Concert Reviews

nervesandgel subverts convention at Starbucks

When Johnny Wohlfahrt announced in private that he would play the new open mike night at Starbucks, it seemed incredibly absurd. Open mike is almost always either for poets trying out new material or for singer-songwriters testing the waters after years of writing out of the public eye. Open mikes are pretty much never known for experienced, experimental electronic artists.

Somehow, though, Wohlfahrt was convinced to perform last night at the Starbucks on the 16th Street Mall by host Andrew Ripplinger. It wasn't a packed evening for performers. Ripplinger himself opened the proceedings playing his red Fernandez electric, teasing out versions of '90s era alt rock. He sang a little but it didn't sound like the P.A. was keeping up with him, for some reason -- a phenomenon that, fortunately, that didn't continue the rest of the night.

One poet got up and read an extended piece called "Heroin and Philadelphia" and ended on a bit of David Bowie's "Nature Boy," before which he had warned us he was not a singer. While this proved to be true, there are people who are a lot worse. Another poet named Will read short poem called "Let's Go See the Snow." It was a group of rhymed couplets read delivered with some hesitation. Either way, it take guts to read even undeveloped poetry, and it was an open mike, after all, not The Algonquin Roundtable.

The last poet to read was a woman named Amanda, who favored silly titles for seemingly nonsensical poems about relatively serious subjects like her poem "Too Logical For Local Anesthesia," where she lamented the ills of a low-rent repressive culture. Her poem "Monkeys With Car Keys" clearly took aim at apparent hooligans given the ability to operate a two ton machine that can easily kill people. Ripplinger closed the first section of the event with a terrible joke about strings meeting in a bar.

When Wohlfahrt finally got up to perform, it was obvious the P.A. wasn't designed for his sort of thing because some of the sounds were muffled and the low end was pretty much non-existent. Typically open mike nights don't need robust sound systems, so it was to be expected. Nevertheless, his cyclical drone in the foreground for the first eight or so minutes of the performance allowed for suggestive sonic imagery of birds and distant voices speaking an unknown language as though upset -- like angry spirits speaking through a person possessed, two rooms away.

At one point the cyclical drone switched to the background and other noises came to the fore but by then, the song was almost over, and it ended with the sound of cyborg cats lamenting their short time in the mix. Instead of asking what they had just seen, people applauded and cheered enthusiastically and remarked on how interesting the whole thing was. Apparently this crowd was a few notches above other audiences who don't often see experimental music.

Afterward, a guy got up and sang in Arabic, and a woman followed him who didn't sing, play music, read poetry or attempt comedy. Instead she taught us -- or attempted to teach us -- how to make a paper heart through origami, supplying paper and all. Some of us made it to the end.

Side note: As nervesandgel, Wohlfahrt, who has written some of my favorite music of all time, will be releasing a kind of career retrospective next month called Six Wands, in addition to his forthcoming split tape release with Sara Century.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.