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Review: Joy unfolded on stage at Englert and Blue Moose on Mission Creek Festival’s Saturday night

Floating Points during their Mission Creek Festival set at the Blue Moose Tap House. Saturday, April 8, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

Mission Creek’s offerings last night provided attendees with three presentations of timeless joy.

Laura Gibson provided a stripped down set, with spare chords played on the piano or strummed on the guitar, which nicely offset her jazz-inflected voice. Providing meditations on cars and bodies, stars and trains, she was able to tap into the timelessness of American music. Although she predominantly preferred minor keys, the music led listeners to places of a quiet, wistful anticipation of joy and the rest that is possible at the end of a journey.

Rufus Wainwright also used guitar and piano primarily as a way to punctuate his voice, as a backdrop that would allow its textures to show. The few times when he seemed to unleash his abilities to truly play the instruments were awe-inspiring as an indication of the full capacity of his actual talent.

Rufus Wainright performs at Englert Theatre on the fifth night of the Mission Creek Festival. Saturday, April 8, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

I was neither a fan of Wainwright before the show nor overly familiar with his music. I found his personality as a performer somewhat off-putting, and realized that his style of music was one inflected by the wish-fulfillment that comes in musicals, where life is able to pause to allow a song about minutiae to erupt and interrupt the plot.

Nonetheless, I found myself utterly engrossed in each moment of each song. I have never known that a human being could explode with such texture and such power. Each note unfurled with absolute precision and added a depth to each of the songs whose content, in another context, would not have grabbed my attention. It did not matter whether he sang about cigarettes and chocolate milk, or the sword of Damocles, or a Shakespearean sonnet: His voice demanded my absolute and full attention as it translated the banal into the holy.

Rufus Wainright on stage at Englert Theatre on the fifth night of the Mission Creek Festival. Saturday, April 8, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

Likely because of my bias, I found that I was most enraptured by two covers: Lhasa and Leonard Cohen. These songwriters allowed his voice to express the heights and depths of human suffering beyond the trivialities of everyday life that Wainwright’s music focuses on (and, in truth, it would seem almost overwhelming to conceive of his talent fully unveiled for an entire show).

In the best way, Wainwright made my own preferences for music absolutely irrelevant: Each thrilling intonation, each held note, each sound he made was a miracle made flesh. I know that I would have been less impressed watching him on YouTube: Part of the magic, framed by the excellent lighting and sound at the Englert, was sharing a room with his fans and hearing how his voice could fill and dominate a room until every person was enthralled into silence.

Floating Points closes out day five of the Mission Creek Festival at the Blue Moose Tap House. Saturday, April 8, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

I ended my night at the Blue Moose, listening to Floating Points, one of the bands I was most excited to see, having fallen in love with Elaenia when it was released late in November 2015. It is the brainchild of Sam Shepherd, a neuroscience Ph.D. who brings a precise awareness to his fusion of jazz and electronic music.

I was happy to see that he had a band with him as it added a depth and sense of live collaboration. The improvisational quality of the music was brought to life at one point when the band left Shepherd alone at his console, slowly building a song, and then returned to join him. The audience could see the layers involved in the work of composition as well as the way that the songs changed through collaboration.

Floating Points on stage at the Blue Moose Tap House on the fifth night of the Mission Creek Festival. Saturday, April 8, 2017. — photo by Zak Neumann.

The music itself is an abstract, beautiful soundscape that seems to participate in the Harmony of the Spheres as part of the ballet that planets and comets are attuned to. Just as notable as the music was the light show that remained central to the set: A series of geometric shapes and colors — circles and squares — moved in repeating patterns and loops that were absolutely mesmerizing. The light vibrated almost at the frequency of the deep bass, providing a sense of synesthesia even for my unaltered senses. It was the obverse of the Englert show, but equally compelling in the sense of all engrossing, timeless beauty.

The entirety of the evening confirmed for me the taste and range of the programmers of the Mission Creek festival: Each show on the program features talent that is worth witnessing live, in community.

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