(NORTH ADAMS, Mass.) –Composer/musicians Jennifer Charles and Oren Bloedow, who have been performing as the “noir-rock” duo Elysian Fields for nearly 20 years, bring their unique brand of jazz-inflected avant-roots music to MASS MoCA on Saturday, August 16, 2014, at 8pm.
These downtown veterans and NYC indie-music stalwarts weave together dream pop and noir landscapes from a whisper to a scream. The band’s music is at once dreamy, mysterious, sultry, and dark, like a black and white movie seen through rose-tinted glasses. Elysian Fields derives its name from the metaphysical plane that hosts the souls of the mighty and the virtuous after death in Greek mythology. Its sound reflects this mythological imagery perfectly through its haunting vocals and otherworldly instrumentals.
Always keen collaborators, their past and present bandmates include Thomas “Doveman” Bartlett of The National and everyone in Jeff Buckley’s band. Pitchfork touts their “forbidding cocktail dress cool” while others detect a young Serge Gainsbourg in their sultry, hazy delivery. Elysian Fields performs on the heels of Charles’ stunning appearance with Ben Perowsky’s Moodwing Orchestra last fall at MASS MoCA. She knew right away that it would set the perfect stage for her avant, experiential duo.
The Los Angeles Times called Jennifer Charles “a provocative crooner who intones like a cross between Mazzy Star low-key blueswoman Hope Sandoval and Congo Norvell torch-queen Sally Norvell. She is fire and ice, seductress and cool poet.” Critic and musician Nick Kent says, “Maybe we have their out-of-the-mainstreamness to thank for a sound that is still unique – as sensual as a sleepwalker’s wet dream.”
Elysian Fields came out of New York’s legendary Knitting Factory, a hotbed of musical exploration and genre mixing and a hub of the vibrant 1990s downtown scene. Drawn together by a mutual love of The Beatles, Billie Holiday, Charles Mingus, Iggy Pop, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Captain Beefheart, Ravi Shankar, Frederic Chopin and Olivier Messaien, founders Jennifer Charles and Oren Bloedow had traveled parallel paths in Washington, DC and New York until a scholarship to New York University’s drama department drew Jennifer to New York. Both had been to see the Bad Brains and Lounge Lizards (for whom Oren would play bass in the early ’90s), both worshiped Woody Allen and Fellini, both went to alternative high schools and had become independent at an early age.
At the time of meeting Jennifer, Oren was fresh from his only year at music school (at New England Conservatory) and was working with Ed and several smaller downtown bands in the scene that was dominated by post-free jazz composers like Henry Threadgill, David Murray on one side and dissonant guitar shredders like Sonic Youth and Glenn Branca on the other. In the center was the Knitting Factory, where such sounds mingled in the work of Arto Lindsay, John Zorn and other musicians who had been working mostly in lofts and underground venues in the preceding decade. It was here that Jennifer worked as an intern in the busy office where the club’s bookings, package tours and record releases were planned. She ran her own poetry series, waiting tables for paltry tips at sparsely attended Charles Gayle midnight sets with the January wind circling about the empty club. Although New York had great hip-hop in those years, the city was due for an explosion of great bands, and many of them frequented or played there, Cibo Matto, Blonde Redhead, Soul Coughing and Skeleton Key are a few of the notables of the “Class of 1994.” Others like Jeff Buckley and Firewater were particularly close to Elysian Fields, sharing a lot of the same players and many late nights together.
In addition to contributing to many of John Zorn’s produced compilation records, including one of Marc Bolan and the first track on the Serge Gainsbourg tribute, Charles and Bloedow have also released two complete albums of Sephardic songs on Zorn’s Tzadik label. The first was named La Mar Enfortuna, and that became the name of the group for the follow-up Convivencia in 2008. Charles sings in Ladino as well as in Arabic, Aramaic, Spanish and Greek on these albums, as the group gives ancient Moorish melodies a revamp with their signature sound.
Elysian Fields have also performed in several tribute concerts produced by the impresario Hal Willner, including an event in Los Angeles featuring the songs of Randy Newman, where Oren was a musical director, and another for Edgar Allan Poe. Elysian Fields performed at the Carnegie Hall on April 5, 2007, in Michael Dorf’s all-star tribute to Bruce Springsteen with Oren was once again as musical director, backing up several artists including Badly Drawn Boy, and Bruce Springsteen himself for the rousing finale of “Rosalita.” Elysian Fields rendition of “Streets Of Fire” was noted in both Billboard and Rolling Stone as being one of the show’s highlights, and described as “sensual” and “passionate.” In February 2009, Elysian Fields performed in Paris in a sold-out show at Salle Pleyel as part of John Zorn’s Serge Gainsbourg tribute concert alongside Marc Ribot and Sean Lennon.
Part of MASS MoCA’s summer concert series, Elysian Fields takes place outside under the Dré Wapenaar Pavilion (or inside Club B-10 if it rains) on Saturday, August 16, at 8pm. Fresh salads, hearty sandwiches, and tasty burritos – as well as thematic dinner specials – are available from Lickety Split before and during the show. A full bar serves Berkshire Brewing Company beers and Berkshire Mountain Distillery spirits. Tickets are $20 reserved seating, $12 advance, and $16 day of. Tickets are available through the MASS MoCA box office, located on Marshall Street in North Adams, every day from 10am to 6pm, with extended evening hours to 7pm on Thursdays through Saturdays. Tickets can also be charged by phone by calling 413.662.2111 x1 during box office hours or purchased online at MASS MoCA.
MASS MoCA is one of the world’s liveliest (and largest) centers for making and enjoying today’s most important art, music, dance, theater, film, and video. Hundreds of works of visual and performing art have been created on its 19th-century factory campus during fabrication and rehearsal residencies, making MASS MoCA among the most productive sites in the country for the creation and presentation of new art. More platform than box, MASS MoCA strives to bring to its audiences art experiences that are fresh, engaging, and transformative.
From June 21 through September 1, 2014, MASS MoCA’s galleries are open 10am to 6pm every day, Sundays through Wednesdays, with extended evening hours to 7pm on Thursdays through Saturdays, when performing arts events are often featured. In non-summer months, MASS MoCA’s galleries are open 11am to 5pm every day except Tuesdays. The Hall Art Foundation’s Anselm Kiefer exhibition is open seasonally, spring – fall. Gallery admission is $18 for adults, $16 for veterans and seniors, $12 for students, $8 for children 6 to 16, and free for children 5 and under. Members are admitted free year-round. For additional information, call 413.662.2111 x1 or visit MASS MoCA.