Sheltered by the dungeon like walls of the Astoria Pub, a night of experience approached me. The 22nd art rock? event, coincidentally scheduled on the 22nd day of the month, could only mean one thing: double the art and double the rock.
As small crowds lingered throughout the bar, sipping four dollar lagers, the artists leisurely set up and sound checked. Although it was well past the scheduled start time, everything was moving in a slow Tuesday lull.
So I was caught off guard when Bono Contest had started their performance, absent of any formal introduction. A large branch from a deciduous tree laid across the laser-lit, black and white checkerboard floor, simulating the divide between the audience and the performers. The two members of Bono Contest were separate from each other, both crouched down near the floor where two microphones hung facing the ground. An arrangement of peculiar objects (many were children’s toys), surrounded them. As the performers utilized feedback from the microphones as an eery aesthetic, a recording of what sounded like carnival music played in the background. The crowd silently observed the vulnerable chaos that unraveled, as the artists remained entranced in their beautifully horrific performance.
Puzzlehead’s set started shortly after, contrasting the room’s atmosphere from a wired and stimulated state, into a space-rock dream. Their smooth, yet repetitive riffs brought the audience into a motionless trance, as green laser lights exploded symmetrically, like gentle little atom bombs, against the lead guitarist/vocalist’s emotionless face. All was calm, but we were still in space.
Once the Atlanteans mounted the stage, it was debatable where their sound check ended and their improvisational performance began. It became quite clear, after a while, that the band had officially started, as the steady synthesized beats and rapid, sporadic drumming kept the eager audience mentally stimulated. The instruments varied from guitar to saxophone, while the muffled and inconsistent vocals conversed with the continuous yet unpredictable drumming. The Atlanteans took the audience on a trip with no given destination, which forced those experiencing it to be present, as they could never be too sure what is coming next.
The last performance of the night was Smoker. The casual two person duo positioned their set at a bar table, amongst the sparse but dedicated crowd who sat in chairs less than two feet away. The two members of Smoker sat beside a sound mixer and a tape player, wearing sunglasses and nonchalantly sipping PBR.
Their relaxed nature extended through their karaoke-like performance, as they stomped around the room, throwing cans and kicking chairs. The line between art and comedy was perceivably blurred, as the existent societal laws of performance became more strange and questionable than the performance itself. Art rock? No. 22 created a space where the notions of art and music were tested, to a point where both become unclear and indefinable.