At the onset of a piece entitled Rooting for the Shy Librarian, violinist Carla Kihlstedt designed lovely adagio phrasing for solo violin that, had she and the rest of 2 Foot Yard not already had other musical motives in mind, could have swelled into an elegy of cinematic proportions. But Kihlstedt quickly added vocals – wordless singing, actually – that seemed to approximate heavy breathing as the violin lead began to ease into fractured swing. The full trio then snapped to life, the vocal chorus sharpened into the sort of minimalist alarm that would do ‘80s-era Philip Glass proud and the overall feeling turned electric before shrinking back into its hushed shell again.
The librarian, it seemed, was a touch repressed.
Such was the very rich, adventurous music that 2 Foot Yard explored in what became an unintentionally intimate performance. Threatening storms (which, as luck would have it, never materialized) turned CD Central’s Memorial Day parking lot concert into a series of in-store sets with the audience standing almost face to face with the artists. 2 Foot Yard’s late arrival, which amounted only to a 40 minute delay in its start time, further explained why its set barely clocked in at half an hour. But the trio explored considerable stylistic terrain in that time.
Kihlstedt (of Sleepytime Gorilla Museum and Tin Hat Trio) nicely set up the percussive punctuation of Seven Houses, where band members flirted with soul and chamber accents in between a near tribal strut tapped out with violin bows and drum sticks.
Shahzad Ismaily (who hopefully will receive due accolades when his album with Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog surfaces next month) proved to be the utility man of the day. During Crisis, he fired up a very workman-like funk groove on guitar with his fingers while simultaneously propelling the beat on bass drum and hi-hat cymbal with his feet.
Cellist Marika Hughes, aside from helping the trio shift from chamber style references to nicely ruptured areas of Americana, doubled as a dynamite harmony vocalist.
All of 2 Foot Yard’s transformative prowess came into play on the set-closing treatment of the Carter Family’s 50 Miles. Kihlstedt and Hughes created a vocal lead full of regal reserve while violin slowly shed its chamber skin to merge with the tune’s inherent Appalachian charm. Still, the song sounded as much like a chant as anything else.
Such a clever, rootsy turn from abstraction made 2 Foot Yard sound, on the modest corner stage of a record store, as big as all outdoors.
(above, clockwise from left, Marika Hughes, Shahzad Ismaily and Carla Kihlstedt. photo from 2footyard.com)