By now, you know the way musical rules work. The more volume behind a singer or rapper, the more they're emboldened to look the crowd in the eyes. Countless punk singers and rappers have squatted down, gotten in people's faces, jumped into the crowd and obliterated the fourth wall. Those trading in quieter music -- like jazz, folk, or classical -- tend to hew firmly to their place, acknowledging the audience from time to time, often minimally and nearly always between songs. These are our expectations as an audience. We know what we're getting.
Seeing the Montreal duo Majical Cloudz live is, then, an inherently off-putting experience. With only Matthew Otto's whisper-thin electronic loops supporting his warm crooning baritone, singer Devon Welsh manages to be more antagonistic, more piercing and more brutally intimate than any punk singer I've seen. Even during instrumental passages -- especially during instrumental passages -- he stands alone, sometimes whipping the microphone downward in rhythm, just... staring at you. Remember Marina Abramović's The Artist is Present? It's like that.
When I first saw Majical Cloudz, I laughed. The next time, though, I could barely move. And in talking with Welsh afterward, I learned that he's very aware of his stage presence and what it does to people. Coupled with his lyrics, which skip the niceties and jump straight to meaning-of-life discourses on love and death, he leaves himself vulnerable onstage, night after night -- even during the band's 2014 string of shows opening for Lorde in huge halls.
Other live music of note this week:
Thursday, Jan. 21: The Crux at Rossi’s 1906 in El Verano. Formerly a dance hall, Rossi's 1906 is a rural Sonoma County outpost that's started hosting live music, and this week's show is as dramatic as it gets. The Crux combine folk and jazz with raucous, eruptive vocals (and a clanging, heavy chain), and openers the Oddjob Ensemble update gypsy-jazz and Klezmer for a modern, anxiety-riddled era. Beer's on tap and BBQ's on the grill; details here.
Friday, Jan. 22: The Cheap Suit Serenaders at Freight & Salvage. Terry Zwigoff's 2001 film Ghost World contains a fun Easter egg: in a scene where Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson are looking through records at a garage sale, Birch holds up a record and asks Steve Buscemi about it. "Nah, that one's not so great," Buscemi says -- the joke being that the record is by the Cheap Suit Serenaders, Zwigoff's old-timey group with R. Crumb. Though Crumb isn't with the group on this go-around, Zwigoff leads the banjo mayhem when the band plays at the Freight. Details here.
Wednesday, Jan. 27: Des Ark at the Rickshaw Stop. There's no telling exactly what will be on stage at a Des Ark show: sometimes a full band, sometimes a duo, sometimes a solo acoustic performance. But no matter the setting, Aimée Argote's songs are haunting things. Even the ones with cheeky titles: "If By Gay You Mean Totally Freaking Awesome, Then Yeah, I Guess it's Pretty Gay" is a desperate, poetic recap of a doomed relationship. The Ohio band Saintseneca headlines. Details here.