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Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Show Review: Baio @ School Night (Bardot Hollywood)

Chris Baio: From Vampire Weekend bassist to electronic/disco singer songwriter

Show Review:
Baio @ School Night (Bardot Hollywood)

  Baio is the artist name for the solo project of Vampire Weekend bassist Chris Baio.  He has his first LP coming out on Glassnote later this year, and last night he made his first live appearance ever at School Night (at Bardot Hollywood.)  This was not a DJ set- he sang and played keyboards in addition to running the electronic-y backing music tracks.  The question I'm sure many Vampire Weekend fans will be asking themselves is, "Should I fuck with this?"  My answer to those fans, as well as fans of the larger world of electronic pop is a clear, "Yes, you should fuck with it."  You should give the LP a listen, you should go see him live given a reasonable opportunity, telling like-minded friends and acquaintances about the existence of this project is likely to provide an immediate social benefit.

  One thing that should be clear is that Baio is not simply a knob twiddling DJ (although he can be a DJ if he feels like it.)  Rather, he is a fully functional "one man band" of the type that is increasingly tolerated and even appreciated in the various precincts of the rock, pop and indie musical worlds.  Baio as an act (vs. the Artist or the DJ performer) has a strong grasp of songwriting principles and an engagingly awkward and endearing stage presence that very much seems like that of someone who has observed Ezra and Rostam up close and has given a good deal of thought about how it will be for him when he performs.

  The "one man band" aspect of his performance limits his movement- mostly swaying side to side, or moving back and forth,  but expectations for electronically derived pop musicians in this department are so low that any kind of performance charisma is welcome.   Significantly, he sings, and well.   It's hard, I think, to really seriously consider Baio as an Act without thinking about Father John Misty.  The two couldn't be more different stylistically: John Misty is a sparse, guitar and drums singer-songwriter who writes about fucked up men and women living in a drug induced haze.  Baio is an electronic DJ/producer who has grafted a studied Indie/Brit Pop sensibility onto his largely uptempo "beats."  Still, when you consider that Misty started as the drummer for Fleet Foxes, and Baio bassist Vampire Weekend.

   The question, I suppose which must be asked is "Should Baio leave Vampire Weekend to pursue this act full time?"  I think my answer would be a straightforward, "Go for it, because if you've gone this far with it already it means that being the bassist of Vampire Weekend does not exhaust what you have to say to the world artistically.  I mean financially, it would be suicide, unless Vampire Weekend itself ceases to exist.

  From the perspective of just looking out for oneself, history would teach that members of big time rock bands need to have a back-up plan handy, because inter-personal conflict almost always manifests itself once the initial breakthrough has been made and success is no longer a life or death issue.  Having a back up plan is not something only handy in the entertainment world, it's a good idea just in life.

  Will Vampire Weekend continue to exist? It doesn't have to.  What has been accomplished already in terms of art and income is sufficient to allow the principals of the band the ability to coast for years. I remember reading an interview where one of the band members was talking about how when "it" happens you are basically gone for three straight years.  In that time you go from playing small rclubs in the US to headlining major festivals.  You play the UK and Europe multiple times and go to Australia and Asia at least once.  You write, record and release 2 LPs.  It is a process of becoming and it's only at the end that someone experiences that has time to reflect and ask themselves, "Is this what I want."

  My sense is that for most people who owe "the man" money, the answer is, "No, but I have to."  For those who have been successfully enough financially to be "free" the answer is invariably, "No."   It is the rare, rare, rare individual who wants to be on the writing/recording/performing treadmill for any period of time, even people who are at the highest level.  The need to continue at that pace either represents a personal kind of ambition or a failure to secure the ability to NOT do that for a year or more.

  What I'm saying is only that Vampire Weekend is in that second category, and if they don't want to do another Vampire Weekend record, they don't have to.  Baio is easily of capable of existing in a world where Vampire Weekend doesn't exist, but it's unclear that he wants that.  Surely, being the bassist of Vampire Weekend is worth hanging onto.   Just as a...job.   And my sense is that he does contribute to the writing process, and that his drumming in that band is inventive and technically savvy.
This is the cover art for Baio's LP,  The Names, out this fall on Glassnote records.

  In conclusion, Baio live- was 1) different than a Baio DJ set 2) good.   His upcoming LP The Names in September on Glassnote is worth checking out if you read this far in the review.  The fact that it's on Glassnote is worth considering.  Glassnote is a reputable, successful label with a great recent track record.


Museum Review: Massachusets Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams

Museum Review:
Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art
 in North Adams, Massachusetts

 The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, Massachusetts is a large (100,000 + square feet) museum that was formed out of an abandoned factory site.  The factory was first a cloth manufacturing facility and then an electronics manufacturing plant, and then abandoned.   In late 1980s, the process of conversion to a museum space began, and the museum opened in 1999.  Independent of any specific exhibits, the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art (Mass Moca) is a must visit for the museum itself.  The two obvious comparisons from my experience are the Tate Modern in London, housed in an abandoned power plant, and the Guggenheim Bilbao, which is also set in a Genry designed "deconstructed" building in the former port district of Bilbao.  

  The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams is different from the two comparisons made above in that it fully inhabits the geographic SPACE of a former manufacturing town.    The Tate Modern, for all its authenticity as a South Bank Power Plant, is located in the anodyne London city center of the 21st century, and the Bilbao Guggenheim is a honest to god Frank Gehry designed structure in a port area that has been entirely given over to white collar business and the tourist trade.

   North Adams is at the northern edge of the region in Massachusetts known as the "Berkshires."  Geographically speaking, the Berkshires are the portion of the Northern Appalachian mountain chain called "the Berkshires" in Massachusetts and "the White Mountains" in Vermont.  They are, in fact, the same set of mountains.   North Adams is set in a river valley formed by Hoosic river, which flows through western New York, southern Vermont and northern Massachusetts.  The Hoosic river was an important source of hydroelectric power for mills operating in the region.

  Any trip to Mass MOCA almost requires a stroll into North Adams, since the town functions as an appendage of the Factory/Museum.  The juxtaposition of town and factory/museum forces the visitor to think about larger issues of the area: employment options, socio-economic status, changes wrought by the broad economic currents of 20th century history.    Which is not to say that the museum exhibits themselves do not intrigue.  The growth in popularity of installation art in large, open plan museums is one that spans the globe. You can find such museums, inevitably featuring the word "Modern" in their name, throughout the world.

  The defining feature of many such museums is their lack of anything approaching a first rate permanent collection. Some of this lies in the difficulty in acquiring canonical pieces in the ever changing flow of what constitutes modern art.  Some of it lies in ideological opposition to the idea of the permanent collection and the role it plays in indoctrinating visitors to the museum in the ideology of the collector/institution art industrial complex.
The Sol Lewitt permanent exhibit at Mass Moca North Adams

 The Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams neatly sidesteps the dilemma by making its permanent exhibit a single site specific multi floor exhibit of Sol Lewitt patterned wall paintings.  It is more Sol Lewitt in one place than you are likely to see in a lifetime of visits to other museums.
Jim Shaw, Whistle While You Work, 2014- an example of his work blending Disney and Superhero motifs with a critique of materialism in society.

  The temporary exhibits held their own against the formidable amount of space.  There are no paintings on the wall at Mass Moca, or if there are they are likely to be a wry comment on some aspect of the contemporary art world.  The stand out exhibit in my mind was Jim Shaw's ....Entertaining Doubts, which combined super hero motifs with religion in a non-didactic way.  One room featured banners hung from the ceiling with a Superman type figure in various states of physical distress- Superman defeated.  Other aspects of the exhibit referenced Walt Disney and the American West in an effortlessly entertaining and though provoking manner.

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