The Arlington Street Church is one of the more remarkable youth hangouts. It has been the scene of anti-draft activity and recently, one resister tried to escape from Federal Marshals by claiming sanctuary at the Church's altar. This Church has become the arena for the first accommodation by an established institution to the political and personal demands of the new life style of the young.
So there was something entirely right about the free concert at the Arlington Street Church two weeks ago given by Boston's most striking group, Earth Opera, on behalf of none other than the Resistance.
One sniffed expectantly.
Rock performances, immediate and blaring, are the heart of the medium. The Beatles and Dylan succeed in spite of (and not because of) the fact that we will never get to hear them in the stark pulsating flesh. The power of the new music is precisely that it is sometimes able to transform a particular event into a permanent influence--one to blunt the hard edges that each of us carefully cultivates.
Earth Opera achieved it that night for me and possibly for the rest of us in the room, all to the backdrop of the muted political reality of the Resistance, whose representatives talked soft and compelling sense between sets.
Earth Opera's music is patterned and sibilant, propelled by staccato bursts of notes--and saxophone duets, drum rallies etc. each in turn play this refresher role. The songs range from wistful reminiscences to socio-political challenges. Above all, though, Earth Opera has the Rock Presence.
Thus during the magnificent song 'As it was before,' which goes in part "And you sell yourself so short every time/You look at her and never dare to cross the line/Why is it so hard for you to understand/We'll never make it far beyond the gate without each other's hand." singer Peter Gowan barks and whimpers to the accompaniment of the drums and the organ, finally breaking into Indian chants over-but not within-the music.
The key to the Earth Opera's music is the peculiar relationship between the organ rhythms and the drum rhythms. The organ is used by them as a semi-melodic instrument while the drums are straight, but complex, percussion. This interaction between two staggered tempos distinctly creates a third master tempo.
The full impact of this innovation is felt in the song 'Time and Again' when the drums and organ are kept tightly controlled in slow patterns; the resulting master tempo is unbelievably sticky and the song sounds as if its music were coagulating--an effect that fits in perfectly with the words.
Every day is the same
Growing gently insane
It's the wind or the rain
But I don't feel anything (Chorus)
Such musical inventiveness combined with the group's almost overweening physical reality, and the complete experience was rapturous, bristling. By the last number, something with the recurring line 'and the Kingdom is coming' there were heads bobbing fiercely in the audience and everyone clapped as requested in time, stunned.
Mad John, a fixture at Boston's rock gatherings, had, by now, clambered up on stage, with a glint sincerely in his eyes, and had begun as usual to make a fool of himself. The crowd booed. John shouted, over the Earth Opera's fading chords, "I'm not mad. You all are" Which wasn't true anyway but what the hell.
(Earth Opera have a record out on Elektra and will be at the Boston Tea Party from July 10-13.)