charging the air with both excitement and promise. But, as it's unlikely that Radiohead will ever roll through town opening for SOUL ASYLUM again, spending a pleasant evening listening to O'Riley's expert interpretations isn't selling yourself too short.

I Hear a Bad Moon A-Risin'

The guys in the longstanding local psychedelic standard bearer ALIENTAR are putting together a music festival called CANYON PALOOZA out by the MYSTERY SPOT this coming Saturday, Oct. 1. The all-day event, which will be transpire entirely outside of the purview of the new noise permit, will feature a healthy cross-section of the local rock scene, with performances by the live hip-hop collective SERENDIPiTY PROJECT, the Senegalese drumming of CASA MANCE and the punk stylings of AMBIVALENCE. Other groups, including DEREK BODKIN, THE HERE and STONE GROOVE, will also weigh in while fire dancers twirl, vendors vend and massages are distributed. There will be henna for all. Camping is available and $15 gets you into the whole shebang. More information is available at www.alientar.com.

We Have Both Kinds of Music, Country and Western

Henfling's in Ben Lomond is holding its first punk show in many a moon. WHO'S HOLDING, THE ADDICTS and HERE KITTY KITTY are all scheduled to appear.

The Addicts are the valley's most happily self-identified ignorant group of punks. Their proud artistic lineage includes members of HUNGOVER. Here Kitty Kitty, who recently rocked the BLUE LAGOON most thoroughly, will bring their honest and emotive brand of low-fi punk to the plate, with WHO'S HOLDING on cleanup duty to end the evening.

Peter Koht

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From the September 28-October 5, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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