Saturday, May 09, 2009

Voices high

Lexie Mountain Boys.
Hackney St. Augustine’s Tower. 04may09.

There should be more site-specific gigs. It’s a concept more associated with theatre, such as Shakespeare being performed in the ruined cloisters of an Abbey, the National Theatre of Scotland performing the astounding Black Watch in drill halls or Tim Crouch’s England, which leads its audiences through art galleries, engaging with the works on display

So, for an alternative music show, this was genuinely something quite different. One would expect nothing less from London promoters Upset The Rhythm whose shows I heartily recommend if you desire seeing something a touch more challenging. This usually only applies to the actual music but for this show context was, well, half.

St Augustine’s Tower is the oldest building in Hackney, with its clock mechanism dating to about 1580. It was apparently wound manually for 400 years. The tower is narrow and on four levels: the entrance, the pendulum case, the clock room and the bell room. Access is via a tight and steep spiral stone staircase. This show was limited to just over 30 due to the space constrictions, so there was certainly a feeling of exclusivity and anticipation.

The Lexie Mountain Boys are five young women from Baltimore performing a cappella, but with foot stomps, handclaps and manipulation of their clothes as percussion. The Boys are renowned for their outlandish costumes and their get-up for this show was garlanded in such a way as to shickle like crackly wind-chimes or a distant toddler’s tambourine when they moved significantly.

The look of these outfits can best be described as being part Arabian Nights’ courtesan, part disco-ball bag lady and part Birdman of Bognor entrant. It all added to their slightly unhinged act, made all the more bizarre for them initially singing at us in the entrance hall through an open barrier on the staircase halfway up the wall of the room. They then proceeded to lead us up to each room in turn, performing a further piece in each space, eventually peaking, appropriately, on the roof. North East London’s skyline has never been viewed in such bizarre circumstances I’d warrant.

Perhaps it was the fact that, being an early evening (18:30 – 19:30) in May, light was stilling filtering in through the windows, or perhaps it was the awkwardness of having to arrange ourselves into tight spaces whilst the act was in progress; but the actual performance didn’t really live up to the eminence of the surroundings. There was no aura surrounding the Lexie Mountain Boys as performers, no enigma to give their shtick a spellbinding weight.

The human voice as instrument is a wonderful thing. I have witnessed Tuuvan throat singers and African gospel choirs and been wowed, moved and humbled by the experience. By comparison the Lexie Mountain Boys semi-improvised cycles felt a little underwhelming, their breaking into fits of giggles might have been cute, but it also eroded the potential power of their performance (which is significant). If you asked me whether this was an artistic happening, or just some arsing about, I’d have to suggest the latter, however reluctantly.

Which was a great pity as it was all set up to be astonishing.

Lexie Mountain Boys @ MySpace
St Augustine Tower



Post a Comment

<< Home