When Sonny Smith performs at David Ireland's house, you don't ask questions, you buy tickets. The Lost Church is a super intimate performance space hidden inside a house specially built by Ireland, the late, great conceptual art pioneer. This is the venue for a new, experimental "thing" called Sees All Knows All, written and performed by Sonny Smith with musical accompaniment. The four-night run has a different opening act each evening, and the first performance featured a sweet, beachy set by Alexi Glickman with Kacey Johansing on drums.
Sonny Smith took off his jacket and hopped up on stage like someone slipping into a swimming pool -- a little apprehensive, but committed. As the story started to flow, he sometimes looked down, avoiding eye contact as people do when sharing something personal. Fiction and reality played opposing roles in the narrative which, as promised, included "spaceships, romance, and bitter tears." These themes are not atypical of Smith's writing, and he also mentions a fear of drowning, which came up when we interviewed him for Gallery Crawl. Back then, in 2010, he'd just collaborated with many artists to create records for one hundred fictional bands he'd dreamt up. This time around, he similarly draws on strengths from a group of artists to make something new and imaginative happen. The performance was remarkable because nobody was messing with their phone, so I felt like a real jerk trying to take his picture the whole time.
I recently heard the following quote: "Birds fly, fish swim, and people make stuff up." Storytelling and dreaming are human nature, but performers who can successfully distill their personalized fiction into entertainment are rare. I'm a fan of Smith's music, but experiencing a monologue feels more serious than listening to a song, which is why he seemed, perhaps, more mature as he worked his way through stories about big decisions and strange dreams. The performance shares themes with his songwriting, but frees him up to expand his story in a new way. His own self-comparison to Spalding Gray ("if Spalding Gray had a band") seems pretty right on, with the minimalist theater approach and focus on personal observations. Maybe he's growing up.
Sees All Knows All was the special kind of secret show that I'd like to think could only happen in San Francisco, in the Mission, at 65 Capp Street, on a cool winter's eve. Catch it on Saturday nights through February 4, 2012.