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Flying Neutrinos and Picket Lines: Shara Worden at SPCO

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, filmmaker and writer Justin Schell shares his perspective on Tuesday’s concert by Shara Worden. Agree or disagree? […]

Photo by Murat Eyuboglu

Photo by Murat Eyuboglu

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, filmmaker and writer Justin Schell shares his perspective on Tuesday’s concert by Shara Worden. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

Shara Worden has a voice that doesn’t seem like it should emanate from the body it’s housed in. Or perhaps it’s the other way around: her body can’t contain her voice. Worden and drummer Brian Wolfe played an hour long My Brightest Diamond set for a crowd gathered at the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s music room, a crowd that expected to hear yMusic along with Worden. Due to the ongoing labor dispute between the SPCO and the orchestra’s management, however, yMusic was unable to perform because of union solidarity or union obstructionism, depending on your point of view.

Dressed in a white tuxedo coat, sequined black pants, and oversized bow tie, Worden cut an amalgamated figure: shades of Annie Lennox, Brian Setzer, Pee Wee Herman, and Stop Making Sense all were visible. There were so many different feels and characters to the songs, often played on different instruments (ranging from mbira to autoharp to ukulele), that it verged on performative, yet superficial, pastiche.  The best moments for me were when she was more personal than persona, such as in “I Have Never Loved Someone,” an intimate love song to her two-year old son played delicately on the SPCO’s organ.

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Photo by Denny Renshaw

Beyond the songs, though, the “off-stage story,” the locked-out SPCO musicians  and their effect on the concert tonight, gave the evening an element of cognitive dissonance for me. “We Added It Up,” a song ostensibly about relationship opposites told through the zero-charge neutrino particle, rang a little hollow. Having her channel Cardew or Rzewski would’ve rang equally hollow, though. In the end, the concert was a somewhat rare instance when the labor involved in music-making is revealed, the financial and negotiated realities that get people to the stage placed front and center. Worden’s music often invoked transcendence, whether it be through her music, her words, or her other-worldly voice, effortlessly flicking to notes far above the staff, but tonight, that transcendent quality brought the issues of the musical world all the more sharply into focus.