Whatever, it was fun. I knew I couldn’t make the first concert, on Tuesday night, but I’d made arrangements to be free tonight, and made the drive up to San Francisco to catch the show at the Luggage Store Gallery. (Tenderloin moment: clean-cut 30’ish woman getting hoots and hollers from the local hangers-out. Her irate response: “When will you guys remember that I live on this block?”)
The evening began with a large-group conducted improvisation, a band called OrcheSperry. Gino Robair conducted, bringing instruments in and out of the mix to form sublime moods — spiky, relaxed, silly, dramatic. He also sometimes called for a player to work in opposition to whatever was going on — “be an a**hole,” in other words — which led to some hilarious results, especially when John Ingle‘s sax obliterated was was building into a serene, melodic flow.
Treasure Mouth followed: an improvised karaoke experiment that Matthew had conceived. This was the “rock” version, which might have made things relatively easy. Conductor John Shiurba picked the chords, letting the band jam on each chord for several “verses.” It was grooving, and cooking, and you could tell they were having a lot of fun with it.
Lyrics were posted via overhead projector by writer Beth Lisick, who sent the singers (three women with great voices, doing a lot of harmonizing) through monologues about a 93-year old tai chi master, a lover obsessed with drowning into the muck, and a rad skateboard dude being watched by the clouds.
The horn section was particularly fun, consisting of Phillip Greenlief and Dan Plonsey (local players I’ve seen in a wide range of contexts, but never this straight) along with Gail Brand, the U.K.-based improvising trombonist who is the Festival’s special guest this time around.
The gating factor in Treasure Mouth is the speed at which the lyricist can write down the material. That’s not a knock on Beth Lisick, who did a great job, but a human being can only write (or even type) so quickly. Now, the vocalists do have the option of hanging onto the last line and repeating it several times — that’s what happens in normal rock, after all — but sometimes that effect lasted a bit too long. The singers would sometimes go back and vamp on previously written lines from the same song, which was a good idea.
Overall, I’m not sure I’d want to listen to a recording of the results, but it was fun to witness live. Treasure Mouth is an idea worth keeping alive.