posted by Rob McMahon
I was a few songs late for the start of the Mirah and Spectratone International set. Had gotten talking to a tired lone twin, freshly landed from a week in Philly, local singer/songwriter Arthur Smid, the now unmistakable Ivana Muller, and filmmaker Nils De Coster, after Lori Goldston’s lovely and fitting scoring of The Passion of Joan of Arc. (Which, incidentally, is a very different and interesting film, one I’m glad to have seen, but probablly wouldn’t like to watch repeatedly, as it seems Goldston must do to play along.)
Given the Works’ social atmosphere and the number of attractive and fascinating people available there to talk to, it speaks well for both the film and the score that they held a large audiences’ attention for nearly two hours. But I digress.
Our talking circles’ international members, were growing weary, and instead of let them take a cab I offered the services of my trusty subaru steed, Rocinante. The gesture was part Portland hospality and part selfish desire to continue our conversation. They patiently endured a breif car cleaning as I rearranged the miscellaneous detritus to make room for passengers, lovely people all. And talking to them only makes me want to see their performances that much more.
At any rate, it explains my tardiness to the late show, a better excuse and a better story than most I have for being late, which, in daily life, I frequently am. Somehow during TBA I have managed to be on time. Given a good enough reason man can rise to things he is otherwise incapable of.
Having been a fan of Mirah’s solo work for a few years now, I was quite pleased to see her on the TBA bill. Regretfully, I hadn’t seen her live until last night. In spite of the accurate description in the brouchure, I was expecting something a little closer to her rockin’, pop-y stuff, . Perhaps hoping is a better word than expecting, but I wasn’t disappointed with what I got.
Spectratone International is a five piece ensemble: an electric bass, hand drums, an accordian, a cello (played by Lori Goldston who gets the performance endurance award for the night), and, if I’m not mistaken, an oud. They have that eastern european folky sound. It’s not a perfect description, but I lack the muscial education to pinpoint it any further. I know enough to observe that they are all talented musicians.
Projected on the screen behind them were pen and ink drawings of insects. The dung beatle, the fly, and the cicada. All of their songs were insect inspired, often told from the insect’s point of view. Love songs from dead flys, cicadas wonder at the sun.
In between Mirah would jump in and contextualize a bit, a miniature biology lesson before each song, and evidence of her genuine fascination with the subject matter. Afterwards, my friend remarked that he loved the fact that she was not only a wonderful singer but an unabashed geek. Nerd might be a better word.
There is something very interesting about choosing to work with self imposed limitations. It is a great challenge, and at the same time, a great freedom. When else could you talk about sticking your proboscis into pithy phloem? But from the point of view of a cicada it all makes perfect sense. That type of boxing in limits the choices of themes and vocabulary, but in this case it limits them to largely unexplored territories. There is a vastness of uncharted terrain to play with.
The songs were quite pretty, cute even, and at times humourous simply for their novelty. I must admit that my favorite part was watching Mirah sing. Her facial expression and occasional high knee marching conveyed a joy and serenity rarely seen in a performer. She loves what she’s doing and it shows. And that love is contagious such that the audience can’t help but love what she’s doing too. My only complaint is that the show was too short. I could have listened for at least another hour. As I’m sure the bees must say, “A taste of honey’s worse than none at all.”