On the walls, in your ears
It’s been my long-held belief that Second Saturday art galleries adding music, along with poetry and other performing arts, to their monthly mix would be a no-brainer. Galleries are a natural all-ages venue, especially for acts that don’t fit easily into a nightclub context, and who need some kind of end-around the nightclub bookers to prove they can draw a crowd. For galleries, music can draw people who might not set foot in a gallery, and it helps break down that imaginary wall that deters people intimidated by the gallery experience.
Naturally, it’s important that there should be at least a cursory synchronization between what’s happening on the walls of the gallery and whatever soundtrack is accompanying it; a death metal band at, say, Elliott Fouts Gallery on J Street might actively work against a viewer’s experience of optically drinking in the California landscape paintings that are the gallery’s specialty. But no savvy gallery operator is going to make that gaffe. And, in some cases, silence or a playlist of commercially available music may provide better accompaniment to what’s hanging on the walls, at least from the perspective of the artist showing, or the gallery owner. But if galleries do play commercial CDs, aren’t they liable to get jacked up by BMI and ASCAP for mechanical (songwriter) royalties, the way club owners do for cover bands?
Anyway, if the most recent Second Saturday is any indication, this coming year may augur especially well for local artists playing original music in art galleries.
And my guess is that the biggest beneficiary of this past Saturday, from the standpoint of a local band trying to make an impression on audiences and advance a career, will be Art Lessing and the Flower Vato. The duo set up in front of Body Tribe, a 21st Street boutique gym that doubles as an art gallery once a month. Guitarist Dan Quillan and percussionist Larry Rodriguez, a.k.a, DJ Larry, dialed into an ambient groove that suited the night perfectly, with a mix of exotica-flavored soundtrack music, friendly guitar noise and Tom Waits-style cockroach dance-tune instrumentals that seemed to pull people in with their seductive power. (Pity the lone busker across the street, whose acoustic guitar was drowned out by what was happening in front of Body Tribe.)
If the buzz I picked up from several people at other galleries I hit later, who were chattering about what they’d seen on 21st Street, is any indication, Art Lessing’s fortunes may accelerate quite soon. You can experience the music at www.myspace.com/artlessing. If you like what you hear, the duo is playing Old Ironsides on Thursday, April 19, and Fools Foundation on Saturday, April 28.
Another venue offering music was the Vox Café at 19th and X streets (www.myspace.com/voxsac), which juxtaposed a six-artist benefit for KIVA.org with two bands, Toronto Blessing (formerly War Elephant) and the Polymers. Toronto Blessing’s set veered toward Golden Earring-style rock, sans the Dutch-accented vocals. The Polymers played cool guitars (a Rickenbacker 360, what looked like a Lyle Mosrite copy, and a Hofner “violin” bass copy) with the illustrious Frank French on drums, and their power-pop tunes had some nice moments. A good time seemed to be had by all.