All Songs Considered
5:34 pm
Thu April 18, 2013

First Watch: People Get Ready, 'Middle Name'

Originally published on Fri April 19, 2013 8:10 am

It was probably the best performance piece I've seen in more than a decade. Specific Ocean, a piece by the dance troupe/rock band People Get Ready, which I saw at the New York Live Arts theater in the fall, was a model for the ways musicians can break from the standard, sometimes boring, format of playing on a stage. Some of the songs from Specific Ocean ended up on the group's 2012 self-titled album. Now there's a video, a documentation of that amazing New York performance, featuring the song "Middle Name."

That performance was more about creating an event, maybe more like creating a live movie, than presenting a normal rock show. Steven Reker, a musician and dancer in People Get Ready, wrote to us about the making of the piece:

"I approached making the performance work for 'Middle Name' the same way I approached making the entire piece — like making a mixtape. But instead of the mixtape consisting of beloved songs that you're pulling from your past and present – it's more like a process of sifting through the shapes, ideas, and poetic images I've got floating around in my head and seeing how they work against the backdrop of the songs I've already written."

Yet the music does not take a back seat in this performance. The songs on People Get Ready are all 4-star songs for me, and though I'd have been fine seeing the band as a five-piece standing on stage, instruments in hand, something magic happens to these songs when the guitarists are lying down, sliding across the floor while playing, or while the singer is being pulled by her microphone cable.

"For Middle Name I wanted to see Jen (Goma) sing the song in a 'non-traditonal' way," Reker writes. " I gave a few scenarios for her to be moved across the stage while singing — which you can see as she stands on Aaron (Mattox)'s back while he crawls across the floor — and in the 'lift' where her body gets horizontally supported. Then there was dealing with the mic cable. Natalie (Kuhn)'s role was 'to keep the cable part of the image - but also keep it out of the way'. Then in rehearsal I realized that Natalie could do what Aaron was doing — reorient the way we see Jen singing — by dragging her with the mic cable across the stage — and I loved that! This poetic image was born out of a simple task. Sure — we ended up snapping a few mic cables in the process but it was well worth it."

People Get Ready is taking its show on the road. And though it won't be the full performance piece you see here, the musicians will be adapting some of these thrilling elements to their live show on stages included Washington, D.C. at The Atlas Performing Arts Center and then in New York at Brooklyn Academy of Music.

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