At a time when the US is hated around the world, we should be giving a big, sloppy freedom kiss to anyone who's willing to cross oceans to perform for us. If simple horizon-broadening isn't incentive enough, the NYC new music audience should make a point of turning out in the name of international relations.
Which is why The Squid was so disheartened at the recent After Yodel festival at Tonic. For eight nights, more than a dozen of Switzerland's finest and most unusual played primarily for each other. Certainly in the land of the free we get to pick the bands we'd like to see or, if we'd rather, go to the movies or to see Mamma Mia on Broadway, but it was downright embarrassing to watch night after night of diverse and captivating performances, knowing that less than a dozen people had deemed it worth a listen (even at four-acts-for-$12 rock club prices).
The Squid can imagine a variety of reasons for the sparse attendance: the war, the economy, the war. But in a shameful display of continental hubris, the house was packed during a one-night break in the fest for the ever-popular Instant Composers Pool. While Mengelberg & Co. certainly deserve the reception, there were plenty of Europeans in town that week in March equally deserving of attention. The one night that did attract an SRO crowd was the final night of the fest, when Lawrence D. "Butch" Morris led the contingent in one of his conductions. Seeing Morris is certainly not a rare opportunity in New York, at least in the last couple years, but at least the Swiss were finally heard. (Perhaps the conduction should have been the first night of the fest, serving to introduce the visitors to an audience while there was still time to get to know them.)
As a result, the avant cognescenti missed the chance to see the massive pianist Jacques Demmiere, the charmingly eccentric vocalist Dorothea Scharch, electrowizard Günther Müller and the power trio Koch-Schütz- Studer, to name just a few.
While perhaps this seems a petty proselytization, for the "downtown" scene to thrive into the current century and as the original stars of the old Knitting Factory approach AARP age, the New York audience has to support young players and out-of-town visitors. It should be a point of pride that, when someone comes to New York City, they get an attentive, receptive throng. So next time you see a listing for someone from Senegal or Montreal, or Finland, Greenland or Cleveland, performing at one of the city's venerable halls or watering holes, give them a chance, and a better story to go home with.
See The Squid's Ear review of the After Yodel festival.