Dark Blue World
At Rime on Friday, June 10
Two guitars, bass, drums, and a charismatic singer who dangles from the mike stand as if it's all that's keeping her from drowning-why is this in the arts section?
Because it's art. And because Elizabeth Fischer is an artist.
A self-taught visionary who started out doing light shows during the psychedelic era and has since moved on into painting and Web-based projects, Fischer has also had a long career in rock 'n' roll, and, somewhat to my surprise, her new band is most definitely a rock band.
Based on its jazz-heavy lineup, and on a demo she recorded over a year ago, I was expecting Dark Blue World to be more of an art-cabaret act, like an amplified Lotte Lenya, or Nick Cave with an Eastern European accent. After all, Tony Wilson and Ron Samworth are the guitarists: Wilson writes beautifully enigmatic chamber music for his eponymous quartet, while Samworth has recently been splitting the difference between improv jazz and contemporary classical music, both with Talking Pictures and on some larger ensemble projects. Drummer Skye Brooks has appeared with the Be Good Tanyas but is more often found playing with avant-jazz bands. Bassist Pete Schmitt might be the ringer: he sounds like a rock musician who's listened to a lot of Jamaican dub. But he also plays-with Brooks, guitarist Dave Sikula, and trumpeter JP Carter-in the Inhabitants, a group with a decidedly improvisational bent.
The bands that Fischer led immediately before forming this new unit tended more toward the cabaret side of things, with an emphasis on the accordion. But there were no accordions audible on Friday night: just some heavy two-guitar action, a lot of rock-steady rhythms, and the leader's well-weathered vocals and angst-dripping lyrics.
So where does the art come into it? Well, to begin with, there's that singing. Like Bob Dylan, Fischer has learned to do a lot with a little: hers is not the most flexible instrument around, but it can range from a macabre growl to a keening shriek, both of which she uses to good effect. She's also adept at unsettling an audience by singing ever so slightly flat, then leaping up an octave. If she were a bell she'd be cracked, but a cracked bell tolling is exactly the sound of imminent doom, and no one does doom like Fischer. Maybe it's that she's Hungarian. Maybe it's that she's the child of Holocaust survivors, and now that they've died she's utterly alone in the world. (Apart from her band, her fans, and her large and irritable dog, of course.) Maybe it's that her apartment looks out over a particularly dreary East Side alleyway.
Whatever the case, her songs are profoundly melancholic, steeped in loss and the impossibility of love. Paradoxically, listening to them tends to produce a lightening of the spirit-which may be because Fischer is only too happy to bear the burden of gloom, at least while she's on-stage. That, too, is an art-and a rare one.