"Back to Boston" Unifies Boston's Visual Art and Live Music Scenes

“Back to Boston” was the alliterative theme of the evening at the Middle East Upstairs this past Sunday night. The show sought to bolster the Boston art community by presenting a marriage of the visual arts and live music, scenes. Three Boston-based artists, Valera Velev, Sara M.A. Holbert, William Holbert, had pieces of original artwork hanging on the walls of the performance space. Throughout the evening, The La De Les, Sounds of Venus, Noize Tank, and Colour—four Boston-based bands—performed live.

The Middle East Upstairs is vastly different from most student-friendly Boston venues, such as the House of Blues or Bank of America Pavilion. The unassuming space is comprised of a small stage and an area that accommodates about 200 people. There are no strobe lights or fog machines, and no barriers between the crowd and stage—just a space to perform and a space to listen.

Musicians, artists, and audience members mingled before the show began, and it was this sort of camaraderie that made the notion of a cohesive “arts scene” in Boston seem plausible. Event organizer and Berklee College of Music business major Nicholas A. Susi, who also performed as part of Sounds of Venus, talked about wanting to help build a more vibrant art scene and community in Boston. “I stayed in Brooklyn with my girlfriend’s cousin last winter, and there’s this great, creative artistic culture in New York, with art openings going on all the time. People show up at those kinds of events and they’re there solely for the art. I feel like there’s nothing like that going on in Boston,” said Susi.

“Back to Boston” embraced an all-inclusive notion of art. Local original artwork lined the walls of the space. Early visitors inspected the hanging art as they waited for the first band, The La De Les, to take the stage. Sara M.A. Holbert’s beautifully melancholy portraits of small, fragile-looking girls hung next to her husband William Holbert’s pop-art pieces—intriguing hybrids of elements from comic books and his own coloration. Both Holberts are relative newcomers to the Boston art scene, having recently moved here from the Midwest. “This event is really my first taste of the Boston visual arts scene, and the first time I was able to combine my musical side and my visual art,” said Sara Holbert. Indeed, she showcased both skills, drumming with her band The La De Les to an audience who could easily turn and peruse her artwork. The room also featured Valera Velev’s striking “Fizz” piece—a large, dynamic swirl of color with wildly unique texture due to a creative use of expanding foam and house paints.

The music proved an enlivening aural companion to the artwork. The La De Les played first, and the room’s atmosphere immediately swung from clamoring crowd noise to the blaring feedback of guitars. The La De Les channel Portugal. The Man and Explosions in the Sky through their heavy use of dynamic shifts, steadfast, prominent drums, and haunting harmonies. Sounds of Venus followed, filling the small space with their sensual vocal melodies and smooth instrumental work. The third band, Noize Tank, completely changed the pace of the evening by blasting the crowd with waves of distortion, chugging breakdowns, and formidable power chords. The final act of the evening, Colour, rounded everything off beautifully with their earnest, bluesy rock. The diversity of musical acts effectively mirrored the wide variety of artwork.

The crowd loved every act, and bounced with rambunctious energy during fast songs, and fervently nodding along to the less aggressive numbers. An audience member, Ryan K. Stewart, spoke about how much he enjoyed the show: “It’s nice to go to these low-key venues where you can hear great bands you would otherwise miss.” Jocelyn Nicolas, one of the vocalists for The La De Les, summed up her feelings for the event. “For us, this event wasn’t just about making lots of fans or money, we were here with people we love to put out our own art and appreciate others,” she said.

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