Ransom Notes

It looked good on paper. Argentinean-born, Cologne-based composer Mauricio Kagel imagines a situation in which two-thirds of an orchestra and chorus are taken hostage in the very concert hall where they are about to perform. Yet the show goes on, while the conductor directs the remaining musicians and conducts negotiations with the offstage kidnapper via onstage telephone. Kidnapping in the Concert Hall, which had its U.S premiere at Carnegie Hall on Saturday night, promised to be the next best thing to thriller opera, rife with humor and danger. Instead the audience fell captive to a dull, pointless evening.

What went wrong? Not the musicians—the Schoenberg Ensemble and Netherlands Chamber Choir are pitch-perfect, and Reinbert De Leeuw is a stunningly solid conductor. And not the music itself—Kagel spins out one gorgeous texture after another. Except that it’s the wrong music. Kagel resurrects a cantata he never quite realized; this is the work that is supposed to be sabotaged before our ears and eyes. But we have no way of knowing the piece beforehand, so we don’t hear how it’s crippled and traumatized by the missing performers. Wouldn’t it have been better to use, say, Mozart’s Requiem, and play postmodern musical games with a well-known piece?

The other major problem is lame dramatic structure. The numerous phone calls from the kidnapper are all taped, and the dopey script is delivered with all the expressiveness and spontaneity of a lead block. Kagel as a stage director does nothing with the chorus, nothing with the empty chairs, nothing with the space. And what’s happening is unconvincing from the get-go—we never find out what the bad guys want and why they’re there, or why the performance even goes on. Ridiculous without being sublime, Kidnapping should have been scrapped, or at least completely overhauled, after its European world premiere. —Robert Hilferty

Shy Fidelity

Comparisons with Stereolab have interfered with Broadcast’s signal since their first single in 1996, but while the ‘lab are the hosts, DJs, caterers, and tipsy instigators of the space-age batchelor fete, Birmingham’s Broadcast are the bashful kids hanging by the snack table. “Come On Let’s Go,” the fizziest track on their first LP proper, The Noise Made by People, would seem an ecstatic endorsement of Laetitia’s sage cry for “lucid drunkenness”—the song skips along on moon-surface gravity, buoyed by Steve Perkins’s ebullient drum flourishes, the woozy, theremin-like surge of Roj Stevens’s keyboards, and Trish Keenan’s Sadier-but-sadder enunciations. But: “It’s hard to tell who’s real in here,” Keenan whispers to her companion as they mill about some retro-futurist pad. So they split, shrugging, “What’s the point in wasting time on people that you’ll never know?”

That sentiment felt mutual on November 14, when a tightly packed Irving Plaza audience waiting for the Sea and Cake couldn’t muster much feedback for Broadcast’s heads-down noodlings—even for their strobe-punctuated finale, a meteor shower of colliding and cohering frequencies. Keenan often turned her back to the crowd, furiously shaking inaudible maracas and speaking two words in total (“Thank you”). She shares Sarah Cracknell’s concern with deconstructing party-prep time, sitting idly at the “Unchanging Window” when she’s supposed to be primping, feeling the wind on her face and dreaming of Robert Moog. Maybe Broadcast are better suited to headphone solitude than the big gestures asked by the stage: They insinuate the melancholic sweet release of ducking out of the party to head for the rooftop, where you gaze up at the milky night and hum a solitary song of only-disconnect. —Jessica Winter

Value Added

“Oh, thas my song. Lemme hurry back and get my money’s worth,” said she with glossy lips, preening in the Apollo’s bathroom mirror. At 60 bucks a ticket, I can appreciate value, but I had to laugh as she and her friend rushed out, gushing about how Jigga looked onstage.

The “Between South and the East” show was titillating enough, each performer equipped with a large single on radio. Saturday night was populated by hip-hop’s original fan base (read: working-class inner-city dwellas) and as such, we endured the routine, dutifully taking our “hats and doo-rags off” before being searched. But you knew you was home when the bar ran out of Hennessy AND Remy barely an hour into the show.

The local boys from Vacant Lot, must’ve had all of Lenox Avenue onstage; Ludacris handled himself well even when the sound went out (this IS a hip-hop show). Then Memphis Bleek, the pretty boy-wonder from the Roc-a-fella roster, took to the stage; I was perplexed at the cheers until I looked up to see Jay-Z. The crowd went wild as Bleek was reduced to doin’ the chorus of “I Just Wanna Love U,” arguably a classic in the vein of hip-hop’s heyday (’85-’90).

Like their minimalist set of street signs and lights, M.O.P. offered no pretense or frills, just caps and gold fronts—pure soul from the heart. Between “Ante Up” and “How About Some Hardcore” the Apollo crowd flooded the aisles, a sea of intoxicated spirit. The headliner, Mystikal, finished up with a Tasmanian brew of James Brown, Jamaica, and that country sex appeal. Yes, I’m biased, so this one goes to the East (Jigga and M.O.P. tipping the scales), but “Danger” and “Shake Ya Ass” gave the South a strong second. So even without our beloved cognac, we still shook our ass right out into that cold-as-ice winter night. —Angela Bronner

Archive Highlights