Seattle's Rockrgrl Music Conference 2000: Out and About in Caffeine City, Dodging Starbucks and Ducking Low-Flying Fish
Rockrgrl Conference Photo Gallery
You Go, Girl: Ronnie Spector, Triumphant
The Day Breaks, Your Mind Aches: As much as the previous night belongs to the SKittens, today goes to Ronnie Spector and her powerful keynote address. Ronnie Spector was already legendary back when your Mr. Cyrano was just a tyke, and fell afoul of fame in a long abusive marriage that shattered her career. She talks openly, as to a room of peers and friends, singing a few snippets and charmingly losing her place on the pages as she warms to a full hall hanging on her every word. Her wry throaty giggle is inclusive and infectious when she shrugs off her early performance style, so shocking and indecorous in its day: "The sex was like sweat," she protests. "It just happened."
Minutes later she describes being trapped for long years in ex-husband Phil Spector's mansion, walled in behind locked gates and attack dogs. She chokes up for moment, and sobs as she hints at the fear and jealousy that surrounded her for so long. "I was a little girl from Spanish Harlem," she stammers, gruff with emotion, and for an instant we all share a vision of the whirlwind of money and high living that spun her away from friends and family into a life that no one could ever want. Tears are rolling down cheeks everywhere I look, and I can't look far because I'm crying too. There's a silence that tastes like salt in the back of the throat before Spector looks up and says with perfect strength, "I decided, I'm not going to be erased." I can't remember when life in rock has ever had such a human face; I'm shaken and moved. Our applause is a cathartic release, and when she closes, saying "Never forget, a woman can go through hell and still be compassionate," we are all on our feet in an irresistible wave of feeling and -- forgive me -- sisterly love.
The Record of the Time: Ronnie Spector's Autograph
So I'm a softie. I got an autograph. I had to.
This is Rockrgrl 2000: a conference with a conscience, an unexpected forum to talk about the stuff that doesn't get proper play on the Industry circuit. R2K is at its finest primp in panels on the most human of issues: how to balance the realities of touring with the happy circumstance of children, for example, with Indiegrrl founder Holly Figueroa and performer Amy Rigby, among others, sharing their moments of pride and uncertainty raising daughters into a musician's wastrel life. Or during an enlightening discussion on age discrimination in the industry which seats musicians over 40 (deep in the no-signing zone) next to musicians under 20, who can't get no respect despite their obvious hard-earned skills.
Rachael Sage: The Subtle Art of Art
And That's Not All: On Saturday rock critic Ann Powers (New York Times, etc.) leads a brilliant and provocative consideration of the anti-female bluster that thrives in the misogynist aggro fringe of music by massively popular acts like Limp Bizkit and Eminem (and Bizkit headman Fred Durst is, amazingly enough, likened with chortling satisfaction to Pat Robertson). Amy Ray talks at length about the narrow realities of the media, noting that the Indigo Girls have never in the course of their popular history been featured in a mainstream rock magazine. Some will say that's because the Indigo Girls never broke heavily on commercial radio, she notes; "but it's really because we are political lesbians." By now Grrl Power is loose in the hotel halls, and it's a beautiful thing to watch. A well-behaved flock of nice girls with interesting twists showed up at registration, and now, two scant days later, a bunch of stomping overtired gleeful women are riding high in the saddle.
By the time Courtney Love makes her appearance, in a haze of rules -- do not talk to Ms. Love, do not take pictures of Ms. Love, everyone must be seated, all questions for Ms. Love must be submitted in writing, do not look at Ms. Love (OK, not that one. Still, sensing the mood, Carla DeSantis comments that "she's kind of high maintenance, but it will be worth it" when the crowd chafes at the seating arrangements) -- the conceptual chains have been thoroughly sundered. A butch lesbian stands up at one point and asks if Courtney thinks a band fronted by a butch lesbian can make it in today's rock arena. "Absolutely," she answers, measuring the questioner's star qualities with a quick appraising glance.
Love is a strange and wonderful presence, insightful and incisive and tightly-knotted, by lightning turns abrasive and kind. Her sixty-minute scheduled visit spills over into two hours of fascinating, hostile, generous, funny and spot-on talk. She blurts, she raves, she drops names, she tosses around the kind of information that most of us will never be privy to in a lifetime of taking our best shots. She makes scary sense and wants to turn the music biz upside down and shake it til money comes out ... and if anyone can do it, I say, it's Courtney Love. Simply put, she's a Star. With everything that entails.
Joy Eden Harrison: Out of This World?
Star Light, Star Bright: And there are constellations by night. We manage to drive to Madison's Cafe without getting lost, in time for a brief command performance by New York's Rachael Sage at a night of Indiegrrl performers. Rachael's music shimmers in the heart and curls through the room like a spring breeze. Mr. Cyrano once saw a production of "Madama Butterfly" at the Deutsche Oper in which Cio-Cio-San, finishing her sweet "Un Bel Di," walked back into a stark empty stage covered with vast drapes of silk; the silk billowed up and rose, becoming the sea, and the singer was engulfed by the swelling fabric in an orchestral crescendo. This is a little like that (but without the FX).
Back at the Experience Music Project Joy Eden Harrison of Solana Beach, CA, vamps in high style through a set of tightly-crafted jazz-drizzled torch songs that wink with sly modern sensibility and still send visions of martinis and gaslight cavorting in the corridors of cultural memory. You can almost hear the scratchy LP texture under her voice, and her slinky backless cocktail dress is a perfect detail. "If I wasn't a musician," she tells us, "I'd want to be an astronaut." The space program's loss is our gain. Chicago's Ellen Rosner closes the night's Liquid Lounge showcases with a brawl of funky pumping bluesy pop that prowls and roars and yawps with all the intense joyful focus of a kid in a really excellent patch of mud. "When I'm happy," she says breathlessly after the set, "it all goes into my leg." She was happy; we can tell. (There are pictures of Ellen and others in Mr. Cyrano's Rockrgrl Photo Gallery awaiting your viewing pleasure.)
Lourds: Our Lady of New York
It's late, it's brisk, and we're not ready to quit -- it's time for Lourds. The Bad Juju Lounge is done up in light Cryptkicker 5 darkcore decor. I'm loitering around with Cellar, who is studying to go into the funeral
business and is professionally abusing B-52's tonight ("I shouldn't have
another." "Bartender!"). We belly up as close as we can to the stage,
Cellar in slim trim black and your correspondent a flail of arms with leathers, bag, camera, like a walking display rack. The crowd is a jiggling man-o-war of green and blue glo-sticks, which is what a crowd should be at a Lourds show, and as I'm shoving my baggage down front to snap a few shots a lean tall frame moves in and lifts away the jacket and shoulder bag. I'm about to snap into hey-that's-my-stuff Urban Kicking Mode, but it's ... Tyler! Wearing a blue nubbly flowerpot hat and smoking an odd rustic S-stem pipe, he's still being randomly helpful, and waves me forward. Go figure.
Kiss Me Kiss Me: As Lourds tells it, she was happy being a wunderkind classical violinist until she saw her first KISS concert at age six. After which it all got different. She's a mercurial sartorial fantasy figure, given to performing in artful rags (tonight), in prurient mesh, in body paint, wherever her inspirations take her. From the first drum stroke to the last round of applause, Lourds is a juggernaut of taut toned aerobic energy, leading her audience by example to a sweaty, jogging nirvana of adoring rock bliss. She's an auteur musician, as in command of the rock-me watch-me cult of personality as anyone else on the New York club scene, and her stadium-scale appeal mixes the glitter and high glitz of idols Queen with the lowest-common irresistible funstuff of Meat Loaf. O, yes, Meat Loaf. Find me a minyan of people who honestly don't know the words to that damn song and I'll buy you lunch.* Don't be so fancy and stuck up. With her dime-tight band, her sure skill on violin and guitar, her clear and versatile voice and a stage show that moves heart and feet to places you didn't think they could go together, Lourds is a winner.
Light in the Darkness: Nicole Blackman
Saturday night, and R2K is winding down. I'm in Crocodile, a high-cornered warehouse of a club with fantastical creatures of papier-mache and scraps gandering down from the ventilation ducts. If this burger is medium-rare, I'm a pillow. (At this point I wouldn't mind being a pillow, but you can't always get what you want -- as the sage says.) Once I've gnawed dinner down to pebble-sized chunks it's off into the other room for Nicole Blackman, once one of the best rock press promotion people in New York and now an entrancing performance poet. Accompanied by live minimal electronic swoopy ambient sound, her show is a one-woman hands-on lab course in The Lives of the Unsaintly.
Chill and aloof with her hair pulled back, Nicole balances books of pain with entry after entry of all the costs of wanton sex gone bitter; she douses herself with blood like a body double for Carrie in a piece on youth crushed and dreams derailed. Her dramatic choices perch solidly on the high thin fence between affecting and affected, and it's that tension -- I keep waiting for her to fall to one side or the other, and she doesn't -- that draws me in. When she pleads and sobs through a victim's-eye account of a kidnapping (complete with disturbing applications of duct tape) it is on a black stage, house lights off, please. The only illumination is cast by a work light she swings overhead, with startling fluid sculptural results. The conjunction of a work light and duct tape evokes a palpable sense of dread; the audience is still with voyeur's pain, and when the light clicks off she is finished.
Mile-High Lashes: Alicia Perrone of Simon Stinger
A Wealth of Riches: Five and six bands a night is a tough pace to keep up, dear reader, and Mr. Cyrano is slipping into trance as the time spins by. An appealing perky splash of confident pop by Lift, from Decatur, Georgia, stops me on my way out the door and draws me back in (moth, I) to warm up for a few songs in the glow of Molly Bancroft's forward vocals and guitar. Now I'm late, and at the loopy combination restaurant and coffeehouse (of course) and bar and laundromat Sit & Spin I catch far too little of Annie Minogue's showcase. Annie works her lush soaring songs with emotive fondness. She cruises
briskly toward each crescendo at an easy lope, and then coils up under her
airborne belt-notes like a lithe lifter pressing for the prize.
Back at the Crocodile there's a killer double bill, and I'm catching half of it: Simon Stinger is up next, followed by Exene Cervenka's Original Sinners (a devilish double if ever there was one). Simon Stinger, a velvet glove of a band founded in 1995 by singer Alicia Perrone and bassist Victor James, is a Bay Area triumph, a chunky nutty sticky sundae of punch-hard new wave and overkill spunk,
dressed up in playful boutique togs and durable pro poise. I've
instructed a couple of new friends to come to this show, promising great
things; this is how I first saw the band, and it's good musical karma to nourish the roots. Midway through there's a tugging on my sleeve. They've made it, and they look like I must have the first time out: radiant, beaming. Lips near ear, and a shout: "They're great!" Yes, they are. Simon Stinger's recordings are every bit as delightful as their live work, and it's worth noting that the band's impeccable excitable cover of "Girl U Want" would not only make Devo proud but is also nowhere near the best piece on their last record.
Amy Rigby: Post-Mod and Way Fab
The closing slot at a music conference is a tricky one. Today's East Coast dispersal began sometime in midafternoon, and those hardy among us who are still standing really wish we weren't. The non-stop weight of details and chit-chat and business cards stoops the shoulders, twists the spine, creaks the hips; the shows on shows on shows accrue like credit card interest, and I find myself trying to work out how many times I've applauded in the last three days. (It's become instinctive: the moment I hear someone say "thank you" my hands leap up to assume the position.)
It's a joy to clunk on back to Sit & Spin for a perfect performance by Amy Rigby. Amy lived in New York for ages and was a critical plot twist in the story of How I Found Local Music, and since her move to Nashville last year she's been an absent pleasure, like a book you were wanting to read again but suddenly can't find. Her canny, twitchy songs are catchy and deceptive. The simpler I think they are the more they unfold, origami-like, to hint at further deeper levels. The ones I don't much like in January are morning standards in the shower by June. And every time I've turned out to see Amy play over the years, both solo and with an ever-shifting scenery of band players, I've left with a great uplifted grin.
Tonight Amy is centered and happy, and her set is a journey through the peaks of her three records. She rocks with abandon and rolls with feeling; she steps deftly around the humor in her songs, letting the words carry their own luggage rather than forcing extra burdens on them. Where she was once a nervous font, pumping out these sweet clear streams, she's content here past midnight to be the conduit, from her heart to yours. In "Tonight I'm Gonna Give the Drummer Some" she fields drummer jokes from the audience with real -- or beautifully feigned -- humor. (What did the drummer get on his IQ test? Saliva.) In the new and oft-quoted "Cynically Yours," which speaks volumes to anyone who has suffered the slings and arrows of dating after age 30, her repeated line "You don't suck, so I'm cynically yours" is as honestly framed as it is sarcastic. And suddenly, far too soon and just in time, the show is over. Time enough for a nightcap vodka tonic (no good beer, you're way ahead of me). The rest is planes, trains, automobiles.
The Rockrgrl Music Conference is surely likely to return, and we hear it may sweep back sometime in 2002. For my part, the overworked feet are nearly back in shape. See you in two.
Top five reasons the World Series is better than the recent election:
5. You get to try again next year.
4. Athletes say such wonderful stupid things. Um, waitaminnit, let's try that again ...
4. You have at least four shots at winning.
3. If it's a tie, the teams don't run out in front of the cameras to persuade you that they actually won.
2. The masses get to drink beer and eat hot dogs, but nobody asks them to make important choices.
1. New York nearly always wins.
Rockrgrl Music Conference 2000: www.rockrgrl.com/conference
Rockrgrl Conference Photo Gallery: www.web-ho.com/Seattle2000
Nicole Blackman: www.nicole-blackman.com
Holly Figueroa and Indiegrrl: www.indiegrrl.com
Carla Hall: www.carlahall.com
Joy Eden Harrison: www.joyedenharrison.com
Kathleen LaGue: www.kathleenlague.com
Courtney Love and Hole: www.holemusic.com
Amy Ray and Daemon Records: www.daemonrecords.com
Amy Rigby: www.amyrigby.com
Ellen Rosner: www.ellenrosner.com
Rachael Sage: www.rachaelsage.com
Ronnie Spector: www.killrockstars.com/bands/ronniespector
Simon Stinger: www.simonstinger.com
Switchblade Kittens: www.switchbladekittens.com
Ann & Nancy Wilson: www.annandnancy.com
Courtney Love on Fred Durst: "I wasn't going to fuck him. He's not my type. No REM records in his collection. Which is a prerequisite."
All photos this week by Linus Gelber. Linus Gelber's sore feet by Ma and Pa Gelber.
* No I won't.
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