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Theo Bleckmann at Le Poisson Rouge: The Music Of Kate Bush

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Theo Bleckmann
Hello Earth! The Music of Kate Bush
Le Poisson Rouge
New York , NY

September 22, 2010

Kate Bush is an iconic singer in the UK and in many other countries. As a nineteen year-old, she released her first album The Kick Inside (EMI, 1978), which contained two major hits: "Wuthering Heights," based on a television adaptation of Emily Bronte's famous novel; and "The Man With the Child In His Eyes," which contained many Bush trademarks, such as her distinctive melodic dip to a lower note in the middle of a phrase. This aspect of her music provided a unifying element for singer Theo Bleckmann's "Hello Earth! The Music of Kate Bush" performance in Greenwich Village, which was almost like a mini-opera, given this "Bush hook," the lyrical subject matter covered by the songs—and, of course, Bleckmann's classical/dramatic approach to singing.

Bleckmann is known for distinctive art song performances of songs spanning from Charles Ives, Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill to The Great American Songbook and, now, Bush. When asked what the common element is between these writers, Bleckmann's reply is: "great songs." His voice is clear and expressive, and can have a kind of mallets-on-antique-china quality. Bush's music has a classical-like purity, a quality on which Bleckmann has alighted, bringing his own distinct high art interpretation to her pieces. Musically, he showed that she is one of the chapters in the illustrious world of song, which traces itself through history via the medium of composers such as Dowland, Schubert, Schumann, Wolf, Ives, Weil-Brecht, Gershwin, Rorem, the Beatles and Sting.

Bush's lyrics are also unique, presenting a different view on the world, covering topics such as nature, identity, and survival. Presented together, as Bleckmann did at his gig, Bush's various subject matters and imagery almost sounded like The Discovery Channel, before it existed: cloudbursts, hills, water and ice. There is profundity, and some of Bush's are written from unusual aspects.

At Le Poisson Rouge, an appropriate and exotic venue for this kind of performance, Bleckmann looked and even performed on the small stage like a stadium rock star. The focus of his music was similar, in some ways, to Mike Patton, but he is firmly rooted in art song. The concert began with Bush's classic "Running Up That Hill," from Hounds Of Love (EMI, 1985), a very good example of how Bleckmann communicated the depth in lyrics: "If only I could make a deal with God, I'd get him to swap our places, and I'd be running up that road be running up that hill..." Bleckmann took great care to be very expressive; even his clothing was carefully prepared. Often wearing red and orange colors, the singer occasionally cut a figure like a red-bedecked Cole Porter, at times as much an actor as a singer. It was all, of course, to aid the voice: Bleckmann is a very visual singer, making it possible to easily see him singing—and the lyric's scenario—even when listening to him on record.

Bleckmann's band included drummer John Hollenbeck (a frequent collaborator), electric violinist/guitarist Caleb Berhans, bassist Skúli Sverrisson, and pianist/keyboardist Henry Hey, augmenting Bleckmann's own contributions with electronics—filtering and sampling, and adding reverb to his voice. Introducing the band after the first number, Bleckmann said how pleased he was to be on stage with them, " [each of them] great composers in their own way."

On "Running Up That Hill," Hollenbeck's insistent, meaningful drumming played almost as big a role as Bleckmann's singing. Of the song, Bleckmann said: "[It is] maybe one of Kate Bush's more famous songs that made it to the US, from Hounds Of Love, her Kind Of Blue... album, 1985." He included five songs from the album in his performance.

Hollenbeck was tremendous throughout the gig, as was the entire band, which read from scores. Sverrisson was right on the money, as was the virtuosic Berhans. All of these aspects, coupled with Bleckmann's brilliant arrangements, instrumentation, and relaxed use of electronic voice processing, created a rich performance with tasteful textures, appropriate for the journey through Bush's dramatic and atmospheric songs.

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