Saturday, January 30, 2010

Les Savy Fav at the Brooklyn Academy of Music 1/29/10


Tim Harrington came onstage in purple tights. He had clothespins fastened tightly to his beard like a Walmart witchdoctor and sported a tan tunic. This latter didn’t last long though, as Tim prefers to put his corpulent belly front and center.

Tim didn’t say a word, and his band was nowhere to be seen. Instead, he silently danced around the stage for four or five minutes, leaping and twirling and stopping short and glaring at the audience. The macabre ballet soon entered the aisles, Tim waltzing up and down with entranced gazes trailing in his wake.

Did I mention this was happening in an opera hall, the sort of place that shows Shakespeare’s The Tempest (this month) and Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya (next)? The Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Howard Gilman Opera House may have played host to the proceedings, but no reverence was spared for this most illustrious of spaces. By the time Tim’s band, Les Savy Fav, joined him onstage, all high-art pretentions had vanished. “If you sit in your chairs like this is a fucking art show, it becomes a fucking art show,” Tim cajoled as he physically maneuvered audience members into standing positions in front of the stage.

So began the Sounds Like Brooklyn festival, an annual celebration of the music of New York’s most creative borough.

Many terms are thrown about to encapsulate just what it is Les Savy Fav do. “Post-hardcore.” “Art rock.” “Fugazi meets Bloc Party.” Words cannot encapsulate the frenzied insanity of a Les Savy Fav concert though. Harrington yips and yelps and shrieks all over the stage as a backing quartet pounds out thundering riffage and swirling noise explosions. A packed hall of fans jump and scream and sweat along with the band while those not in the know (in this case the Academy’s season-ticket holders) look on in, at best, bemusement.

It would be easy to review this show by simply listing all the crazy things Harrington did -- riding a good-natured fan around the room like a horse, inflating a Hefty-bag snake for audience crowd-surfing, donning a monkey costume and, when accused of looking feline, busting out an ape-themed parody of “Memory” from Cats -- but the real story of a Les Savy Fav show is the communion between band and fan.

Harrington breaks down the divide between performer and audience to the extent that you don’t feel like you’re watching a great show; you feel like you’re helping create one. He spends half his time down among the people, jumping with fans, singing with fans, and playfully heckling anyone who seems to be holding back. “I didn’t realize how much our audience depended on being wasted,” he remarked when crowd participation faltered Friday. “It’s kind of their thing.

By the time the band threw down their instruments and roared offstage ninety minutes after they begun -- no encore when you give it all the first time around -- even the most sober was left gasping for air. As the crowd went their separate ways down the cold Brooklyn streets, people walked with a conspiratorial gleam in their eye, like they knew they had been a part of something. Maybe it was art after all.

Photos by This Week In New York (via Flickr)

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