Award-winning Scottish composer and musician Anna Meredith performed her first ever gig in the United States at an unconventional space in downtown Los Angeles, CA. Meredith and her four bandmates were flanked on the bill by acclaimed experimental artists Steve Hauschildt (also performing in Los Angeles for the first time), Earthen Sea and Diamondstein. The Pico-Union Project space is a multi-faith cultural arts center that was a beautiful setting for the music of the night, if not a bit confusing in choice and set-up – the ‘near sold out’ crowd sparsely populating the area in the front of the stage or paired off in quiet conversations amongst the makeshift bar.
The first music of the evening was by Los Angeles native Diamondstein, who set the tone with a visual-heavy performance centered around dark, atmospheric beats. All the sets of the night transitioned seamlessly, with a few songs that could have been confused for one of the performers broadcasting through the PA while the next performer set up their equipment. Earthen Sea performed second with a seamless set of noisy and enveloping ambient music free of rhythm, echoing through the walls of the wide open church-like space. Attendees sat on the floor or haphazardly organized pews alongside the edges of the large hall.
Cleveland native Steve Hauschildt performed next, a set fully composed of tracks from his late 2016 Kranky release ‘Strands’. The former member of electronic trio Emeralds’ solo work is engrossing, deconstructed ambient that is strategically layered and sonically fully developed. The ‘Strands’ album is a grittier and more distorted version of Hauschildt’s music than released in the past and standing ten feet from the healthy grouping of stage-front speakers with a few other dedicated fans was an experience that leaves you with a different appreciation of the music.
Following a longer break between acts to accommodate for the set-up of Meredith’s band, featuring the unique ensemble of guitar, cello, drums, tuba and Meredith’s station (auxiliary percussion, clarinet and synthesizers). Performing a prime selection of tracks from her award-winning debut album ‘Varmints’, the group was about as cohesive as you could imagine given the difficulty of the music they were performing. Meredith has been a composer and orchestra member for years, but the jump into avant-garde pop rock performance is new for her. In addition to the level of difficulty presented to each member of the group, all members of the ensemble also contributed vocals during the choral segments of songs like “Taken” and “Dowager”. Meredith’s music (which combines elements of pop, experimental, classical and prog-rock) was a major departure of the music previously showcased over the course of the evening. While no one would fault you for describing Meredith’s music as ‘electronic’, this truly was a full band performance and a truly memorable one at that. Set highlights also included the synthesizer/cello duet “Honeyed Words” and warped, danceable dazzling closer ‘Scrimshaw’.
The lightly attended US debut of the critically-acclaimed Anna Meredith made me feel fortunate to have made the trip to Los Angeles and take advantage of this unconventional experience. Being front and center, given space to move and fully take in what may have been one of the most technically brilliant performances i’ve ever had the chance to see is an experience I won’t soon forget. Just like how Anna Meredith’s melodies find their way stuck in your head long after listening, I will find myself revisiting this performance, trying to mine more thoughts and questions about her music dreamed up, written, composed and performed.
Anna Meredith (and band) with Steve Hauschildt, Earthen Sea and Diamondstein – Tuesday, March 14th at The Sanctuary at the Pico Union Project. Presented by FineTime. Show attended and reviewed by Spencer VH.