Show Review: Andrew W.K. & Calder Quartet at Swedish American Hall, 10/7/09

by Gordon Elgart on October 8, 2009

Andrew W.K.'s back (in San Francisco)

Andrew W.K.'s back (in San Francisco)

The Swedish American Hall was host tonight to an experiment in both performance and audience, as Andrew W.K. brought Calder Quartet with him on a small tour to promote an album of piano improvisations called Cadillac 55. Standing outside the hall waiting on some friends, I watched the crowd go in. First, I saw some former meatheads who made up much of Andrew W.K.’s audience during his major label days. Then I saw a large group of senior citizens go in, having come to see the Calder Quartet, who are a reknowned classical group. And of course, there was a large music nerd contingent. So how would all of this mix?

We were handed programs as we walked in the door, much like we would at a classical show. I peered down the songlist. It starts with Bach and ends with John Cage’s 4’33”. In the middle is a selection of 20th century experimental classical, featuring Philip Glass and Christine Southworth. There’s also due to be a small selection of Andrew W.K. originals, including a song called “Dance Party,” which I hoped to participate in.

Talking

Andrew W.K. ran on stage and began playing some Bach accompanied only by cello. Then the Bach stopped, and the Fred Frith started. Other string instruments began ringing out throughout the hall, as AWK feigned surprise. This made up the entrance for the entire quartet, and the group on stage was complete. Then AWK sat at the piano and watched the quartet plow through “Interface” by Tristan Perich.

Finally, after riotous applause, Andrew W.K. thanked us all for coming before launching into an improvisational piece. This was piano accompanied by coughing, which led to more coughing, and finally Andrew was tossing himself around the stage, knocking his microphone stand askew as his coughing fit led him astray before he returned to the piano, accompanied only by the audience’s cheering, to finish off this improvisation.

Improv

The first half of the show ended with Christine Southworth’s “Honey Flyers” which consisted mainly of AWK watching the Calder Quartet be awesome.  (You can ever hear them be awesome on the composer’s website.)  Truly, this piece was mainly there so that Calder Quartet could show off.  In fact, I had the thought during this particular part of the show that Andrew W.K. was doing this event so that he could show off the greatness of the Calder Quartet.  Then we had intermission.

When we came back from intermission, Andrew W.K. did a little bit of talking about the greatness of San Francisco.  He also discussed how weird it is to have an intermission because they don’t do that in rock shows.  (He’s never seen Phish I guess.)  He said that he then needed to go right back to square one, and then he wanted to take it to square thirteen.  At this point, someone in the audience yelled out, “that’s my favorite square!”  Andrew W.K. gave him the look pictured below, paused, and said, “then we’ll go on to square fourteen now.”  Laughter followed.

Square 13

The music started back up with a Philip Glass piece played by the Calder Quartet.  Andrew W.K. joined with an improvisation, and then segued right into a composed melody played along with the quartet.  It was a beautiful piece of music, and it was one of those “wow this guy can really play” moments.  That what happened next fit into the musical structure of the night perfectly is something like a miracle.

A slow bluesy version of “I Get Wet” followed to kick off the set of modern classical music written by Andrew W.K.  At this point, the crowd let loose and began to shout.  The cries of “I GET WET!” got louder and louder throughout the song, when the reins were finally off.  The illusion of a concert of classical music was over, and a rock show was about to break out.  When he jumped into “Party Hard,” still accompanied by the string quartet, it was on.

Long Live the Party

It was a magical moment, these four Andrew W.K. rock songs.  It made everyone there remember, in case they had forgotten, that he has written one of the best rock albums ever.  That it fits musically with a program that comprised mainly modern experimental compositions is astounding.  It was clear to me at this point; I really missed Andrew W.K.  It is nice to have him back.

But before the night was through, they played one more piece, the John Cage classic 4’33”.  In case you don’t know what this piece is, I won’t spoil it for you, but the audience reaction to it is always something to see.  Oftentimes there will be silent, rapt attention; other times, there will be riotous cheering and clapping along.  Tonight was something like trying to keep quiet in study hall, as some people found a way to insert some jokes, and others sat back and smiled.

I played fanboy afterward and hung out for an hour to talk to Andrew for a few minutes.  He talked of bad part time jobs and great music and t-shirts and weddings, and well, if you’ve never hung out to talk to him after one of his shows, you’re missing out on a huge part of the fun.  It’s almost more fun to wait and listen to what he says to everyone else than it is to get your turn in a hurry. Take advantage of this if you have the chance to see him soon.

I’m calling this experiment a huge success.

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Here’s the program they handed out at the show:

ProgramFix

Gordon Elgart

A music nerd who probably uses that term too much. I have a deep love for bombastic, quirky and dynamic music.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben October 9, 2009 at 12:13 pm

So what's the deal, has he given up on heavy metal dance music or something?

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Alan October 11, 2009 at 5:23 pm

Andrew WK, Slim's, 11/12/2002. Friend had an interview on his bus and I sat in on it. It lasted like 90 minutes! We ran out of tape to record on, and the guy doesn't shut up LOL. You should see the poster he signed for me…

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