Friday, January 8, 2016

Sound and Vision

This town never lets me down.

Given the holiday/vacation haze of the past few weeks, it felt like forever since I'd done anything so normal and neighborhood-like as going to an art opening, which was my motivation for walking the five blocks to check out the one at Candela Gallery.

It would be too limiting to call Andreas Rentch's work photography, although obviously it is or a photography gallery like Candela wouldn't be showing it. But more correctly, it's part performance art, part drawing, part painting part photography and all pretty much intriguing.

A huge show - 57 pieces in all, almost all of them containing him - that covers years of Rentch's career, I moved through it a full three times just to take it all in.

Along the way I met a woman who was sure I looked familiar, only to discover that I'd interviewed her on the phone (but never met her). Once we took our seats for the artist's talk, I met the woman who'd introduced Candela's owner to the artist, setting in motion what I was seeing tonight..

Other than that, the only familiar face was the guy who shows up at every opening for free food and drink and I didn't even bother acknowledging him.

It was a crowd of photography devotees who showed up for the talk, evidenced by Rentch saying, "I assume some people here still know what slide film is. My students do not." Yikes. We need to understand the past to shape the future, kids.

Showing us one of the photographs from his "Sun Series," he explained that the result of the one-hour exposure was pure chance and that he'd had no clue how it might have turned out. Happy accidents, he said, characterized his work.

In a career-long attempt to explore what photography is - in its purest definition, it's working with light - Rentch did a series using hand-applied black and white photo chemicals on X-ray film, creating dazzling large-scale works of his overlapping form that looked nothing like any photo you've ever seen.

"I'm trying to expand the notion of photography," he said. "I want to push the boundaries of photography." After seeing his work, I'd have to say he's succeeded, but don't take my word for it 'till you've seen them for yourself.

I followed that with a show at the Camel because I couldn't pass up a chance to hear a David Bowie cover band, another hybrid, this one of performance art and music. It began with me overhearing two guys discussing the first time they ever wore makeup ("I've been dressing in drag since middle school") because Bowie.

Let's be clear, here, I wasn't a Bowie obsessive since the earliest days (amazingly, the late '60s). It was only when I started dating a guy in 1992 (we listened to a lot of "Black Tie White Noise") who thought the music pyramid peaked at Bowie that I gave serious attention to his oeuvre.

And, Martin, you were right. I should have been more than a casual Bowie listener sooner. So tonight was an opportunity to take in a career-spanning earful.

The unexpected bonus was the opener, Face Ship, who immediately aligned themselves with Captain Beefheart (not that I think for minute anyone in the audience besides me and the guy in the red vest got the reference) when the lead singer announced, "I think Captain Beefheart and David Bowie could've been friends. Thank you for eating your breakfast."

Theirs was a glorious and melodic freak folk sound and I'd be willing to bet they'd all been music students given their youth and the serious chops they demonstrated on their tunage, which was interspersed with non sequiturs such as, "What do you mean you're not drunk? I thought we were friends!" shouted at the audience.

Even better: "Captain Crunch and the cereal killers couldn't make it." Our loss surely.

Damn, they were funny. And talented.

Honestly, they deserved a better audience than a bunch of eager Bowie zealots like the bartender, who when a guy asked for his check during the break, looked at him incredulously and demanded, "You're not staying for Bowie?" as if the real thing was about to play.

I'd already secured a fine spot on the banquette because for the first time, there were no tables at the Camel, meaning more room for people to stand, but given how vertically-challenged I am, I wanted the assist of a bench given the rapidly growing crowd.

Five musicians took the stage but the blond, pale blue suit-clad lead singer of Life On Mars took his time getting up there, earning some screaming from the crowd when he did.

By the second song, "Rebel, Rebel," the lead guitarist (as opposed to the rhythm guitarist who was wearing a red feather boa at the time) had broken a string. It was a good indicator of just how solid the band was.

The singer patiently explained to the crowd that they weren't going to be able to do every Bowie song tonight - time constraints and all - but the most important thing was that the new Bowie album comes out tomorrow and we should all go out and buy it. "And it's his birthday!"

Let me be the first to say that I don't know of a better looking 69-year old on the planet.

"We're gonna go all the way back to 1983," the singer said to squeals. "Anyone here born in 1983?" More squeals. I assume his groaning response, "Jeez!" meant he was amazed at the crowd's youth.

Turns out one of the hands was born today in '83, and to that person he dedicated "Let's Dance," a song I heard daily for three months back in '83 when my downstairs neighbor in Dupont Circle got the album and played that song non-stop every day for hours when he got home from work.

It was after they did "China Girl" that someone in the audience called out a request for "Labyrinth," which, again, I'm not sure many people got.

What they did get was "The Man Who Sold the World," although judging by the mass singalong, I wouldn't be surprised if it was Nirvana's unplugged version that brought them to the song. "Fame" got the crowd dancing like crazy. There was a costume change and wig before the band did "Ziggy Stardust." You get teh idea: total immersion.

Standing on my banquette perch dancing and spotting a few familiar faces - the old rocker, the Cover to Cover guitarist, the washboard pro, the hairdresser to the stars - made one thing perfectly clear.

It was all great fun.

I'm happy
Hope you're happy, too
I've loved
All I've needed: love
Sordid details following...

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