Monday, November 12, 2007

Old and cool, new and cool

Today, going to the city, I finally listened to music again after not wanting to disturb the memory of the casual, slightly unplugged Yo La Tengo concert at Mass MoCA Saturday night. Yo La Tengo, who I first heard at Maxwell’s in Hoboken around the time of their inception in 1984, may have the best career of any band—steady and long-lasting—while the music, which runs the gamut from mellow to hard rock, is changing and experimental. They were among the first of the cool indie bands—it’s possible they invented the genre—and are still as cool and indie as ever, with a whole new audience of teenage fans. The opener, however, a Vermont folkie who goes by the name of Dredd Foole, was dread-full (he set himself up for that). His off-key yowling sent me fleeing to the lobby for tea and a very satisfying chocolate mousse. I’ve heard some of the worst openers ever at Mass MoCA, which is sad when you think about how many excellent musicians there are in the area. I also wish they’d give more thought to the music they blast to indicate, along with the house lights, that the show is over—it can be a shock to the system when you’re in a Yo La Tengo haze.

Then today was the last day of the Asian Art Fair. Son Matt has just returned from accompanying his friend, British DJ Adam Freeland, on a tour of China, and reports that Shanghai is the cultural capital of the universe, with architecture that looks like Blade Runner times ten and the most stylishly dressed women anywhere. The Asian Art Fair, a particularly manageable pier show, convinced me that the vogue for Asian, especially Chinese, art is more than a fad. A deft merging of old images and ideas with new sensibilities and media, much of the work was light and—gasp!—aesthetic, compared with Western art, which seems destined to drown in a dreary sea of academic conceptualism.

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