Shadow of Stalin: Two Nights at Disney Hall
COACHELLA TICKET GIVEAWAY CLUE #2:
Thursday, May 24: Chanson
The line up for “A Night of Russian Chanson” at the Disney Concert Hall at first seemed a little awkward: Saul Williams, DeVotchKa, and Petra Haden, all sharing the same stage for the same general genre – spoken word intensity mashed with gypsy hystericsâ€¦ However, with the delicious acoustics of the hall, each brought their own unique flavor to the night of Russian Chanson.
DeVotchKa, as one would expect, summoned the most Pre-Soviet gypsy gusto, sharing the stage with a traditional Russian vocalist and a pair of sprightly dancers for the first set of the evening. Their rambunctious string-and-sousaphone set-list encased the essence and the energy of gypsy liveliness, and also a completely different moment in history, one where the audience certainly would not be sitting in sterilized seats watching intently with folded programs under their hot little hands.
It was difficult to persuade myself that these seemingly bonafide gypsies were, in actuality, just brave Coloradans with more flavor and wisdom than Gogol Bordello. Nick Urata strummed and sang his way to perfection, proving that Eugene Hutz’s punk take on the gypsy Pravda was not the only way to play.
Saul Williams took a while to deliver, and I waited patiently for him to finally make an entrance and fill the massive hall with his luscious voice. When he did finally step onto the stage, his hair was coiffed in what can only be described as a more ethnic version of the flock of seagulls haircut, and he was holding a bright little book to assist in his spoken word poetry. His mouth erupted with tales of our nation’s puberty and our war hungry ways and the difference we can’t possibly be ready to make without facing the necessary truths of war mongering. His presence was short, but sweet in the way of introspective power.
Soon afterward it was on to Petra Haden and her long-maned pianist counterpart. Her set, like Saul’s, was also short, but that was mostly because her microphone was circuiting in and out for her first small set, and she seemed miffed and embarrassed that she had no idea of her vocal distortions for “Summertime” and her few other songs. Once a replacement mic came her way, she made floundering deliberate movements towards the audience as if to say, “What can ya do?”
The night closed with a velvet-clad mustached Russian poet flipping a sash over his shoulder dramatically and introducing the last song, a song that he described as “The song that all songs reference, a song about LOVE.” DeVotchKa and some of the aforementioned acts of the night (including the traditional vocalist from DeVotchKa’s first appearance) came out to end the night with their certain Russian style, and once they were done with their instrumental forges, they all took a bow together, to the standing ovation of all that the monstrous concert hall contained. To say that the applause was deafening was an understatement.
Saturday, May 26: Pravda
The next night of the Russian festivities had a little more of a modern edge; bringing a crowd that the concert hall was relatively unfamiliar to, an electronica crowd. The acts of the night included Jurassic Five member Cut Chemist, DJ Spooky, Peanut Butter Wolf, J-Rocc, Amon Tobin, and Dublab Soundsystem. And, to add a little randomness to the mix, there was also the Theremin Orchestra, an organ player, and a painter (who painted and re-painted non-stop the duration of the Pravda night on an opaque backlit screen).
Each act had it’s own take on the Russian theme, most included a video screen full of remixed Russian propaganda (“The success of Socialism are spreading the country!”) and Stalin-esque portraiture, but headliner Cut Chemist decided that he might take the hysterics a little further. He announced something “A little more special, in honor of Star Wars’ anniversary” and promptly began to remix Stravinsky’s ’Rite of Spring’ with the old Star Wars theme song. A gargantuan R2 started to project across the screen, and it was clear that the night really had no logical limits. It was at that moment that I discovered that the concert hall’s lobby had been converted into a full-fledged dance floor, and that there were two dancing vixens complete with combat boots and militia caps rousing the crowd. Go figure.