042916 Stickmen, Ottawa, ON

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In retrospect it’s hard to nail down all the factors that went into me leaving the Stickmen show at Maverick’s on April 29th, 2016 about halfway through their performance.  Could it really be that I found the music so…unmusical?

I mean, you take a monstrously talented trio like Tony Levin (who I coincidentally saw exactly six years previously playing with Peter Gabriel in Montreal) and Pat Mastelotto, both from King Crimson among other highly-respected projects, and the two-hand tapping guitaruoso Markus Reuter and plunk them down together in a small friend-filled bar like Maverick’s of all places and it should be a sure-fire homerun of a night out, right?

But it wasn’t.  I think I might have walked to the show, or maybe cycled, and I certainly arrived alone (m’lady was out of town), but that wouldn’t have confronted me none because I felt like I knew half the people in the place, including the bar staff.  I had a drink or two and was hanging near the back when Tony Levin picked up his Chapman Stick (a dozen-stringed musical plank that in the right hands can sound like a harp ushering you into heaven; it’s well worth googling if you’re not familiar with the instrument) and that’s where I stayed.

The amount of technique wrapped up in these three players creates a tidal wave of sound, and while it was instantly impressive for its sheer prowess if nothing else, my ears were completely full of notes by the end of the second song.

Did I say song?  The pieces felt more like acrobatic acts at the circus than musical works.  The thrill of watching someone run back and forth across a highwire can quickly turn to boredom; once the “wow, that looks difficult” wears off you realize that you’re not really looking at very much at all.  And so it was that after a handful of endlessly swirling sixty-fourth note restless ‘compositions’ I couldn’t bear to expose myself to any more.  Despite at least two friends trying their best to stop me from cutting out on what they were viewing as an epic concert, I cut out.

And though I still don’t recall whether I cycled or walked home I do remember that I travelled with a sense of relief, happy to be rid of the relentless sonic doggery of the Stickmen.  But now, a few years later I wonder: could the show really have been that bad?  I know every single friend that was there will totally disagree with my views on the show, and that fact gives me pause.

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