Saariselka+Golden Retriever at The Old Church & Marisa Anderson+William Tyler at Mississippi Studios
Finally, a concert review!
It's been just about nineteen months since I wrote about Fennesz blowing out the Holocene sound system right before everything shut down. And while I did catch a couple of small outdoor performances this past summer, it felt right to wait until this epic weekend of back-to-back tickets to publish a full write-up here on DC. Just as I had hoped, both shows were fantastic, and though attendees were masked (thank goodness), I can say with a fair amount of confidence that we were all beaming, ecstatic to be witnessing live music after such a long drought.
On Saturday night, Saariselka and Golden Retriever, two instrumental duos, played The Old Church - a beautiful downtown venue in built in 1882 known for its diverse bookings, pew-filled sanctuary, and massive pipe organ. Marielle Jakobsons and Chuck Johnson kicked things off with two longform constructions, layering synth, pedal steel, and various treatments to create swirling sonic blends. Jakobsons laid the groundwork to open both pieces with organ tones first and vibraphone next. As she looped her melodies, Johnson's strings wailed overtop, recalling the sorrowful notes he struck earlier this year on The Cinder Grove. Their playing felt so deeply connected, and it was a privilege to witness the two artists create gorgeous soundscapes together.
Saariselka at The Old Church
After a brief intermission, Golden Retriever took the stage. Jonathan Sielaff and Matt Carlson opened with a twitching jam which blended swelling bass clarinet, piano bursts, and warbly electronics. It was quite a lively change of pace after Saariselka's restful set. They then dropped into an extended interlude with dawn chorus birdsong tracking a brightly lit backdrop. But the highlight of the night was Golden Retriever's closing piece. Sielaff looped his clarinet and Carlson constructed an increasingly intricate electronic collage, and together they reached a euphoric sonic apex before dissolving the melody into a distorted wash. It was absolutely magical. And as an added bonus, Chuck Johnson joined for the encore, transforming the duo into a trio for a final, cacophonous racket, albeit a beautiful one.
Golden Retriever at The Old Church
Overall, the evening was just so special - a first night back out for so many folks. My partner told me that when she was waiting in line for the restroom, a stranger struck up a conversation with her, repeating over and over again how in love she was with this music and the space - a pretty perfect summation of what we all felt.
The following evening I made the trek up to Mississippi Studios to catch Marisa Anderson and William Tyler play cuts from their just-released collaborative album, Lost Futures. I brought an out-of-town guest and missed the opener, unfortunately, and also spent the evening standing behind a real Tall-y McTallerson, but still witnessed some amazing guitar virtuosity. No pictures for this one due to my spot on the floor, but plenty of words to share!
The duo opened with Hurricane Light, and afterwards, Anderson explained that they wrote and recorded that specific track in Portland just about a year ago as the Pacific Northwest was burning. The song's title references the heavy red sky during those days, and the audience murmured collectively, recalling that terrible time. But despite dark song titles, the musicians' playing was often light, and their stage banter was endearingly silly. They talked about "lost futures" - paths that could have been traveled, or may yet still be, Tyler sharing that he would live as an AM radio personality in another life. While the artists' guitarwork was the main attraction for sure, their playful conversation between songs was another highlight.
About halfway through Anderson and Tyler's set, they launched into Haunted By Water - an open-tuned southern rock jam with noisy breakdowns. The track is my personal favorite on Lost Futures, and the two crushed it. They then carried that momentum across the remainder of the set, which was absolutely spectacular. Joined by a string accompanist as well as a quijada player, the foursome (and briefly five-some when Tucker Martine added extra percussion) ripped through At the Edge of the World and Something Will Come. Both were high energy and high volume - maximalist climaxes before a softer acoustic send-off.
I've seen both Anderson and Tyler perform solo a number of times, but it was a joy to see them work together - two true masters of their craft. And I just now realized that the last show I caught at Mississippi before lockdown was a Joan Shelley + Nathan Salsburg acoustic duo set. I suppose the venue knows how to book great musical partnerships, and I hope it won't be another two-year wait before my next visit.
No show photos, but a promotional side-by-side instead.