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Friday, May 19, 2006

The Sixfifteens/Greg Davis/The Books - May 12 - Middlebury College

Oh college. That wonderful time of exploration and experimentation. The safety. The "be your selfness." I spent four years at a small liberal arts school, but it has nothing on Middlebury. The parents of the 2.300 kids pay $43k/year (endowment of $660 million doesn't touch Harvard's 22 BILLION, but it's certainly something) and they expect their kids to be taken care of. And they are.

The spring festival for WRMC, Middlebury's college radio station, known as Sepomana, is a pretty sweet deal. They've been known to pull in Animal Collective and Rilo Kiley; this year's main act was The Books.

Opening the show was the Saratoga Springs, NY four piece The Sixfifteens. Blending perfect pop with mathrock arrangements, the 4 piece entertained the crowd of approx 75 for nearly an hour. Powered by Joel Lilly's infectious and creative drumming and Jeff Fox's guitar riffs, they went far beyond the normal opening band meekness, even earning a crowd demanded encore.

Keeping with the theme of liberal arts open mindedness, the rock of The Sixfifteens were followed by a dude DJ'ing from his laptop. I'm sorry, but that does absolutely nothing for me. Especially when he mixed in a hip-hop version of Stairway to Heaven. I chose to stand outside in the rain. My civil disobedience.

I came back halfway through Burlington's own Greg Davis sitting cross-legged on the stage in front of his laptop. Looking as peaceful as Thich Nhat Hanh, he occasionally accompanied Mac generated enviro-soundscapes with bells, a squeezebox, and omming, all the while mushroom images swirled above him. The crowd was sitting and subdued, with the front row laying on their backs staring off into the dark ceiling.

Then came the main event. The crowd swelled to three times its earlier size as soon as The Books took the stage. They were rewarded handsomely.

First off, the two dudes are incredible musicians. Guitar and cello. I was amazed at how fast and creatively they played to pre-recorded material (mostly beats, but other things too. Pretty much all but main vocals and the strings). One could argue that it was a bit too structured and pre-planned - leaving out improv, but that's cutting it short. In addition to the sound (which made the wanna-be hippie kids dance in their LEOTARDS), it was all about the perfect visuals that were primarily video segments. The first one was ancient b&w shots of prominent Mormons - some times it was a few seconds of someone standing, other times they would go all Brady Bunch and have multiples on the screen, and at other times it was shots of ants in the grass. One whole section concerned religious ceremonies - absurdity surrounding Baptist revivalist stuff ("you're healed!") next to shots of Hindus, etc, etc. Then there were times when the black screen had just white words in time with the lyrics ala Dylan/INXS. The interesting thing was that they weren't written in plain English, but instead were totally screwed up smaller sentences with weird letters, but still readable. The effect was that if the audience was forced to concentrate on what was being said, even though it was impossible to know all that was being taken in.

The bottom line is that it was pretty amazing. More performance in the art sense then concert. It would fit perfectly at MASSMoCA or some other contemporary art museum. I left realizing how their stuff on cd is only half the package; Which is sort of how it always felt - a bit empty. But the imagery transforms it into something much more then just music.

I was surprised by The Books closing song, which was a beautiful cover of Nick Drake's Cello Song. I never imagined hippie dancing to Nick Drake, but Middlebury students surpass all expectations.

At the end of The Books set I heard one of The Sixfifteen guys say, "did we play tonight?" My sentiments exactly. It went from rock to DJ to acid trip to art house. Liberal arts at its finest.

Great article by the Harvard Independent, which grapples with describing The Books in concert.

More pictures available here.

YouTube concert footage:
The Books - Cello Song (Nick Drake cover) - North Adams, MA - 5.6.06
The Books - Take Time - Grand Rapids, MI - 4.28.06
The Books - Smells Like Content - Hollywood, CA - 4.15.06


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