CIMA of PA Gatherings Graphic

Stars of the Lid

w/Christopher Willits

Live at

The Gatherings Concert Series

Saturday 3 May 2008 8:00pm

St. Mary's Hamilton Village
Philadelphia, PA
Stars of the Lid live at The Gatherings Concert Series on 3 May 2008 has been funded by the non-profit corporation CIMA of PA


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Above Photos by Relaxing

Stars of the Lid w/Christopher Willits - The Gatherings, 3 May 2008

When I first heard that Stars of the Lid would be making a stop at The Gatherings in 2008, I thought of the clever metaphors I could slip into this very write-up. A sleek violin spaceship, dropping off the edge of the starmap. A dancing cloud of microtonal pollen, cavorting in a sunset field. A wheezing phonograph in an empty grain silo. But forget about it, the reverberant swells and strains of their music are neither inside nor outside - these two Texas transplants make pieces that stretch your internal landscape, make you yearn to fully mine the depths of their tiny, insistent drones and melodies. (Their tour CD, purchased at this Gatherings show, includes an aside from DJ John Peel - "it's very very quiet indeed - ah, you may very well think there's something wrong with your radio.") Such colorful metaphors are the easiest way to bottle up this mini musical world, but that wasn't necessary when, on a weekend in May, the music makers stood revealed and alive in front of the crowd at St. Mary's Church.

The sun beat down a little insistently that day; the air was still, the church a bit stuffy. Fellow Gatherings scribe Chuck Nixon and I were a bit late that day, thanks to traffic. The pre-show atmosphere was a bit harried - some key A/V personnel would be absent tonight, and this was no ordinary laptop-and-keyboard troupe we were hosting. When I walked in, Roycee Martin and Dennis Haley were fiddling with the giant mixing board, running wires, snapping mikes onto stands. Adam Wiltzie walked around in a white t-shirt, looking a little zombiefied - they'd managed to grab four hours of sleep in NYC just before getting on the road at lunchtime. Brian McBride, placid, lay on the church floor like a kid in his living room, tapping at his laptop, wondering aloud if there was any good Wifi in the vicinity. In the hallway leading to the parish office, cellist Julia Kent practiced, sitting on a windowsill and looking at her sheet music spread on the floor. The band was peckish, so I went and found some Mexican beer at 45th and Walnut, and stood in the supermarket line on 40th Street, bagging organic hummus and Red Bull while "Yah Mo B There" bleated overhead. When I got back, projectors were being carefully seated on music stands, Luke Savisky looking tired but gleeful as lights shone up onto the church ceiling. At the back of the room, tour manager Paul set up the merchandise table while wondering if someone wouldn't buy him a pack of smokes, as it was his birthday.

Outside the church, the line was of Steve Roach-esque proportions, foot traffic up and down Locust Walk had cut it neatly in half. As Christopher Willits finished tuning up with his final scrapes and scritches, I walked up and down the line (why had it gotten so cold?), telling everyone to wait just one more minute. Eventually the door creaked open, the line flushed through, a whole host of young and unfamiliar ones tonight, hoodies drawn tight around faces, student ID's flashing past from a multitude of different schools, everyone in good cheer, some people saying "Whew" or "Wow" as they stepped into the church (or maybe it was the sight of the overflowing merch table).

Chuck van Zyl took to the altar, his face in shadow, welcoming old fans and new, announcing Christopher Willits. Orange shirt blazing against mottled blue lights in the apse, he played a bouquet of guitar improvisations, notes creaking and folding back and forth onto each other, in between slips and rolls of glitches and pops. One leg angled forward onto his pedal board, his head moved back and forth, hair flopping, each piece only lasting four or five minutes, met with cheerful clapping. A man of few words, too - "I'm really glad to be here, great to see so many people here" - before he moved into some droney, uplifting territory to close out his set. During intermission, people stepped in and out of the vestibule, holding their forearms - it was getting colder still. Adam and Brian were seen sitting up near the sacristy, looking at points distant, properly zenning out, or maybe willing the Red Bull to kick in. When they took the stage, Adam thanked everyone and said, "We'll see if we can't work in that out-of-tune piano over there, you know, just bear with us."

The night's official goosebump moment came a few minutes into their set, when a high, whirling drone blasted out of the speakers, a jumbling of organs and voices, and the three string players played a plaintive, stirring rendition of Arvo Part's "Fratres". The band's sound was crystal-clear, dripping with hums, whirls and zings, making full use of the tall, reverberant nave. The strings sighed and creaked with a wonderful fullness. Adam and Brian stood back a bit, let the keyboards rest. The space above the altar was in full flow, images of grass, flowers, interlocking machines, ocean blotches roiling. As the bows came back down, a deeper drone came in, sub-woofer rumbling at top dead center, with scutterings of fuzz... the opening of "Requiem for Dying Mothers". This piece moved away from its album version with a couple interludes featuring the string players in some extended harmonies. Adam put his guitar down as the piece melted away and moved to the out-of-tune piano for a reverent rendition of "Humectez La Mouture", sparse piano notes pinging around the church like dropped quarters. More enthusiastic applause followed, and then the final, extended portion of the set followed on, opening with the placid tones of "Mulholland", and a sly blast on the house pipe organ, played by Mr. McBride, during the crescendo of "December Hunting", the closing piece on their latest album, the end-credits music to your favorite movie you've never seen. It had been about an hour - seemingly only a few deep breaths after they started - and Stars of the Lid melted away to one last round of applause.

The night wrapped up with subdued and cheerful hubbub. Tension had been replaced by the flat and cool emotions that come after a performance well-done. Dots of rain fell on the parking lot as the band's gear went back into the van. A pair of skinny kids dressed all in black milled around the aisles, looking up. Weren't they filming the show? "Yeah, we've been following them. We're making a documentary." Did you like it tonight? " Wow, it must have been the best show yet. Really, really the best." The other one, shorter, nodded. "Best ever." Then the violin player sighed, carrying her things out of the back room, wished she could stay for a bit, instead of running off to the next town... "What a beautiful church." And how about those drunken students falling down outside? "Oh, I think that's the best part," she replied, stopping and turning back to me to emphasize, "That's where a church really should be, right in the middle - in the middle of everything. You know? Not apart."

So that was where we had stayed all night, really, instead of blasting off into outer space, or exploring empty fields at the corners of our imaginations. Just a couple hours, rooted firmly on the ground, amidst the hum of students, cars, cities, some time to listen, close our eyes and take a good long look at what we were seeing there.

by Scott Kelly (a.k.a. DJ Kel)   13 May 2008


Stars of the Lid w/Christopher Willits - The Gatherings, 3 May 2008

Back in December last year I saw a notice on the Stars of the Lid (SotL) Wikipedia entry that they were planning a US tour in the spring of this year. I hurriedly dashed off an e-mail to Chuck van Zyl, The Gatherings Concert Series honcho, informing him of this news. He replied that he would look into it but said that the last time they toured they had some unique requirements and it didn't work out. Three weeks later when The Gatherings Concert Series 2008 season was announced, imagine my surprise that SoTtL were on the roster! How awesome is that?

Ever since the announcement I had been looking forward to the show. And you knew it was going to be packed too. At the April edition of The Gatherings Concert Series it was announced that advance tickets were almost sold out. Ironic then that many Gatherings audience veterans remarked the night of the show that they really didn't know much about SotL. Dare I say that they set the record for attendance at a Gathering?

Opening the show was California-based guitarist Christopher Willits. Willits looped and processed his guitar into all manner of fanciful forms. At times digital and glitchy and at others warm and flowing his set would challenge the listener then seque into blissful stretches. His approach and compositional style nicely counterbalanced the more epic feel and tone SotL features.

In tow with Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie was a string trio: Julia Kent on cello, Ella Baruch on viola and Kate O'Brien violin. Also making the trip was long-time visuals designer Luke Savisky. And make that a cameo by St. Mary's Church as well - Savisky made use of the grand arch above the altar for oblique iterations of the visuals behind the band. Throw in the church's pipe organ and grand piano for good measure.

Personally I enjoy SotL's music for it's situational nature. Each listen can be melancholic, wistful, contemplative or buoyant depending on the context in which it is heard. The highlight of the show for this listener was the Star's adaptation of Arvo Prt's "Fratres". Standing at the back of the church I found myself transfixed as each chord would play out, visuals dancing behind the performers. The use of live strings added a haunting quality to the music; chills went down my spine more than once during the show. The set list consisted mostly of material from their last two releases "The Tired Sounds of....." and "And Their Refinement of the Decline" or pieces written in that time period. While SotL is known more for sublties and soft touches their closing piece actually rose to quite the crescendo, the display and music synchronized in intensity. But all good things must come to an end. Hopefully it won't be another six years before another SotL tour.

by Chuck Nixon -   31 May 2008



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Concert Photos Below Horizontal Rule by Marc Manley


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Concert Photos Below Horizontal Rule by Chuck van Zyl


CIMA of PA CIMA of PA - The Corporation for Innovative Music and Arts of Pennsylvania

Stars of the Lid live at The Gatherings Concert Series on 3 May 2008 is funded by CIMA of PA (The Corporation for Innovative Music and Arts of Pennsylvania), the all-volunteer, non-profit organization responsible for organizing and producing The Gatherings Concert Series. The basic mission of CIMA of PA is to bring innovative music concerts to the public and further the advancement of this artform.

For more about CIMA of PA, please access the Mission Statement

For more about Stars of the Lid, please access the: For more about Christopher Willits, please access the:

The Gatherings Concert Series is presented by the all-volunteer staff of The Corporation for Innovative Music and Arts of Pennsylvania

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