It was a wonderfully strange and utterly captivating evening, to be sure. Describing it, however, is more than a bit challenging…
A musical episode of “Twilight Zone”?
An animal opera by the Incredible String Band?
A surreal mash-up of Charlie Chaplin and Cirque du Soleil?
Yes, C. Ryder Cooley’s latest performance opus “Xmalia: Songs About Extinction” is all of those things. And none of them.
The evening began with a mood-setting prelude – a short, contemplative set of acoustic music by Rob Caldwell (of Musica) on hurdy gurdy and Japanese singer-songwriter Yukari Roja on acoustic guitar and vocals.
Then “Xmalia”… From the program notes: “A train headed toward the city doesn’t stop. A traveling musician discovers the train is strangely empty. When it finally stops, she deboards to find herself in an abandoned town filled with the graves of extinct animals. She finds a shack to stay in and writes a song.”
It’s as apt a summary of the evening as any…
The 70-minute performance piece was part concert, part theater, incorporating haunting black and white video, taxidermy, trapeze work and other aerials, as Cooley sang a song-cycle that conjured up a half-dozen animals – from the Xerces butterfly to the Tasmanian tiger to the Dodo – who have disappeared from the face of the planet over the past 300 years.
Cooley accompanied herself on ukulele, singing saw and during the wry “Graveyard Cabaret” even kazoo, while the band – bassist Pete Toigo, banjoist-keyboardist Todd Chandler, drummer Lauren Schaeffer and occasionally Lady Moon on vocals and autoharp – added additional moody, musical support.
Having seen solo excerpts from the performance at Hudson’s (Hi)story Labor(atory) back in March (read review here), I was somewhat familiar with the music, but it in no way way prepared me for the rich, multi-leveled, full-scale performance of “Xmalia.”
Do not miss it when Cooley brings “Xmalia” to Proctors in Schenectady next month…
C. Ryder Cooley will perform musical selections from “Xmalia” at 11pm on Thursday, June 23 and Saturday, June 25 at 18 Holden St., North Adams as part of the DownStreet Art Project. The next full-scale performance of “Xmalia” will take place at Proctors in Schenectady at 7pm on Friday, July 15, in conjunction with Art Night Schenectady. Admission to all three upcoming performances is free.