Which is a shame, really, since they’re one of the best damn classical groups in the country and yet they insist on being called.. . ugh. . . can’t do it. . .. eighth blackbird. For reasons too long to get into here, I’ll allow the privilege of decapitalization to fIREHOSE, but not to Eighth Blackbird; I will, however, say that they were great at the Healdsburg Community Church last week.
It takes a lot to get me inside a church on any day of the week—let alone a Sunday. I suppose some free Tanqueray and J.M. Rosen’s cheesecake at a party hosted by MF Doom with a Susan Hayward look-alike contest and the complete works of Joan Miró on display might do the trick. Either that, or a performance hosted by the fantastic Russian River Chamber Music Society, which for over 16 years has been presenting free chamber music performances in Sonoma County, taking a close second.
So after a visit to the Great Eastern Quicksilver Mine and a dip in the river at Camp Rose, I did the unthinkable and went to church. Eighth Blackbird was just starting, and I immediately realized I’d made the right choice. Their first piece was a wacky thing for violin, clarinet, and piano, and it was both painstakingly precise and yet totally off-the-cuff; the fourth movement, fittingly, was titled after an R. Crumb comic: “Cancel my rumba lesson!”
The next piece utilized a de-tuned viola growling like a UPS truck, and after that, a composition, “Musique de Tables,” was played completely by the rapping of hands, fingers, knuckles and arms upon a tabletop. “Coming Together” was a hilarious duo for cello and clarinet consisting entirely of glissandi, sounding, as introduced, like a conversation between two adults from the Peanuts television specials—the two players wandered around the room, “talking” to each other in a very convincing primal dialogue. And the final piece was pure insanity, another highly complex thing that left me wondering: how do they rehearse this stuff?
Here’s the deal with Eighth Blackbird. What they do, they could be hella pretensh about it, but they’re not; they laughed along with the crowd at the ridiculous moments, they concentrated along with the crowd at the complicated passages, and they came off as very personable and real. The next day I read a tepid review in the Chronicle about ‘em, which was too bad, because I couldn’t see anyone disliking them based on the Healdsburg show. [alas, they played a completely different program.]
Avant-garde music is usually the province of middle-aged intellectuals, but I’d wager to say that any 5-year old—or anyone with an open heart of any age—would easily be ecstatic with Eighth Blackbird. And to think that every composition they performed was written no earlier than 1987! Consider yourself lucky if you were there, and thanks to Gary McLaughlin and the RRCMS for booking ‘em.