Tin Hat: photo by Peter Gannushkin

Do you ever stop to think about how much your life can change in eight short months? How different it is? Or not?

The reason I bring it up is because it was almost eight months ago to the day I saw Carla Kihlstedt perform for the first time. Now I was heading back to see her again. This time in a different room, but at the same venue. This time with a different set of musicians. And like last time, to hear her perform music inspired by a poet, but this time a different one than the last. It's all different, isn't it? And the Necessary Monsters who haunt me now are different than they were eight months ago, aren't they?

Then why did all of this feel so disturbingly familiar to me?

The answer is because while poets may change, monsters remain the same in their necessity. Treading the same ground once again, I felt like an observer to my doppelganger's life rather than a participant in my own. What I've really become, I'm convinced now, is The Collector- the one who vainly tries to keep all the monsters at bay by organizing them into neatly stacked boxes. But the monsters escaped their boxes this week. One by one, released by my Double, so we could lead parallel and incompatible lives together and remain cruelly apart.


Tin Hat began the first of two sets with "Open His Head," the first of many songs set to the poetry of e.e. cummings from their forthcoming album, due in August. Three songs later, as they were performing "yes is a pleasant country," the structure of these became apparent to me: layers of sound set down in gentle pieces, patterns emerging out of fragments, slowly building until they bloomed into melodies which suited the poetry quite beautifully, and I was captivated by how well the music evoked the tone of cummings' poems. If it took me awhile, that was more likely due to events of the day, not the musicians, all four of whom play expertly within their oddly configured musical quartet: Carla Kihlstedt on violin, Ben Goldberg on assorted clarinets, Mark Orton on guitar, and Rob Reich on accordion or piano.

Then the poetry stopped and the group performed an instrumental featuring Kihlstedt playing a Roma-inflected violin line with Goldberg on what I think was a bass clarinet- I'm not sure I've ever seen such an instrument before. An older instrumental followed, "The Last Cowboy," with Orton plucking out a novelty line on his guitar similar to the one used in Waiting for Guffman in the scene where Lewis Arquette explains Blaine's history before the cast sings the "Stool Boom" song, followed by another song before "Foreign Legion," which Orton said was inspired by fear brought on by watching an Abbott and Costello movie, concluded the first half.

The musicians let Orton assume the duties of "front man", and while there's a certain charm to the idea of using a casual approach to create the impression of we're-all-just-hanging-out-at-home-together vibe, Orton's patter didn't particularly serve the music or his fellow musicians especially well.

The second set began with the 24th of 95 Poems and closed with "sweet spring." In between, something odd must have been happening that I missed, as Kihlstedt remarked that out in the audience "a conflagration" was taking place. I didn't see it, but the second set did have some incredibly sensuous music, and I couldn't help but wonder what it would have sounded like in my apartment, with the light of the bright, full moon shining in through open windows on this cold, crisp night.

On a side note, the same two people who made a hash of the sound for the Sierra Maestra concert in this same location the night before were on the job again, and this time, to my surprise, they filled the room with a warm and beautiful sound. It sounded terrific.

The concert was presented by SFJazz.