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Jan 2011 concert: Unwoman at the Rendezvous

I happened to find out on New Year's Day this year that Unwoman was playing a show that night at the Rendezvous JewelBox Theater, along with a local act I didn't know called Led to Sea. That seemed like a fine way to start the year, so I headed on down to see the show.

The show opened and closed with a string trio performing movements from some Beethoven trios. The trio turned out to be part of Classical Revolution, an organization dedicated to presenting classical chamber music in venues where it's not normally heard, such as cafes and bars, and Classical Revolution sponsored this evening's show. I found that, having spent so much time in the realms of rock and electronic music in the past decade, it was a little weird to be reminded how different this music is from the conventions of modern popular music. For all that some pop and rock music takes inspiration from classical music, rarely does it come close to this kind of melodic complexity and interplay; even stepping outside the four-beat measure that's standard in rock is still considered "experimental". But the other musicians on the evening's lineup certainly headed in that direction.

Cellist/vocalist Unwoman played a variety of songs weighted toward her 2010 releases Casualties and the remix album Unremembered, which had just come out in December. She was joined by violist Laela Peterson-Stolen for about half her set, and also used her own pre-recorded backing tracks on an iPod for about half the songs (some with the violist, some without). Some of her songs take very personal situations and make them universal: for example, she introduced "Cruelty" as a song she wrote two years ago to the day about discovering her "rake and scoundrel of a boyfriend" was that way to all the girls, including a fellow cellist. "Lament for Peter Pan", she warned the audience, she wrote when she was 17 "so it's extremely overdramatic," but that's authentic to being 17. But then she also covered "Billie Jean" early on, purely for fun. "The City", from Unremembered, was another fun number, and like her "Billie Jean" cover showed that she's comfortable with a variety of styles. I thoroughly enjoyed her set and look forward to hearing how she continues to branch out in different directions.

Led to Sea is Seattle violist/vocalist L. Alex Guy. She played a good set of music, some with vocals—she had a fine voice—and some really nice moody instrumentals. She used effects pedals to good effect, looping multiple lines, setting up pizzicato rhythm lines, and playing/singing over them—although some she played withou any looping at all. Sometimes she seemed to use pre-recorded samples too: she started one song just playing with her bow, and then brought in a percussive plucked line just by hitting a pedal. Music like hers is "rock" only in the sense that it's not classical as such, and it does have things in common with pop songs, but only in a very broad sense; this is where the term "chamber rock" tends to get tossed around, these days, but perhaps we need a better term. Or perhaps we just need to take each artist on their own. In any case, I enjoyed Led to Sea and will look for more from her in the future.

Lighting in the (bitterly cold!) JewelBox Theater was generally too low for my iPhone, so I only took a few photos, which you can see in this set on Flickr.


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