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Not even close – pigeons on the roof

July 25, 2010

OK so for a little while there about a month back I had grand visions of daily blogging, sharing observations and insights while interacting with the digital universe.  Quite simply, it didn’t happen.  Oddly enough, the first factor was teaching a writing workshop for two weeks, done entirely with pen and notebook.  It was a beautifully intense and slow experience and left me exhausted and wanting to read the words of others.  Then, I devoted just about all of my free time to hanging out with the boys  in their non-daycamp hours.  No comment needed there. 

So instead I’ll just add a few thoughts about these recent ventures:

1- The Henri Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago.

I was fortunate enough to register for tickets to the lecture by Matthew Witkovsky, the exhibition curator, and attend the member preview.  He not only presented a fascinating and insightful overview but also inspired me to return to the exhibit for a second viewing later that afternoon.  The composition of the photographs and their implied commentary covered a range of ideas far beyond what I was able to understand the first time through.  At first I was mostly just dazzled by the range of locations and the subjects in his portraits.  Juvisy, France 1938Then after learning about the history behind each image and being taught what to notice, the buffet of images became even more satisfying.  I know some people want art to speak for itself, and there is certainly something to be said for the initial encounter between image and audience, but knowing more allowed me to see more – a thought I’d apply equally to literature, music, architechture, psychology, food, and whatever else I could add to that list.  Don’t miss this exhibition!

2- Konono #1 at the Empty Bottle.

No this is not from the show I saw but gives you a great sense of the hypnotic rhythms generated by these Congolese masters.  Instruments assembled from used car parts – thumb pianos amplified through electronics that would make Thurston Moore jealous – and waves of percussion turned into songs averaging well over ten minutes and a non-stop dance party.  The music is great to listen to while driving or grooving on headphones, but live it’s just something else that needs to be experienced.  I’ve been enjoying African music for many years now and for whatever reason this has been a banner year for it, including seeing Fela! on Broadway just after it opened and buying endless cd’s from Dusty Groove.  Seeing them in a venue where I usually see experimental and punk bands worked perfectly!

3- Widespread Panic at the Chicago Theater.

I’ve been listening to and seeing this band since the late 80’s in college and it just keeps getting better.  Sure there are those who will only listen to the original version of the band with Mikey Houser on guitar.  After he passed away in 2002, George McConnell was the guitarist for a few years before Jimmy Herring took over in 2006.  At that point, two great strands in music came together, at least in terms of music I listened to.  My exposure to Colonel Bruce Hampton and the Aquarium Rescue Unit in 1991 was musically life-changing with its eclectic mix of covers and extended jams all played by incredibly talented musicians.  I remember seeing them in Chicago with a 13-year-old Derek Trucks on guitar at the Lounge Ax and many other venues around the city (Biddy Mulligans, anyone?) and always being impressed and exhausted after hours of grooving to their music.  In addition to Bruce, Oteil Burbridge (now with the Allman Brothers), AptQ258, Count Mbutu, Matt Mundy, and Jimmy Herring cranked out bluegrass + jazz + funk + Latin + soul + rock in an always perfect blend.  When Jimmy joined Widespread Panic, and as I’ve seen now in six shows in the past few years, the combination is potent and memorable.  There’s even a great sense of humor to them – just last night they openend their Boston show with “Pigeons” and dedicated it to the Kings of Leon, who were showered with pigeon poop so much in a show in St. Louis a few days ago they had to stop their show after only three songs.  What more can be said about that?

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Mark Nielsen permalink
    August 3, 2010 1:16 pm

    Big props for the Cartier-Bresson reminder, Neil. I saw the signage downtown last month, and made a note to get me to the ‘tute ASAP.
    I’m actually a bigger fan of some of his contemporaries, Man Ray and especially Robt Douisneu. But that era of art and documentary photography, and even earlier with Walker Evans and the like, will never be duplicated. Nobody values composition and timing anymore in the era of TMZ and National Enquirer… except the nature photographers, it seems. (Minnesota’s National Geographic mainstay Jim Brandenburg is my fave, and I’ve been to his gallery in Ely, MN).
    Also, if you’re a fan of percussion and worldmusic, a friend of mine is in a Brazilian drum group, just won some award in Evanston, now playing this Thurs nite at Navy Pier around 6ish. I think they have dancers they accompany.

    Good to re-connect. Do you do any movie-related blogging up here?

    Mark (still in Skokie)

  2. Rachel Gonzalez permalink
    August 9, 2010 11:38 pm

    It was so cool to see you blogged about Henri! He’s my favorite photographer and I thought the exhibit at the art institute was amazing! I had really liked his photo-journalism, but I hadn’t really seen much of his portraiture before the exhibit and I thought they were so cool, super striking, they managed to say so much about the subject while being so simply beautiful.

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