Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Pee Eye See (Eh?) goes ‘kay! 

Making art and music sometimes needs help from above. Last night two celestial forces of the Pacific Northwest—PICA and indie label, K Records, natch—gave us Blue Sky vs. Night Sky from The Blow, who is the one-woman wonder, Khaela Maricich.

Meteorology tells us that the meeting of one pressure system with another can result in sunny weather, but sometimes it produces, oh, Hurricane Ivan, for example. Occasionally, it gives us a mixture of both, like when the sun peeks through grey clouds, giving them the famous silver lining while they drizzle. Residents of the region know this effect well, and last night’s performance was a lot like it: some rain but enough sun to shower the room with gold.

The start of the performance began like the title of the album from which K Records star Maricich drew, The Concussive Caress. Dressed in a striped polo that was too small and jeans that were too big, Maricich stood and played an acoustic guitar in front of a mic planted stage right. With the audience seated at the tables of cavernous Machineworks, she crooned a pretty song in that beguiling voice of hers that has charmed so many of the twee types that buy K Records vinyl. When the song ended, she thanked the audience, explained it was the only song she knew, and walked off the stage. “Play some more!” someone from the audience shouted, and Maricich slouched back on. She stammered that she might be able to remember one more, and we sat in silence waiting with her. Nope. She stepped down from the stage again, fiddled with something in the pit next to it, and then came back up. Maricich then began to tell her story about going to camp, at which point the fuzziness that can accompany a concussion slowly faded. What had appeared to be a performer who had uncomfortably gotten stage fright was actually Maricich playing an awkward young teen. As that realization dawned over the audience, Maricich settled into storytelling punctuated by songs related to her narrative.

It’s safe to assume that attendees of PICA events probably listen to NPR and even Prairie Home Companion, so Maricich had a crowd willing to follow her along. Unfortunately, the path wasn’t always easy to travel. Truck traffic and revelers out for drinks at Machineworks worked against Maricich’s attempts to create the fragile world occupied by her character, an adolescent who hears the sky singing. Evocative images created by Jelly Helms’s advertising students, projected onto large screens at the periphery of the performance, also detracted from Maricich. And then there was Maricich herself, not always enunciating and sometimes mumbling into the mic.

To be fair, some of that was the sound engineer, who should’ve compensated for the outside noise by giving Maricich more juice, but some of it was Maricich. Her music as The Blow has a lo-fi intimacy that’s easy to maintain when it’s just you, her CD, and the bubble of your room on a rainy afternoon. It’s still there in a small club with her fans who’ve memorized The Blow’s lyrics, but the cozy closeness diminishes in a large industrial space filled with people not familiar with the K Records and Olympia, Washington universe from which Maricich hails.

As an artist moving from an underground music scene to a large-scale international arts festival, Maricich showed last night that she still needs to understand the change in the audience for whom she’d like to play. It’s not basement shows and house parties anymore and calling people to dance with her in front of the stage, as Maricich did last night, revealed her misreading of the crowd. Although a handful of people did join her, they looked like friends or fans—certainly people already familiar with her work. Most of the audience stayed seated, and it seemed that Maricich and the dancers were having more fun than their onlookers. Watching them, the description of Maricich’s work by peer and mentor, performance artist and writer Miranda July, came to mind, “Khaela makes more art for her friends than for selling.” An admirable impulse, indeed, but it can have the odd effect of alienating those not within her circle.

Still, Maricich/The Blow displayed enough flashes of what-could-be that expectations for her upcoming show, The Touch Me Feeling, run high. Her interaction with a string from which drawn pictures of ladies and their torsos hung as she narrated her experience with Tom, a character in her story, was particularly compelling. It hinted at the richness that her work might demonstrate when deepened by other media or, at the least, something resembling a set. An older work, Blue Sky vs. Night Sky provided an introduction to the beginnings of a talent from which we can expect greater things.

Catch The Blow at Disjecta (116-120 NE Russell) tonight, and then see Maricich perform more complicated work this weekend. The maturation of this young talent is one to watch.

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