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People Get Ready, contrary to what you old-time rhythm and blues lovers may think, is the name of a seven-member musical group. I don't really know how to describe it. Art rock, or maybe art noise. Young, energetic, curious, and serious, in a nonchalant sort of way. The four men and three women formed the band in Brooklyn in 2009 and have subsequently performed at a number of places that make room for experimental performance art – like Duke Performances. They've got a couple of albums out on Brassland, and you can hear some cuts there. Although the show they performed at Duke's Reynolds Theater (repeats November 16), Specific Ocean, is something particular, apparently the group is known for its use of visuals and kinetics in its "regular" performances. In this, and the high-energy nature of the enterprise, they hark back to The Talking Heads (although nothing they played on the 15th had that dark, dangerous edge).
For Specific Ocean, the center of the stage is left clear, and the instruments, amps, microphones, and sound controllers range front-to-back along narrow beaches on either side. The musicians enter singing pretty sounds in a style descended from doo-wop then and plop themselves down, sitting or kneeling by their instruments. At first they play fairly predictable indie-rock, with all or most of them singing (I could not understand one word during the entire hour, but did not care). But quickly, things got much more interesting.
Soon, they began changing places, changing instruments. Bursts of dancing zigzagged across the ocean. A woman was dragged here and there by her microphone cord, before taking a seat on the upraised legs of one of the men – all the while she sang turbulent watery sounds. Two men ripped the tape away from sheets of the Masonite flooring and performed circus-like feats of balance and acrobatic motion with them, causing the flexible 4 x 8 foot pieces to bow and wave. The sounds of these waves arcing and slapping down were caught by a microphone and manipulated by one of the other artists. It was fantastic, like whale song. Sound-wave song.
They did other marvelously playful stuff – things that reminded me of playing heffalumps with my siblings – and they dashed about and took each other's positions as if in a game of musical chairs. At one point, two of them burrowed under the ocean's remaining surface, causing it to undulate madly before they shot out like big otters. More pieces of the ocean came up and turned into screens for some antic video projections, before being whisked away. A woman ran off the stage and up the steps, dragging a blue electric guitar neck down behind her back. Its cordless pick-up fed back to the amps, so we heard another song of motion. The whole thing culminated with another loud jam, all instruments, all voices, all smiles.
This was clearly not for everybody – I talked to one person afterwards who just did not appreciate it at all – and the volume did get quite high. But it made me laugh out loud. It made me happy. It's making me happy just thinking back on it. It was a joyful noise, and I'd say that's artful.
As noted, the show repeats November 16, in the same venue. For details, see the sidebar. Earplugs optional.