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The 802 Tour

26 Mar

While introducing the members of the 802 tour, Walker Performing Arts Curator Philip Bither remarked on how the talents of the musicians involved dissolved genres into something new. That’s not exactly the case, because the genres still very much present and instead of a dissolution, it’s a delectable layer cake of musicality. Intermingling on stage were the classical training and pop sensibilities of composers and pianists Nico Muhly and Thomas Bartlett (performing under the name Doveman), the folk traditionalism of Sam Amidon and Nadia Sirota‘s formalist viola, blended with an improvisational jazz feel, frosted with a late-night jam and and some chatty camaraderie. Touring all together for the first time in six years, these friends from Vermont (“802” is the state’s only area code) made the stage at the Walker their cozy confines for an absorbing evening of music.

Thomas Bartlett (Dovemnan), Nadia Sirota, Nico Muhly and Sam Amidon. Photo by Matt Luem.

Muhly started off the evening with mentions of meeting RT Rybak, Minneapolis’ “foxy mayor” and some chatty banter about rolling out of bed to catch an early matinee of the new Hunger Games movie – Muhly noted that he and Sirota would be working out their “emotional hangover” while Amidon and Bartlett would just be getting over their boredom – popped up later in the night. The group got started with a loose composition with Amidon on banjo, Sirota at her viola and Bartlett and Muhly trading off on the Steinway grand piano, the two keyboards and laptop with some pre-programmed loops, the two of them leaning over eachother, hugging around eachother to reach keys, a visual level of the familiar intimacy of the music. Amidon played a traditional Irish tune, switching over to a guitar to accompany his plain, strong voice, while Muhly added a twinkling piano line that would not have been out of place on a J√≥nsi record. Muhly played a “messy little piano piece” that he had written for himself and the staccato, bouncy energy of the work fit his own upbeat mood. They ended their first set with a sprawling, gorgeous composition by Muhly written for Sirota and her viola entitled “Keep In Touch”, which featured a looping sample of Anotny Hegarty’s haunting voice to build the ebb and flow of the piece, ending in a gorgeous cacophony of forceful strings, keys, beats and samples, something akin to the expansiveness achieved by The Bad Plus.

For the second set of the evening, the quartet were joined by The Laurels String Quartet (Muhly joked about being terrified that they would all be named Laurel) who added two violins, a viola and cello to the proceedings, fleshing out arrangements that Muhly had written for a trio of Bartlett’s Doveman songs, including “Angel’s Share”. Whilst singing, Bartlett had a whispered, breathy hush like John Darnielle of The Mountain Goats, and with a similar lyrical knottiness that was well served by the accompanying musicians. The second set ended with a composition Muhly wrote for Amidon, “Only Tune”, based on the folk song “Two Sisters”. This murder ballad and the ensuing fantastical goriness (one sister kills another by pushing her in the river and when the body is fished out, a violin is made from her bones) got a stuttering, broken start, with Amidon repeating the opening over and over in a discordant build, but once the chorus of “Oh the wind and the rain!” was reached, there was a gale of sound on and off stage, as the members of the Laurels String Quartet played up in the aisles to bring the sound all around the audience. There was also a sense of intimate humor about the composition, as part of the rhythm section was created with a mic next to Muhly bruhing Bartletts hair, as Bartlett continued to bang away on the Steinway. That was perhaps the takeaway from the evening – when old friends re-invent traditions, the result is new and enveloping, and the music comes from all around.

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