DRUM Tao at Jorgensen Center

Reviews, Live Shows

220213 Breathing Forests by Gabriella Smith (world premier)

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210911 Sylvan Esso at The Greek

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210911 Tune Yards at Ford Amphitheater

Low expectations, high reward!

210129 Cinematic Orchestra at Royal Albert Hall livestream

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201201 Sylvan Esso "With Love" streaming

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201010 NDT2: Dare to Say

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201010 NDT: Endlessly Free

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201010 Kaoru Watanabe: Haruka and Akira

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200411 Arugakki at JCCC Montreal

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200322 Nederlans Dans Theater at Place des Artes

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200221 DRUM Tao at Jorgensen Center

pina colada cotton candy

191116 Sylvan Esso at Walt Disney Concert Hall

Moving music, delightful dancing, incredible sound

191115 Ohmme at Teragram Ballroom

Fantastically quirky

191025 Hiatus Kaiyote at Novo

Amazing music, over my head

191023 Frances Cone and Delta Rae at Bootleg

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191017 Cosmo Sheldrake at Echoplex

Great samples, less-inspiring looping

191013 Oregon Symphony premier of Andy Akiho Percussion Concerto

My new favorite piece of classical music.

191009 GoGo Penguin's Koyaanisqatsi at Regent Theater

A worthwhile addition to an iconic movie

190925 Cornelius at Echoplex

Bright lights, big music.

190726 New Original Works Festival 2019 at REDCAT

Craving a "composition"

190717 Mitski at Hollywood Palladium

How to make pop songs performative?

190614 Imogen Heap at Greek Theatre

Hide and Seek and not much else

190601 Snarky Puppy at Orpheum

So Snarky!

190319 Monterey Symphony: Sound Waves Concert IV

A drifting concert. Water Concerto anchored by Chris Lamb

190316 Miyamoto is Black Enough, at Wallis

Holy shit this was a good show!

190127 Hidaka at International Dinner 2019

Go Hidaka Taiko!

190116 Third Coast Percussion with Hubbard Street Dance

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181120 Dermot Kennedy at Fonda

Solid show to adoring fans

181108 Birdtalker at Hotel Cafe

A special band, early in their career

180623 Olafur Arnalds at Cathedral Sanctuary

The power of sweet/sad melody!

180614 Dirty Projectors at El Rey Theater

Amazing quirk-pop!

180310 Miyake x UnitOne

UnitOne shines!

180224 Batare at La Mirada Theater

Laudably ambitious but scattered.

180223 QuiltCon 2018

Inspiring works, inspiring community.

180131 Kagami Kai at Asian Art Museum

Amazing mochi-making skills, frustrating calligraphy, and take-home encouragement

170416 Sigur Rós with LA Phil

Amazing concert with a few missed opportunities.

170115 A Seed: Ichi-Ryu Manbai

Overwrought concept, thin music, tragic flowers

160927 Sigur Rós at Hollywood Bowl

Amazing sound needs mixed set-list

160918 Road to Kumano: Taiko Project with Chieko Kojima

Ambitious new work!

160409 Locations and Dislocations: An Ecomusicological Conversation

thought-provoking, inspiring, exhausting

130514 Stuck Elevator was fantastic

Powerfully uneventful ending

081012 Byron's Bottled Water Operas

Welcome. Stay and think.

DRUM Tao at Jorgensen Center

First, what I liked.  The sound engineer was good.  At the opening of the show, the tone of large drums blended fairly well with a backing track of cello and synth strings.

Otherwise, this was one of the most artistically-vaccuous things I've ever seen.

The composition was weak, the skill level low, and the delivery pandering.  Minh and I left before intermission.  I should pause to say that Minh and I were outliers in this opinion.  The audience was genuinely engaged.  They applauded enthusiastically, laughed at the pantomime, and gasped at a backflip.  The young man sitting next to me drummed his hands in space, smiling.  But Minh and I instead laughed at the absurd theatricality and gasped at the ruin of stolen ideas.

Composition.  It feels like this show is written by a director, and not a musician.  The songs offer no surprise.  The rhythms are basic, unoriginal, and offered only as "parts".  Player 1 plays an obvious groove, player 2 adds another.  There is no development or variation, and no sense that the players are feeling something inside them.  There is no "rhythmic vocabulary".  It's like a non-drummer made a list of all the great ideas in taiko and tried to get through each of them in 90 seconds.  Yatai Bayashi, for example, a piece rooted in an amazing festival in Japan and recreated for the stage by Kodo, is reduced to loud bashing and ends in a joke.  One of the seated players struggling to maintain the strenuous position is pushed down by a bully performer while others gesture for the audience to applaud.  What is this?!  Gone is the unique lilt of the original festival rhythms.  Gone is Kodo's thoughtful arrangement, with long builds and intricate shime breaks.  Gone is the refined playing form and indiviualized solos.  Those soulful aspects of the Japanese original have been stripped away, presumably because they're difficult, leaving only a bad Las Vegas sideshow.

One bit borrows the lion costume and dance from kabuki's Kagamijishi.  In the original, the music is incredible.  The shamisen and percussion ensemble are fast and intricate and the tempo increases alongside the dance to a fever pitch.  Of all traditional music I've heard, it resonates with me the most, with the intensity and "meanness" of hip hop, but in a way I've never heard before.  Tao's version took the lion's mane costome and set the choreography to cheesy melodies and slow drums.  The dance was simple and "cute".  There was no build.  There was no fever pitch.  They reduced this gem of Japanese art to a cheap trinket.  I was artistically offended.

Choreography.  The show's chorography is ignorant.  There are only two ways of moving, and they're painfully heteronormative -- a masculine, pose-oriented style for the men and a slinky, sexy, smoky-eye style for the women.  Instead of movement conveying feeling, the players take positions on stage like a marching band and point at each other to indicate solos.  Poses are cocky, with side-long glances and winking.  A soloist's arm swing works against his strikes.  The movements are determined by a director too, instead of a choreographer.

Skill.  The players have mastered their parts, but the parts are so simple, there is no mastery to enjoy.  There is no impressive drumming or dancing.  I feel sorry for these musicians, forced to play uninspired, artless parts night after night.  They've polished a turd.

The show is also sexist -- men are agressive and dressed like a boy band, women are sexy and gentle.  It's Three's Company set in Japan.

Art vs Entertainment

It's been interesting to hear others' thoughts about the show.  "It's definitely not art, but I enjoyed it as entertainment."  I'm glad others enjoyed it -- it's always better to find the good in things than to lament the bad.  But for me, even as "entertainment", the show doesn't work.  The show can only be entertaining if you know nothing about taiko.  I like the following distinction.  "Entertainment" works within our expectations to create pleasure whereas "art" asks the viewer grow.  Without anything transformative, Drum Tao is definitely not "art", and without any grasp on the genre of taiko, the skill of percussion, the soul of dance, for me, Drum Tao isn't entertainment either.