Tuesday, December 09, 2008

A NOLA Musical Interlude

Last Saturday, we managed to visit the new Borders on Canal Street for their grand opening. The store, located in a particularly luscious part of New Orleans, is magnificent. And needless to say, you will never get bored hanging out or talking with the staff. There are always interesting people to talk to in the Crescent City.

A local music sensation, Theresa Andersson played in the coffee shop.

What can you say about Theresa Andersson? She is a Swede who followed her musical dreams not just to the States, but to where some of the greatest music in the States originates: New Orleans. She went from only hearing Allen Toussant's music in Sweden to actually having him record music with her in her kitchen (more on that later). Having landed in the Crescent City, she just never left. I could not detect even the hint of a foreign accent. She has now become well known in the local music scene where she has been performing since 1990. She may be on the verge of a national or even international breakout. Mark your calendars for February 4, when she will appear on Conan O'Brien. She will also have a track on an upcoming Starbucks compilation CD. Her YouTube videos have gone viral.

She can do it all: violin (any style, including playing it like a guitar with a slide mechanism), guitar, dulcimer, drums, and an ethereal angelic voice. And she has an absolute blast playing music. You can't fake the spontaneous joy she exudes while playing.

Her latest CD, Hummingbird, Go!, was recorded without a band and without a studio. More accurately, she was the band, and the studio was the small kitchen in her historic shotgun house right here on the West Bank in historic Algiers Point, a stone's throw from the ferry station on the Mississippi River. Her latest style of performance is to actually sample music on the fly: violin, drums, guitar, tambourine, chimes, and all the vocals - along with anything and everything else to make music (such as a Barq's root beer bottle, thumping her hand against a microphone, and a vinyl record of a friend's drum riff). The samples are then looped, and she layers in live performance over top the almost-live performances which run in a big loop governed by a series of pedals and knobs, which she turns on and off with her feet, with great precision.

It sounds like a gimmick, but it is anything but. It is sheer virtuosity - mesmerizing both to watch, and to listen to. Watching her play is a little like observing an organist with both hands and both feet flying away, managing to create heavenly harmony out of what appears to be neurological chaos. For me, this is like watching a miracle - as I can't even come close to being able to multitask like that). The catchy YouTube above ("Na Na Na") has over 700,000 hits. She has a performance of a more bluesy/jazzy, almost retro song that really highlights her voice, called "Birds Fly Away" on YouTube as well, and you can watch it here. If you want to see her really rip up the violin while playing an old American spiritual (that as a bonus even mentions our Blessed Lord), check this live performance out.

Fans of the Swedish language will be pleased to know that one track on Hummingbird, Go! is in Swedish ("Innan Du Går", which she recorded with Ane Brun, a famous Norwegian songstress who now lives in Stockholm).

Watching Theresa Andersson perform live just a few feet away in a Borders coffee shop was a real treat. It was Quintessential Big Easy. You can see the street cars ambling along Canal Street through the window behind the stage, as well as last year's Mardi Gras beads dangling from the old, twisted live oak trees that line the venerable old boulevard. She performed for a good half hour, and in between tunes, explained all about her "recording studio" (you can see the fridge covered with magnets in the video above) in a genuinely self-deprecating way. She even gave individual names to the different voices she recorded in (known collectively as "The Kitchenettes"), explaining their individual personalities, complete with gestures and a little acting out of their "behaviors." Musicians are at their very best when they are having fun doing what they are doing. And the crowd, which did more than just give lip-service to diversity, likewise had fun watching her have fun with her instruments and her harried pedal-pushing with bare feet. If Theresa Andersson doesn't make you smile, you must not be human. In spite of the almost comical way the music is performed, she can make real and quality music that is haunting, melodic, soaring, and inspiring, as well as fun, imaginative, playful, and daring.

In other words, Theresa Andersson is a microcosm of New Orleans itself.

As a timely postscript, here is an article from the Dec 12 Lagniappe section of the Times-Picayune.


Past Elder said...

The last Andersson who knocked me out was Bibi, so maybe it's time for a new one.

Speaking of NOLA, did you see the latest Librarian, The Curse of the Judas Chalice? Takes place in NOLA.

And if there's a venue with something like Stana Katic portrays in the movie, just drop me off there.

Rev.Fr.Burnell F Eckardt said...

You actually have me feeling envious that I don't live in the city of hurricanes. Umm, come to think of it, I had a hurricane the last time I was there, and it was delicious. Rock on.