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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2016 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, August 4, 2017

There is Water Under Ground

The importance of Remaining in Light.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
The Benin-born singer Angelique Kidjo performed Remain in Light
by the Talking Heads at Lincoln Center on Wednesday night.
The other night, as my concert companion and I walked out of Mostly Mozart, we started crossing Lincoln Center Plaza southward. As we approached the bandshell, we heard the extraordinary sound of...the Talking Heads. Now, I don't usually go to another concert right on top of the first one, and I'm reluctant to be in a crowd when processing a show. However, this was Angelique Kidjo and her band, and one of the events this summer that I had wanted to see (and had forgotten about) a complete performance of the classic 1980 Talking Heads album, Remain in Light presented by Lincoln Center Out of Doors.



Those who remember the Talking Heads knew that the quartet, formed at the Rhode Island School of Design, were one of the smartest and artiest bands to come up in the late '70s-early '80s period remembered (even though it was forty years ago) as the "New Wave." Remain was the band's fourth album. Released in 1980, it was a mission statement, their third album ndcreated under the guidance of Brian Eno. It is also the record that exploded the band onto the world stage, largely on the back of the song "Once in a Lifetime."

"Once in a Lifetime" was written using African rhythmic techniques, with the band told to start off on the "one" beat and others to start off on the "three." This created a dense web of sound, over which David Byrne declaimed words in a call-and-response delivery inspired by televangelists. This gives way to a melodic chorus, and images of flowing water and deep, underground rivers that are sung with an almost gospel approach. The finale rises to a climax, with intercuts of various random musical ideas, added by the producer using his signature technique of Oblique Strategies.

And it was the song I wanted to hear. Our timing was good. Ms. Kidjo and her band launched into the tune, her distinct, powerful voice supported by backup singers and the polyrhythms of her West African roots. The sound was surging and powerful, carried to us standing all the way at the back of the bandshell area, whose acoustics have improved immeasurably, in a tunnel effect created by the addition of the new Fordham Law School across the street. The waves rolled over us and my mind went into a deep and personal place.

David Byrne wrote the lyrics of this song were created ad hoc but they ask profound questions about where one is in one's life. They question the presence of a wife, a home, a car, the things that we take for granted living in the world. They explore the possibility of change, of the open road, of going out into the world and striving and seeking for understanding and truth. And then the chorus reveals that truth, with its simple images of rocks and rivers, of water flowing underground. It has a resonance and  a sense of truth that my young mind only got an inkling of when I first heard the song, back in 1985 at the end of the movie Down and Out in Beverly Hills.

The performance by Ms. Kidjo was deeply moving and overwhelming. And water flowed: my eyes leaking as I struggled with memories and change, of experiences with friends and changes in my own life at the midway point. Those experiences are not for this blog but they remain part of me: deep, spiritual and profound, a way forward in the forest. My friend, knowing what I was going through and how music like this makes me react, stood silent, helpful, anchoring.

And then we walked away, with me processing all the water flowing underground, all the welling of emotion that had come bursting forth with the force of inexorable pressure, of the beuty of the performance heard just on top of the concert that we had attended. And then, now a half a block away on Columbus Avenue, we heard the extraordinary Ms. Kidjo and her band work out on another Talking Heads classic: "Burning Down the House." And everything was suddenly going to be okay. We smiled. Performances like these were, after all, once in a lifetime.

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.