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Rock Show Gets Cultcha

Here at the Rock Show, we see so many concerts that, after a while, we can't help but start to question the different modes of musical performance. For the most part, the culture of music shows has been compartmentalized into two neatly defined categories, rarely venturing outside the standard general-admission dance/rock/mosh party or the subdued sit-down show. In both cases, audiences rely on the performers to create some sort of spectacle to enhance the particular feeling that the artist is going for. A blues guitarist's constipated facial contortions and an MC's cocky gesticulations both help convey attitude and emotion; ditto Mick Jagger's rooster strut and Stevie Wonder's head bob-and-weave maneuver. Different strokes for different folks, mind you, but a great concert is like the miracle of THC receptors in our brains--given the right stimuli, ecstasy is a neurochemical inevitability.

All that being said, the concert of classical Persian and Indian improvisation given by the Ghazal Ensemble last Friday night at the Rio somehow mimicked the THC molecule in sonic form. Employing a sitar (played by Shujaat Hussain Khan), tabla (played by Sandeep Das) and kamancheh (spike fiddle played by Kayhan Kalhor), the trio opened a droning portal into a seductive tradition of Eastern music eternally rife with transcendent mystery. A little bit of historical context was the only thing missing from an otherwise sublime show. Music may carry with it the soul of a place, but a little help for those of us who have never been to India or Iran would do wonders to help us meditate on the appropriate images, be they pastoral, royal or what have you. We may never know if the music alone conjures visions of astral planes and Hindu gods and goddesses, or if that's just our brains making the associations with music and images from those days when the Beatles got all tripped out on acid and followed that one guru for a while.

It's truly embarrassing, though, to have to admit that European classical music conjures so many images of a big, blue cat chasing a little brown mouse around a cartoon house, or a huge, clever rabbit making a fool out of a would-be hunter. But what can we do? Excerpts from Bizet's Carmen Suites (which the SC Symphony performed last Saturday night at the Civic) show up so often--in cartoons, commercials, movies, sitcoms--that it's hard to blame us for our lowbrow associations. After all, the music was originally intended to accompany performance; whether it's humans or cartoons performing is beside the point. Live symphonic music may be delightful, but you can only marvel at the militaristic synchronization of the orchestra and the passionate flailings of the conductor for so long. The mind eventually starts to wander, relegating the music to the soundtrack of our own musings. Holistically speaking, this is all well and good, as our bodies are absorbing the musical vibrations, which, when we can't respond via movement and dance at a sit-down show, alter our brain waves and propel our thoughts in inspired directions. Whether we're listening to the structured perfection of classical European music, the inspired improvisations of classical Indo-Persian music or some avant-garde exploration involving nine saxophones and a pennywhistle, the important thing is that we're really, really high. Put that in your pipe and smoke it, Bizet.

Mike Connor

Blackjack, David!

Holy crap, what can I say about the early Dave Alvin show Friday night? Best Alvin show I've ever seen? Check. Best show of the year? Could be. Seriously, I'm lost for superlatives to describe Alvin's crackling Kuumbwa show, which raised the bar for acoustic-show adrenaline levels without crowding out the emotional power of some of his best songs from the last 20 years: "Abilene" from Blackjack David, "Dry River" from Blue Blvd., the title song from King of California, and some Blasters favorites, too. Can I wait for the new album? No, no, I cannot.

Zelda's Songwriters' Showcase: Week One

Oh yeah, it's on, baby! Opening night of the second annual songwriter smackdown from the folks at MARS Studio went down at Zelda's Nov. 4, with David Anderson and Noel Murphy taking the top two slots. Two winners will be selected every Tuesday for 10 weeks, after which we go into the post-season to determine the winner of the grand prize: studio time at MARS. This event brings people from all over the county out to support the most talented songwriters in the land--come down and check it out.

Steve Palopoli

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From the November 12-19, 2003 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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