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Lifting Off with Superhuman Happiness

(This post crowd-sourced!)

Superhuman Happiness "up in the club" at MASS MoCA.Photo courtesy Laki Vazakas

Superhuman Happiness “up in the club” at MASS MoCA.
Photo courtesy Laki Vazakas

Most guitarists plug into amplifiers. But after settling down at our table in the soft luminescence of Club B10 at MASS MoCA, I slowly awakened to the reality that this electric guitar was plugged directly into the space-time continuum. Had the concert begun already? Were the gently swelling chords part of the show, or had they always been there from the beginning of time?

Whatever their origin, these notes were not played; they were invoked. The soloist didn’t take the stage; he merely existed alongside the audience. He was a musician without ego, a sonic force without presence, a true rarity in the universe.

I was experiencing the first stage of Superhuman Happiness; serenity.

And then the band arrived, quietly in sneakers, surrounding a single microphone and seamlessly blending in, like a barbershop sextet waking us with a morning raga. Begin stage two: Annunciation. For a few moments, I had both harmony and chaos, form without shape, sound without rhythm, but, oh, did those sneakers need to move…

And move they did! Layers of drums and percussion laid down a solid foundation, reminding us that the revolving Earth was still beneath our feet. The saxophone limned Féla’s peaks, while the rhythm guitar – clear and precise – made it completely obvious that it was time to dance.  A mélange of sonic textures, from spiraling synthesizer to vocals laden with chorus, brought back the 1980s, but then I realized that the ’80s weren’t this compelling.

By the middle of the show, I hit stage four: Liftoff!!  With an expert mix of avant-garde riffs and escalating beats, the performance broke through the lofty factory roof and soared directly into orbit. Never before had I been part of an audience that successfully clapped together in a syncopated rhythm. Never before had I seen a group where five of the members had a lead singing role. Never before had I found myself actually thinking, I need more cowbell!  (The cowbell solo rocked!). These firsts alone were worth the price of admission.

In the final songs of the set, the band expertly navigated our way back down to Earth. The final stage was now complete. More than anything else, this ensemble has a deep understanding of the emotional experience that they want to share with you. Far more than a collection of songs on an album, Superhuman Happiness offers a chance to soar with intentionality and compassion.

Written and submitted by MASS MoCA patrons and music enthusiasts, Christopher B. and Laki V., who travel frequently from New Haven, CT to see shows at MASS MoCA.

Posted February 20, 2013 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Music
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Jeff Mangum Plays Intimate Show, Tells Audience They’ll Never Hear His New Songs

Mangum Crowd

Jeff Mangum delights the crowd in MASS MoCA’s Hunter Center.
Photo / Jane Burns / MASS MoCA

It seems like everyone has the same question for Jeff Mangum, the elusive artist behind the legendary late-’90s band Neutral Milk Hotel: Has he written any songs in the past 15 years? Last night, at Mangum’s sold-out concert at MASS MoCA — an art museum in North Adams, Mass. — an audience member yelled for a “new one.” And Mangum replied:  ”You’ll never hear those.”

Fans also ask, Why play little towns like Poughkeepsie and North Adams? What’s Ruston, La. like? (We’ve always wondered about Mangum’s hometown.) And, most of all: Why, after all these years hiding out, is Mangum touring again?

MASS MoCA, located in rural western Massachusetts, is currently hosting a show on contemporary Canadian art. We could go on about the parallels between the super-self-conscious rustic art on display and the manic imagery and identity crises found in Mangum’s music, but we’ll save the dissertation.

The Music Tapes, featuring onetime Neutral Milk Hotel member Julian Koster, played a delightful opening show. They messed around with a seven-foot metronome and a singing TV, creating a huge sound out of horns, organ and banjo. Koster, sporting a dopey winter hat and scarf, strummed a banjo and sang “Pointing hands, pointing hands, somehow we all played in musical bands that toured through the lands” punctuated by booms of baritone horn, crashing cymbals and bonging bells.

Meanwhile, Mangum’s set could have been pulled from a concert in 1998, the year Neutral Milk Hotel released ‘In the Aeroplane Over the Sea,’ their last album. He sang his joyous songs like they were fresh, with a truly impressive amount of energy behind his vocals. He filled the entire room with his voice during “King of Carrot Flowers.” It was a wonder there was any space left for air to circulate.

He performed “Oh, Comely” with the vocal fury and staggering changes in volume and pace that you’ll find on bootlegs of Mangum’s solo shows from the ’90s. “Your father made fetuses with flesh-licking ladies, while you and your mother were asleep in the trailer park,” he sang with every tooth in his mouth bared against the backdrop of his beard.

“Play a new one!” someone in the audience yelled. “You’ll never hear those songs,” Mangum replied. The room went silent. “What?” he smiled. “It’s not that they don’t exist …” He then continued with the concert, leaving everyone yearning for something new.

Throughout the show, Mangum asked the audience to sing along. But because it was a small room, and Mangum accompanied himself with only a guitar, the audience often drowned out the singer, especially on songs like “In the Aeroplane Over the Sea” and “Two Headed Boy, Pt. 2? – the ones everyone knows. As misanthropic as Mangum sometimes seems (no cameras were allowed at the show, and no interviews were granted during the entire tour), he sounded truly ecstatic last night.

Mangum told the crowd that he “didn’t know what to expect” on his first tour in 15 years. “But I’m very touched by everyone who has come to hear me play.” As the college kids in the audience sang along with him, he smiled like he was grateful for the attention.

And maybe that’s the answer to one of the questions. Maybe Mangum is touring because he misses hearing his words sung back to him. It must be awesome to see how much people become absorbed in his dream-flow storytelling. Not to mention that he’s become an underground legend in the 15 years since his masterpiece was released. But one last question: Why won’t he sing us those new ones?

Review by Chris Kissell originally posted at www.diffuser.com on February 18, 2013.

Posted February 19, 2013 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Music, Uncategorized
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My Favorite MASS MoCA Moments

Katherine Myers reflects on her 14-year relationship with MASS MoCA as the Director of Marketing and Public Relations.

Besides my 16-year marriage, 14 years is the longest I’ve stayed anywhere. These have been particularly milestone-filled years:  I’ve lost two parents and a lot of eyesight, gained a daughter and a legion of remarkable friends and colleagues, and witnessed more great art than anyone living in a town of less than 15K could possibly dream of.

Given that long history, it’s a challenge to provide a “Top 10” List, but a recent plane trip offered me time for contemplation. Here’s what I came up with, presented in no particular order.

1. Michael Oatman has popped up regularly over the last decade and a half.  I first met him when he was in Unnatural Science (2000) where his incredibly detailed installation schooled me in Vermont’s scandalous history of eugenics. When I was introduced to his collages in Becoming Animal (2005), I was even more taken with him. His suspended Airstream trailer is an absolute marvel and he is a delightful person. Every institution should be so lucky to have an artist like Michael in their “stable.”

2.  I love that MASS MoCA does some events that are pure camp, simultaneously high quality and totally over the top.  On this list: Tragedy (2011), our heavy metal BeeGees cover band who repeatedly told us “We love you North Adams City!” and Corn Mo and the Wau Wau Sisters (2005) which involved a trapeze, a sparkly jumpsuit, Meatloaf covers and Catholic school uniforms.  What a night.

3. Hotel Pool (2005) was produced by MASS MoCA but took place in the pool at the Williams Inn. It was a play and a water ballet with some shocking moments. Incredibly well-crafted and enjoyable.

4. It’s probably no surprise that the shows I like best are the ones with the coolest stuff to see. Crowd pleasers are easiest to sell and, when attendance rises, everyone is happier. On my favorite shows list: Oh, Canada (2012), Unnatural Science (2000), Huang Yong Ping’s retrospective (2006), Uncommon Denominator (2002), Becoming Animal (2005), and Cai Guo Qiang’s exploding cars in Inopportune (2004).

5. Dean & Britta’s 13 Most Beautiful… Songs for Andy Warhol’s Screentests (2009): The films are completely mesmerizing on their own and Dean & Britta’s score and live performance only served to enhance them.

6. Ann Hamilton’s corpus (2003) taught me the magical power of an art installation.  My father-in-law passed away while Ann’s falling paper was on view.  His death was not unexpected and he had lived a good, long life. When my husband called me that morning with the news, there was no reason to head home but a pause for reflection did seem appropriate. It was before the museum opened; I just started to wander in the galleries and, without thinking, found myself in corpus which was truly the ideal place to reflect on a loss and a life well-lived.

7. Anouk Van Dijk’s Stau (2006) started with dancers emerging from underneath your seat. Then, somehow in the middle, you were standing and all the seats were gone and you were milling about in a pitch black theater when suddenly spots came up illuminating dancers, sometimes right in front of your nose.  The piece ended with dancers and audience writhing against the wall to a deafening percussive soundtrack. Sound crazy? It was, but it was also probably the most viscerally affecting performance I’ve ever experienced.

8. Of All the People in All the World (2007), which involved millions of grains of rice representing various population statistics arrayed in the Hunter Center, brought a 100% lovely group of British actors from Stan’s Café to North Adams for a couple of weeks.  We get to know many wonderful artists but these Brits count among the most delightful. Coupled with the beautiful, clever, moving installation, it was an exceptional experience.

9. Material World (2011) made great use of MASS MoCA’s strengths; the exhibit utilized our remarkable space to great effect from the Wade Kavanaugh and Steven Nguyen’s paper forest to Tobias Putrih’s illuminated fishing line, inspired by our local Hoosac Tunnel.  It was accessible, jaw-dropping, fun, and interesting for all ages.

10. Canadian singer Patrick Watson’s performance this past summer (2012) was nothing short of magical.  At first, we were disappointed that the show was inside on a beautiful summer night. Yet, when we saw what he did with the lights, we were so glad that he had insisted on the darkness that only Club B-10 could provide at 8 PM on an evening in late June.

And one more for good measure…

11. Solid Sound Festival is really non-stop work for our staff. At the first Solid Sound (2010), the only music I actually listened to was the first three songs of the Mavis Staples set which included “The Weight.” Bone-tired late in the day on Saturday, I enjoyed Mavis’s performance from a special rooftop vantage point and received a much-needed spiritual boost (and sitting down for 15 minutes didn’t hurt either).

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What did you like the best over the past 14 years?

Posted December 7, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Dance, Exhibitions, Film+Live Music, Material World, Music, Oh Canada, Staff, Theater, Tragedy: The All Metal Tribute to the Bee Gees, Wilco Solid Sound Festival
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Meet All-Star Tribute Band The Loser’s Lounge

Ever wanted to hear a cover of one of your favorite songs by another artist just as famous? The Loser’s Lounge is a New York nightlife institution that pays homage to great pop music. Since their debut in 1993 (a tribute to Burt Bacharach), the tribute band has covered over 50 beloved bands and artists. ABBA. Carole King. Dolly Parton. The Bee Gees. George Harrison. Michael Jackson. Rod Stewart. The Smiths. Prince. The Mamas and Papas. David Bowie. Neil Diamond. The list goes on and on.

The group visited MASS MoCA in 2003 with the original Off-Broadway rock opera People Are Wrong! and again in 2004 with a sold-out concert with music from Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s masterpiece Jesus Christ Superstar.

The Loser’s Lounge returns Saturday, October 20 at 3 PM with a family-friendly tribute to the Muppets musical oeuvre. What inspired a tribute to the Muppets? As founder Joe McGinty told The Brooklyn Paper, “I think if you’re in a certain age group, you definitely grew up loving them. I consider myself a fan, the original movie is still a classic.”

A talented, star-studded cast has made The Loser’s Lounge a tribute band that is famous in its own right. The show is like karaoke night…but the singers are actually good. Let’s meet a few of the members.

JOE MCGINTY

Instrument: Keyboard.

Performed with: The Psychedelic Furs, Ryan Adams, The Ramones, Nada Surf, Martha Wainwright, Die Monster Die, Devendra Banhart, Ronnie Spector.

Other projects: Musical director for a variety of New York theaters, including the Vineyard Theatre and the New York Theatre Workshop.

Fun fact: Founded The Loser’s Lounge in 1993 and currently serves as Musical Director.

ROBIN “Goldie” GOLDWASSER

Instrument: Vocals, ukulele, cello, drums.

Performed with: They Might Be Giants, Mono Puff, The Last Car.

Other projects: Co-wrote rock musical People Are Wrong!.

Fun fact: Robin is a talented knitter and crafter and is the founder of the Deeply Felt Puppet Theatre.

CONNIE LYNN PETRUK

Instrument: Vocals.

Performed with: David Bowie, Elvis Costello, Perry Farrell, Moby, Joan Jett, Ian Hunter, Ronnie Spector, Sarah Brightman.

Other projects: Lead singer for her own band The Tall Pines (NPR’s Top Ten Best CDs of 2007).

Fun fact: Her voice has been featured on many TV shows including “The Daily Show,” “No Reservations with Anthony Bourdain,” and “Bored To Death.”

The Loser’s Lounge will perform a Muppet Music Extravaganza in the Hunter Center on Saturday, October 20 at 3 PM. Buy tickets online here.

Posted October 15, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Artist Spotlight, BLOG, Music
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Up in the Club: on-the-rise performers take the stage

 

This is our Club B-10 theatre. It’s got a small stage, a full bar, and room for just 200 seats. When a band’s onstage, the lead singer’s just inches away from the audience. That is to say: Club B-10 is a cozy, casual space for you and 199 of your closest, coolest friends to see some mega talent up-close and personal.

This fall, we’re hosting some of the sweetest, smartest, standout performing arts concerts up in the club. Club B-10, located on the third floor of MASS MoCA (hence “up” in the club), will be home to several artists from different genres, all of whom promise a performance that packs power and punch for audiences in this intimate space.

Whether they’re still new to the scene and about to make it big (you can say you “knew them when”), or they’re already well-loved, these musical, comedy, and theatre groups are sure to make your night up in the club well worth while (and under $20!):

The Bandana Splits

Saturday, October 6, 8 PM – Buy tix


This charming trio of singers (Dawn Landes, Lauren Balthrop, and Annie Nero) combines bubblegum and doo-wop for a sweet sound reminiscent of the Andrews Sisters and The Ronettes.

 

Nerd Nite

Saturday, October 13, 8 PM – Buy tix

This smart comedy group will have you laughing within seconds, as they give hilarious presentations about mumblecore, sex, and technology.

 

Ben Perowsky’s Moodswing Orchestra (featuring TK Wonder)

Saturday, November 3, 8 PM – Buy tix

Drummer Ben and his Moodswing Orchestra float between jazz, rock, and even experimental tunes to create deliciously hypnotic grooves. The group’s also got MC TK Wonder in tow, who’s supported the likes of Talib Kweli and Erykah Badu.

 

Alsarah and the Nubatones

Saturday, November 10, 8 PM – Buy tix

Sudanese-American singer Alsarah blends vintage Sudanese pop, Western soul, and traditional Nubian songs in what becomes as much a concert as a musical journey through diaspora.

 

Tim Crouch’s My Arm, presented by Sundance Institute Theatre Lab

Saturday, December 1, 8 PM – Buy tix

Sundance Lab Fellow, Tim Crouch, performs a reading of his piece My Arm, a story about a man who has become a celebrated medical specimen and an icon of the New York art scene. My Arm is told through live performance and the animation of everyday objects supplied by the audience.

Posted September 26, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under BLOG, Comedy, Dance, Music, Theater
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Bang on a Can Super-Fans Arrive from Belgium

Today, we spoke briefly to two contemporary music-loving patrons at a Bang on a Can recital. They have traveled to MASS MoCA from Belgium to soak up every part of the Summer Music Festival.

Super-fans

What are your names?

Ariane and Rorbert. (Ariane speaking) I am a musician and an artist. I use cello and singing for healing – art therapy. Robert is not an artist, but we both enjoy music very much. Music is so important to us.

 

Where are you from?

We came from Belgium to the United States (to North Adams) for the Bang on a Can Summer Music Festival. We are spending 1 month here. 1 week of this time we spent in NYC.

 

How did you hear about Bang on a Can?

We have known Bang on a Can for 5 or 6 years. We first saw Michael Gordon’s Timber years ago in Denmark. We also attended a performance of Steve Reich and Bang on a Can’s music in Toronto, Canada. We love music. We especially like to hear minimalist music.

 

What has been your favorite performance from Bang on a Can so far?

We loved Ken Thomson’s recital in the galleries. We discovered him at this concert; we did not know his music before. We also very much enjoyed Todd Reynold’s performance on violin. His harmonies are so beautiful.

 

What are you most looking forward to at Bang on a Can?

We are very excited for the concert at Windsor Lake, on Wednesday, July 25. That will be interesting.


 

Posted July 23, 2012 by MASS MoCA
Filed under Bang on a Can, BLOG, Patron Blog
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