Thursday, July 20, 2006

Estrella Morente

Beautiful Disaster
Palau de la Musica Catalána, Barçelona, Spain

I am here at the 2100-seat Palau de la Musica Catalana to see both the building in all its modernista opulence and a belle of modern flamenco music, Estrella Morente. On our way into the concert hall, some local women voice their surprise at the sold-out crowd, seeing as how Estrella has been out of the scene for a few years. But she's back. And no one will forget this show for a very long time.

You know how in some of your larger concert halls there is a dividing line between the expensive seats and the cheap seats? Usually this is in the second balcony about halfway back. So the people in the front have paid like 50 bucks each, and the back section only 25 bucks. Tonight I am in my most loathed place: the last row of the spendy section. Just five feet behind and a head above me, hundreds of better planners enjoy good sightlines and cheaper chairs.

I sit down expecting to be surrounded by posh local patrons of the Barcelona arts. Instead I am in the midst of French, Dutch, British, and Greek tourists. There are plenty of locals here, though: you can tell where they (the bossy ones, anyway) by how they shush people. In the U.S., shushing is a long SHHHHH sound. In Spain, it's a rounded SSSSS, like you're about to say susurro. There is even circular shushing here tonight, the people are so intent on quiet.

Estrella begins her set seated and accompanied by a guitarist. She is fabulous with a long drapey shawl, waving a gorgeous fan that inspires fan-envy. Her singing is somewhat emotional, but she's just warming up. Then, in the middle of her fourth song, PAF. The power goes out in the ENTIRE CONCERT HALL. Consternation erupts until seconds later when we realize Estrella is still singing. The crowd goes dead quiet; I haven't heard this many people be so silent since the Sigur Rós show. We collectively pray for her to keep singing, and she does. The room goes wild at the end of the song, and then she and her guitarist walk off the stage. Some confusion and the odd heckle later, a person from the Palau comes on to the stage, saying something that is of course completely drowned out by the shushers. An old man near me stands up and hollers something accusingly in Catalán until he too is shush-monished.

Encouraged by shouts and rhythmic clapping, Estrella and a pianist come back on stage. Now freed from the microphone and charged by the agitation from the audience, she sings while roving the stage. Her emotional output has gone up tenfold. The crowd goes bonkers. However, there is still a significant amount of stirring among us, particularly since people are getting hot with no A/C. THEN the emergency lights go out and we are in total blackness. Seconds later, the follow-spot guy near us realizes he has power. He aims that followspot on Estrella, and the other follow-spot guys quickly join. Now only she is illuminated on the stage, and she shines like a beacon. Power, amplification, and the air all slowly cycle back on. She keeps singing, and the crowd settles back down. Can this show possibly get any better? OH YES IT CAN.

Two songs later, the power goes out AGAIN. This time, the old heckler guy stands up and starts hollering. He is immediately attacked by a vehement shusher, they fight, then both promptly get their asses turfed out. The band starts, they stop. They try to address the crowd and they are met with shouted advice, admonitions, or praise from every corner of the room. They offer to keep singing unamplified in the dark or come back another day. The crowd chants "Otra dia! Otra dia!" The band breaks into an emotional acapella improvised song anyway, competing with the hecklers, the shushers, and the rapidly abandoning audience members who stumble on the darkened stairs as they group their way out. It is a mess.

The show finally fizzles out when it becomes clear that electricity is not in our future. The band bows, Estrella offers her apologies and gratitude, and it's over. Those of us who remain loiter in the foyer and the courtyard as we are all riled up and not ready to go home. This audience is bound together by some kind of artistic crisis. Some are angry, some sad, and others, like me, are deliriously happy to have witnessed such an electrifying event.

Fanalyst Rating

Fashion: ***
Scene: ****
Band/Audience Rapport: ****
Audience Focus: ****


Anonymous Anonymous said...

god, what an amazing show!! chris

6:16 PM  

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