Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Profile Draft #3: Louie's

It’s 8:24 p.m. at Louie’s Trophy House on North Street and the north side of Kalamazoo, and I’m waiting for Arrington De Dionyso, and his band Malaikat dan Singa, amidst the stuffed Bison battling plasticized wolves that give the bar its name. Taxidermied animals roam in wild, immobile packs amidst local art on sale that have quasi-philosophical titles like “Letting Go” ($100) and “Where or When” ($100) which vary from blue black plaid paint blocks to chicken-scratch on a barely brushed with pink canvas.

The playbill and the Facebook event advertised the show starting at 8:30 p.m., but the factory-style and studio strip lighting illuminates an empty laminate dance floor and opening band still in the process of warming up.

Generals gathered in their masses!” Ike Turner spits out from behind his trap kit. Turner is getting to become a fogey in the music scene; his bandmates are also Kalamazoo forevers. He’s a drummer that’s been around for almost two decades in the Kalamazoo area, playing for local punk-legends Minutes. He has a wee, golden haired daughter who usually accompanies him to shows but she isn’t here tonight.

“But in live versions he changes it,” he announces to his the rest of his current band, Brown Company, who are warming up their noise jams by tweaking with theremins and their guitars’ distortion pedals.

“Like, he says, witches and their asses or something like that,” he continues.

Bo Tyler boogies the sound-board operator dance back and forth from the stage and his booth, gliding across the stage and spinning around drum kits or keyboards to lay XLR cables or microphones. His real name is Daniel, but everyone calls him Bo because phone calls coming for his father got confusing. His new-haircut that looks like curly bird wings extending from his horned rimmed, tortoise shell glasses bounces along as he zooms about.

“I’m so fucking excited,” a tall black guy says as he emerges from the kitchen.

“I’m trying to get whatever energy I have left and I am putting it into this,” Bo responds, pausing one moment from his dervish.

While Bo is ecstatic, I’m worried Malaikat Dan Singa, or more specifically Arrington, isn’t going to show. I was supposed to meet De Dionyso for an hour before the gig, something we had set-up almost on the first fever night of spring, April 30th, though that was difficult on its own. It was late, 11 p.m. and he was in Kansas City.

Getting ahold of Arrington is difficult. We had to prepare everything via email beforehand because he was halfway through his tour from Olympia, Washington which had started April 4th, and his phone didn’t have any minutes, so I had to text him he could call me through a Google number which he eventually emailed me the info for anyway.

“I’m not sure I understand the question,” was repeated a few times in response to yawns. I had no questions prepared and this was their only break before heading to their next show early in the morning, so I recycled the typical musician type things to say.

“Um, what’s it like being on tour?”

“It feels great, I love making music, love being on tour, love making art, with anyone interested.”

And stuff like that.

He tells me about the unusual places he’s played either with his old band on K Records that brought him to notoriety, Old Time Relijun, or his current project Malaikat dan Singa. Arrington has played anywhere from concert halls, to living rooms, to castles, to boxing rings. One time he played an 11 minute song in a train tunnel for French independent filmmaker Vincent Moon’s series Take Away Sessions.

I was dozing off. Arrington’s voice is passive, calm, and pensive--Egyptian cotton soaked in warm water, from all the matte tea he drinks. When not on stage or in the recording booth, Arrington has a black, palm sized earthenware bowl with a flat, metal straw that he carries around with him so he can rest his voice. Indonesian throat singing requires a singer to oil up their throat whenever it isn’t in use. He was wide awake, and his voice was putting me to sleep.

I asked him about why he is so serious about his recording process and the upcoming show in Kalamazoo.

“Well, in recording you are capturing a single moment in time. You are also creating something that can be listened to over and over again--recording is an art form, performing is an art form, they are similar in many regards, you know.”

I perked up, adjusted the cell-phone and peeled it from my hairy cheek, sweaty from the late night humidity and overused LCD screen. He goes on and on, digressing about the nature, the philosophy of his performance.

“Performance is about channeling spirit that is going into filling up the space in the moment, hoping to reach the people in the audience: dancing, moving, what have you. With the recording you want to create something you are going to listen to over and over again.

“I hear these things in my head, and maybe different things I have heard over the year, reformulated in a different context. There is an underlying communication that goes behind that sound.

De Dionyso spoke kind of like—or at least I imagine like--his parents, two urban ministers who were active in Spokane, Washington,  “the place that the David Lynch movie Blue Velvet is supposed to be about” he mentioned. His words linger with authority and intelligence—with pensive pondering. His parents  “had lots of books at their house--on politics and religion and art” His mother worked in the Peace Core in El Salvador, which the sort of spacey staring at the clouds kind of character Arrington inhabits now seems to have been birthed from.

Off stage he is more like a theologian though, stuck with indifference and references cultural or philosophical meanderings--Carl Jung and Walt Whitman casually popping in conversation as references to his music or lifestyle. He went on.

“Spokane tended to be monocultural, boring people who weren’t really like pursuing things with their minds. It’d be weird if you ran into anyone that knew who Jean Jacques Rousseau was, they’d be like ‘Jean Jacques Rousseau was, that’s like communist stuff, right?’” Spoken is where Arrington is from. It’s like Spokane packed up the little boy Arrington into too small a box, and once someone cranks him up for conversation this musician, artists, throat singer, intellectual pops out forever, and goes on and on and on...

“It’s this sort of like, this, uncontrollable joy of being alive, being a spirit that lives inside a body and celebrating that, that...immense joy and terror that is all wrapped up into that thing we call life. And singing about that can be fun.

“I like it to be as fun to watch as it is to listen to, but if it is too bright people feel too self-conscious.

“Anytime is a good time to dance.

“I dunno.”

Our conversation fizzles out as it approaches midnight and we make plans to go out for beers and a tour of Kalamazoo's foodstuffs before his show next Sunday, May 5th.

I actually listen to some of his music--and that video by Vincent Moon he mentioned.

Ever heard a frog mixed with a jaguar? I haven’t. I mean, that’s the closest comparison to anything I’ve heard. That isn’t meaning to exoticize the Indonesian language, but this impossible noise emanating in equal portions from this vibrating section of his neck and his fiercely white hot boiling eyeballs that glow and stare out forever like a pin light through a cave. His robes and scarves of varying hues of beige, gold, red accentuate his jerky motions--but never distract from the eyes.

Five days later, back at the show, I now understand Bo's enthusiasm, but it only causes me to twitch as the clock keeps ticking away and the floor remains empty save for two middle aged flies who buzzed in from the bar with their drinks to walk out to the smoking porch beyond the stage.

I check my phone: it’s closer to 9 p.m., and my only company is the cheetah print, the dead wolves, and Bo.

Sean Hartman, a blonde-headed, grizzly bear sort of bearded guy with the demeanor of the stuffed animal walks in. Sean is in the second opening band for the night—still managing to play with Forget the Times even with his newborn’s birth---Eloise Coltrane Hartman---just over a month ago. He ushers in a man with patterned robes and two grunge punks that look like they came straight out of a wet Seattle basement from the 90’s. Arrington is here with his back-up band and the story—and the show---can start.

Arrington, when he isn’t playing, spends most of his time outside. He is skipping out on the openers and the patio of smokers in favor of a log in the parking lot under the orange streetlight that gives him feral stripes that run shadows through his beard and down his cream, gold, and red combination of suit jacket, hoodie, and tumbles of clothe that comprise his outfit. Arrington mumbles words at the still setting sun—late summer skies full of miasmatic purples and toxic blues. Silver rimmed glasses sharpen clouded eyes slanted slightly shut from staring at yellow lines repeating on a black road for the two-hundred or so miles between Kalamazoo and Chicago.

We talk, and then go inside for the end of Sean’s set.

“Get ready for Maalikat Dan Singa, because they are way better than us,” Sean says.

The jaguar dances on the stage—that big cat prowling as it snarls in some distant space case baritone. Arms become limbs that flail listeners into mirroring his movements, devouring them with those king kat eyes, yellow under the stage lights. The set ends somewhere at midnight and everyone leaves.

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