Black Prairie Concert Review (04/01/2010): Guest Blog
Here at Hearth Music, we can’t be everywhere at once. So we send our evil little minions out into the world to observe and report back. Here’s a cool report from our favorite minion, Zach, on Black Prairie’s recent concert in Portland, OR.
Thursday, April 1, 2010
I went to see Black Prairie’s show at The Woods in Portland on April 1 not knowing what to expect. I just knew that some members of the Decemberists were “playing Bluegrass, but not quite”. Now you, too, can go to a show and not know what to expect, because I’m not sure I can describe the music I heard, except that it kept my attention transfixed despite the audience at the venue being packed shoulder-to-shoulder like cattle in a… thing you pack cattle into. The music defies genre. To say that it is a fusion between Bluegrass and Musette would be like describing cake as a fusion between flour, sugar and eggs—it is so much more, and transcends any tradition that I know of, except the tradition of people getting together with instruments and seeing what new sounds they can make.
And what new sounds resulted: Dobroist Chris Funk uses a bow and a mallet on his strings in addition to the picks; violinist Annalisa Tornfelt makes her violin do things that no folk-fiddler ever could; guitarist Jon Neufeld plays like Doc Watson and Django Reinhardt atomically fused by a particle accelerator. Jenny Conlee breaks every preconception about what the accordion is or is supposed to do, and bassist Nate Query glues everything together. The music moves through tempos, layer upon layer, between instruments, like sound poetry. There’s no verse or chorus, there’s just sound—amazing sound—weaving in and out. And that sound is made up of folk, Bluegrass, Musette, jazz, classical and every other kind of music that you can’t quite put a name to, but you know you’ve heard before, just never like this. Even when Annalisa sings, the result is not a song so much as a piece of music that weaves in voice and words. Though the lyrics may be familiar, such as folk standards “Red Rocking Chair” and “The Blackest Crow”, the lyrics are remixed into a big tapestry.
There: I’ve just described the music of Black Prairie as a rug, of all things. Clearly words simply get in the way of experiencing this novel and genre-busting music.