Forget the main act

Arp + Scout Niblett – 92Y Tribeca – March 13

Saturday night’s show may have been headlined by Vetiver, but the action took place before they took the stage.

The evening started with a performance by the impressive one-man act, Arp. Named after a famed analog keyboard, Arp is Alexis Georgopoulos and his fuzzy layers of guitars and synthesizers. After a warm introduction by the coordinator at 92Y, Alexis unceremoniously walked on stage without so much as uttering a word.

Arp's Alexis Georgopoulos

As he began to play, a series of videos were projected onto the screen behind him: a sunset gave way to a misty mountain, followed by clouds and the rolling waves of the ocean. Initially, I thought the images were merely there to help invoke a trance-like state, but eventually I realized that they sometimes corresponded with the songs. Suddenly when the video of cars driving down a freeway flashed onto the screen, the beat and the guitar drops out, and I realized that the sounds we were listening to did in fact sound like traffic noise.

Forget stage banter. Alexis hardly paused in between songs, and his vow of silence was not broken even as he motioned to someone to dim the stage lights. Now, barely a silhouette, he faded into the swirling images in the background.  The large parka and hat he wore further obscured his presence.

To create the sound that might otherwise be produced by a handful of musicians, Alexis methodically loops different instrumental segments together, gradually building up his songs over time until the combination of all his tracks crescendos into a melodic cacophony of sound.

Alexis may not have directly revealed anything about himself over the course of his performance, but his evocative music and carefully chosen images invited audience members to project their own opinions and memories into the mix. Arp’s music is so hypnotic that I  forgot about the miserable trek through the rain and gale force winds that left my soaked.

If Alexis’ tacit persona complimented his music, Scout Niblett’s candid banter emphasized hers. Scout’s music feeds on her emotional output. At times, she sings demurely, but then in the very same song, she cranks up the volume on her guitar and rocks out. It truly is a sight to behold. I initially attempted to see Scout about two years ago, but the show ended rather disastrously when, in a Cat Power-like breakdown, Scout admitted that she was ‘too wasted’ to play and stumbled off stage without so much as getting through a single song. Though I was sorely disappointed at the time,  I also resolved to give her another shot, and I’m glad I did.

Scout Nibblet (aka Emma Louise Niblett)

With just drums and a guitar, the music may be minimal, but it is far from dull. Scout’s lyrics are surprisingly blunt, and her delivery is almost primal in its sheer intensity. Scout is absolutely mesmerizing on stage.  She is who Joanna Newsom would be for Halloween: a strange mix of bewitching, sweet, scary, and aggressive. She is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. She may start singing quietly, but more often than not, she works herself into a fury. As her voice becomes increasingly raw and desperate, the music mirrors her sudden outpouring of emotion. The drums start furiously crashing along and Scout’s riffs become more pronounced and aggressive.

Take a listen to “Calcination,” one of the songs from her new album, The Calcination of Scout Niblett.

After playing a number of songs on the guitar, Scout switched to drums for a while and gave her drummer a break.

Upon sitting down at the kit, Scout broke into “Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death,” which to the delight and shock of the crowd,  went a little something like this:

We’re all going to die.
We’re all going to die.

We don’t know when.
We don’t know how.

We’re all going to die.

Here is a particularly creepy (and somewhat graphic) video on YouTube that effectively deals with the subject matter at hand:

After a few minutes on drums, Scout switches back to the guitar, and then it begins. After playing a new song – “Duke of Anxiety” – for about twenty seconds, she suddenly stops and – slightly off mic – says, It doesn’t sound right! Let me start over. When she then proceeded to forget the lyrics to the same song, I started to worry that this would be a repeat non-performance, but luckily, she pulled herself together and pressed on. Ironically, the song opens with the lines: Why would you think, that you make me drink? I’m a drunk … Reasons I don’t need Just like you.

Scout concluded her set with “Nevada,” a particularly rocking song from her 2007 release This Fool Can Die Now.

Following the rousing performance, the old man beside me turned to another girl and said, Wow! That was great, right? She really rocks! She’s really PJ Harvey meets Nirvana.” The whole evening, I had watched him with curiosity, trying to gauge his reaction to her. Here I thought he had come to see Vetiver, but he adamantly proclaimed that he had come to see Scout and knew nothing of the main act.

After two satisfying performances, I decided to call it an early night. Vetiver may be a solid band, but their live show is a bit too sleepy and predictable for my taste. (1) Thanks to Scout’s killer performance, my adrenaline gave me the strength necessary to head back out into the elements.


(1) I’ve also already seen Vetiver 2-3 times, so I didn’t feel guilty for skipping out.

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