Thursday, November 19, 2009

Vienna Teng and Alex Wong

There weren't many males in the audience at this show (like, could count on two hands), and few of those were under fifty. That said, there were two in the front row: myself and some blond guy. Both of us were at the front of the line to get in, both of us sang along with almost every song, and both of us were utter fanboys.

I've been following Vienna Teng for longer than I've known my wife (and Abby and I started dating almost five and a half years ago). Her music is rich with atmosphere, has wonderfully inventive and intelligent lyrics, and and draws from a broad swath of varied musical influences, wrapping it all around solid pop sensibilities. So you get songs like Antebellum, which uses the Civil War as a metaphor for lovers growing apart, or No Gringo, a song about Americans trying to illegally emigrate to Mexico after some unnamed disaster had left the U.S. in ruins.

I've seen her play three times now, and this time I managed to bring four other people--two of whom had never heard of her prior to my intervention. I could run down highlights, but I don't think anyone would know any of the songs I'm talking about, so I will pause to mention that the Star Wars "cantina" theme found its way into the bridge of In Another Life eliciting some laughter from myself and others. That prompted Vienna to point out that some of her fellow nerds had been "outed". I also inadvertently started a series of awful "Is that a Vienna Teng CD in your pocket or are you just happy to see me?" jokes (answer: both).

But the real take-away from the show was Alex Wong. I've seen him as part of her backing band and heard his production influence on her albums (which gives her latest--Inland Territory--some of its wonderful weirdness), and I knew him to be a competent percussionist, but good lord. He is an incredible musician. He usually played two or three instruments at a time, a typical example being Harbor, in which he played a xylophone with his left hand, a two-piece drum kit with his right hand, a kjone with his foot, and sang backup all at the same time. He would switch instruments or sticks without missing a beat, sometimes flipping sticks around in the air to use different ends during different parts of the same measure. He would grab two mallets in one hand to do a cymbal swell and then discard them for a shaker faster than I was able to keep track. Awed, I am.

And will definitely be seeing him/them/her again the next time they're through St. Louis.


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