Sunday, August 16, 2009

Show Review: Brooklyn Steppers and High Places at It Came From Brooklyn

Fifth Avenue's Museum Mile is less than a half hour by subway from Borough Hall, but to invoke the time-honored wisdom of Neil Young, it's a "million miles away" culturally. Yes, Chuck Close's more enduring works and Warhol's Mao portrait may be enshrined in the Met; yes, Nicky Siano played some shindig at the Cooper-Hewitt last year; yes, Ratatat performed at the Guggenheim as early as three years ago. But for the majority of stodgy (and not-so-stodgy) Upper East Siders, the Brooklyn arts renaissance is redolent of the same exotica that once permeated the SoHo and East Village scenes in earlier decades. Rather than gradually ingratiating the two disparate entities through the usual means of avarice and acquisition, former gallery owner and current Guggenheim special events coordinator Bronwyn Keegan came up with the brilliant idea of bringing Brooklyn's best writers and musicians to the Guggenheim itself. The result is the It Came From Brooklyn series, which kicked off on Friday with performances by an eclectic variety of local talents.

After a deliriously smarmy comedy set from former Saturday Night Live writer (and Brooklyn resident) Leo Allen, Bed-Stuy's own Brooklyn Steppers dazzled the audience with a medley of popular songs and intricate drum solos. Although the audience seemed to initially treat the ensemble with an air of blaseness -- it's a marching band, after all -- the prodigiously talented Steppers (some musicians are still in grade school) transcended the usual drumline theatrics and the venue's poor acoustics. By the end of their twenty minute set, nearly every member of the crowd was hollering with rapturous glee, a testament to their burgeoning talents. If a local Lindsay Buckingham is looking to spruce up his arrangements, look no further.

With an arsenal heavily dependent "layered recordings, improvised loops, and percussion," fellow Bed-Stuyers High Places were ideal for this type of event -- their lilting music does not require immediate attention, but such focus hardly detracts from appreciating them. Vocalist Mary Pearson's funereal bassoon playing recalled the postminimal stylings of trombonist Peter Zummo and multi-instrumentalist Jon Gibson, while knob-turner Rob Barber seemed to be in awe of his surroundings, thanking the audience on several occassions and citing the Brooklyn Steppers as "the best openers they've ever had." While their twisted, amelodic sounds may not be for everyone, the group is well on their way to cementing their place on the vanguard of the Brooklyn scene.

Overall, It Came From Brooklyn was a testament to how far our borough has come as an arts mecca over the past decade. I -- and, quite likely, many others -- eagerly anticipate attending September's show.

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