The New York Guitar Festival went off without a hitch this past Thursday night at the Kaufman Center in New York City. In its second week the festival proved to hold its vitality: selling out the Merkin Concert Hall for Steve Kimock and Justin Vernon’s performance of Silent Films/Live Guitars.
This specific performance stood apart from the rest of the three week long festival. Previews speculated that may be because of Justin Vernon and Steve Kimock’s performances. Justin Vernon, as most of contemporary music followers know by now, is the man behind Bon Iver, whose album For Emma Forever Ago garnished respect from the indie-folk world in 2008. Added to that excitement, was Steve Kimock, founder of the San Francisco band Zero and famed for having played alongside some of music’s most recognized guitarists as Bruce Hornsby and The Grateful Dead.
It seemed both performers were offered a +1 for the evening’s scores. Justin Vernon was accompanied by his band mate from Volcano Choir and long time friend Chris Rosenau. Chris Rosenau has been referred to by Justin as his “guitar mentor”, rightfully so; Chris’s participation in his band Collections of Colonies of Bees proves his dubbed title.
Steve Kimock kept it in the family, performing with his son John Morgan Kimock. John played the drums right alongside his father for the whimsical score set to Buster Keaton’s Cops.
The show began shortly after 8 p.m.; John Schaefer (WNYC’s New Sounds presenter) set the tone, approaching the stage in jeans and with a bountiful smile. He announced Steve Kimock’s legacy and scurried through the small talk. Steve Kimock and his youthful son quickly began. The movie scrolled onto the screen; Steve and John scored Buster Keaton’s Cops with fragility and euphemism. The movie, a short one, spanning only 18 minutes, which one would imagine for the musicians is quite a long time. That certainly tops “Free Bird” for time played straight through on one song!
The Kimock’s thanked the audience and then was relieved by Chris Rosenau and Justin Vernon. Rosenau, a guitar perfectionist, made absolutely sure all his guitars were in perfect tune. Even making a verbal note, that he had tuned that same guitar multiple times through the day; it had to be just right. Once the motions came indicating both musicians were in tune and ready to rock — the first movie began, Easy Street.
This performance was different. It wasn’t just a concert. I say that in part to the collaboration of its entire meaning, Silent Films/Live Guitars. Charlie Chaplin’s films have never before produced to an audience with music of this caliber. So to witness such scenes from 1917, filmed in the poorest, most desolate area’s of town,really began to put the movie into more of a dramatic perspective. Chaplin’s shtick is comedy, that is how he is foremost remembered. But what I feel not many understand is the seriousness being portrayed through these films. I feel the scores written for these performances, brought out the emotion ultimately through the music.
These films, once most utterly one dimensional, are now breathing, causing laughter and soliciting nostalgia at its best. The final movie Vernon and Rosenau performed to was One A.M., unto which Justin Vernon upon trying to briefly describe its synopsis, simply said “Not unlike many nights we’ve known, you’ll see…”
The film spanned 34 minutes of Charlie Chaplin almost entirely solo, in a room of malevolent props from which his inebriation keep him nomadically arguing with.
Quirky and comical the scores set to each of these films were as majestic and unique as promised. The dignity that has been portrayed through these performances set to Charlie Chaplin’s classic films will be as time-honored as the films themselves.
I did get a wonderful chance to sit down and chat with Chris Rosenau about the New York Guitar Festival prior to their performance Thursday night:
How did the opportunity to play New York Guitar Festival come to you? Was it first approached to Justin Vernon and he invited you along?
Yes that’s exactly how it came about actually! They approached him almost a year ago. He wasn’t super into the idea of doing it himself, but he really thought it would be fun to do with someone, so he emailed me right away and asked if I’d be into it. Of course, I was. We super into the idea, and this was right before we started watching Charlie Chaplin movies, like assuming that it would be really easy to do, and it turned out to be not very easy.
The influence of instrumentals is popularly evident throughout both you and Justin’s music, both with Volcano Choir and Collection of Colonies of Bees. So it would seem that an opportunity like this Silent Films/Live Guitars is absolutely perfect for the both of you.
I think conceptually it was to me as it is to him. There was a matter of three months in there when the both of us were like pulling our hair out, thinking, like what the hell have we gotten ourselves into.
Now it states that Justin Vernon refers to you as his “Guitar Mentor.” How did that come about?
Ya know, I have no idea, I know Justin, and we kind of met because his former band DeYarmond Edison was really into a record that my band Collections of Colonies of Bees had done called Customer, and I know those guys were just bananas for that record for whatever reason. He digs the way that I play and it’s just really nice that he calls me that. I am super flattered, and I don’t know that many people know this about him, because For Emma is genius but it doesn’t have a lot of technical guitar stuff on it, or whatever you want to call it, ya know what I mean?
Right it’s very simple.
It’s misleadingly simple, and there are a lot of complex things going on with melodies, and he’s really just an amazing guitar player.
The New York Guitar Festival and its performers were most spectacular and certainly respected for this wonderful presentation. David Spelman, curator of the Festival deserves many thanks for the creativity and talent that has brought about such a historical performance.
*Images by Greg Notch