Posted by Cody Hoesly
Fred Frith, Zeena Parkins, and Ikue Mori packed the Wonder Ballroom Friday night. I haven’t been to the Works every night of TBA, but I’ve been there most nights, and no other night was as full as this night. A testament to the legendary status these artists have achieved, at least in their respective spheres. Sure, the usual TBA hipsters were there, but the crowd was decidedly more diverse, and, I’m assuming, not just because it was Friday night. As a friend of mine commented: “There’re a lot of gray-hairs here tonight.” Which I took as a sign that we were in for a solid show from a proven artist.
The trio did not disappoint. Their eclectic instrumentation and playing brought forth all manner of strange noises and imaginative soundscapes. The first sounds to come from the stage reminded me of the Starship Enterprise going through a wormhole — or at least reminded me of the sound effects used at such times in such movies. Soon a pod of whales was following the Enterprise. From there, I lost clear imagery. Jimi Hendrix floated in, but receded just as quickly.
Later, the music became more melodic. That is not necessarily to say pretty. It seemed like everytime the improvised sound was cruising toward one mood, Frith or Parkins or Mori would add a new dimension, destroying the temporary peace their sounds had found. One time, the music was almost lilting in its quiet peace, and I saw Frith stand there with hand to chin, thinking — the next minute he was hitting his guitar and razor-edged thunder was pealing forth, destroying the prior tranquility. Later, the vice versa occurred.
At all times, the music was morphing. Mori, motionless at her laptop (or so it seemed from the balcony), created pulsating beats that undergirded and inspired Parkins and Frith. Parkins was all over the place. One minute hugging plastic foil, the next spinning and whacking her electronic harp, the next bending down to adjust her pedals. Frith paced back and forth between his guitar and a table outfitted with chains and a variety of other “found” instruments. At one point, he raised and dropped a chain repeatedly to achieve his desired sound.
The one disappointment I felt in the show was the audience in the balcony, or, more specifically, those near the bar. They talked, and talked, ever more loudly to get over the music. I wondered to myself whether they were at the Works to be seen, or what, because they clearly weren’t there for Frith. Luckily, most of the audience was there for Frith, as the rapturous cheers following the show underscored. Let it not be said that hour-long improvisational soundscapes don’t have fervent fans.