15 Strings Attached

Decibel‘s NYC bureau had a tough decision to make last Thursday. Should we head on up to the west side for a classy evening amongst Lincoln Center elite to catch a special performance by This Will Destroy You? Or leave Manhattan (perish the thought!) for a night of PBRs amongst our metal brethren to get aurally obliterated by The Body & Braveyoung? A tough choice in theory, but one in the end that was pretty easy given that we’re suckers for strings and two-off performances.
The show at Merkin Concert Hall was part of the second annual Ecstatic Music Festival, whose self-proclaimed mission is to “put its finger on the pulse of contemporary ‘post-classical’ music” by curating 11 collaborative concerts. About the only thing we’re qualified to add to that is a reminder that the classical and extreme worlds collide more often than you’d think. For starters, check out Kevin Stewart-Panko’s in-depth look at the intricacies involved when bands like The Ocean, Dimmu Borgir and Therion work with orchestras as well as Chris Dick and Jeff Treppel’s blog posts on related on subjects. At its core, however, the show’s premise was straightforward and promising: pair one of our favorite instrumental rock bands (that has grown to eschew much of the obvious trappings of the loud/soft dynamic that have pigeonholed many of its contemporaries) with A Far Cry, a self-conducted, 15-member string orchestra.

Before we get to the guts of the performance, one last note on the show itself. Given the crowd—which, if we may stereotype for a second, seemed to include a fair number of symphony season-ticket holder types—we were hoping to see someone pull a Francis Ford Coppola and walk out once things got heavy. While that never happened, the mix of venue and crowd contributed to a bizarre, but refreshing, atmosphere. Put simply, the seated show was packed with the most polite concertgoers we’ve ever seen: no cat calls, no cell phones and (obviously) no mosh pits. In fact, if it wasn’t for the one dude who led the charge for each round of applause, we’re convinced no one would have moved.

It may not have been the ideal setting for a rock concert, but at least for one night, it was just right. Although TWDY sacrificed some of its heaviness in the name of bow-to-string bliss, more often than not, AFC served as its perfect counterpart, particularly on “Little Smoke”. There, driving strings replaced the searing effects-laden screams that punctuated the climax of the album version and took the lead track from 2011’s Tunnel Blanket in a different direction—no longer dirge-like but rather uplifting. It was also the first tune to see guitarist Jeremy Galindo fidget in his chair as if he was having a violent seizure. After a five-song, career-spanning set, the band returned for an encore. After all, as Galindo explained right before he and his nineteen counterparts closed out the night with a rousing rendition of “Threads”, “it’s only so often that you get to perform your songs with an orchestra.” If this performance was any indication, they should think about doing it more often (the NYC show actually followed a Boston performance – Boston can’t come second to NY in everything – at which some kind soul shot the video below).

A Far Cry began the night by performing Steve Reich’s “Triple Quartet” and Christopher Tignor’s “Thunder Lay Down in the Heart” (big props to Tignor, who did ALL of the following: (a) led AFC’s performance of his piece, (b) performed with both his band Slow Six and TWDY and, most impressively, (c) composed all of the arrangements for AFC’s accompaniments). Beyond their powerful “solo” performance, the men and women of AFC were clearly the night’s MVPs given that they were on stage for every note. Best of all, they didn’t seem the least intimidated by the massive walls of sound that TWDY can conjure, at some junctures even nodding along to show that they were picking up what TWDY was putting down (not just keeping time!).

We were so intrigued by the show’s concept that we decided to ask the dudes in TWDY some questions about the whole experience. While you’re reading Jeremy Galindo’s answers, be sure to check out our Spotify playlist that features the artists from this show as well as others who have a classical connection of their own. We’re hoping to do some more playlist-related things in the coming weeks, so be on the lookout.

How did the idea for these two shows with A Far Cry first come about and how did you end up working with Christopher Tignor?
We’ve known Chris for a while, and he actually put this all together. When he first brought it up to us, we knew that we couldn’t pass on an opportunity like this. Chris also did all the string work on Tunnel Blanket.

What was the process like in terms of song selection for these shows – was that something you worked on with Christopher? Does something like this lend itself to picking songs that may already have orchestration of some sort or did you want to choose ones for which strings provided a new element (or both)?
We wanted to represent all the albums as best we could with the time we had. Everyone in the band threw out some ideas for a setlist, and Tignor definitely had some input. I’d say we’re all happy with the songs we decided on.

How much time (if any at all) did you get to spend rehearsing together with A Far Cry and Christopher before you played these two shows? No matter what, I’d imagine that it’s quite an adjustment to have an entirely new group of people on stage playing your songs with you.
We had two days (about two hours each day) of rehearsal with A Far Cry before the shows. It was pretty intense, and we were all very nervous with how it’d turn out on stage. They nailed the arrangements at both shows, and we were able to breathe again.

Now that both shows are over and done, how do you think they went and would you do something like this again?
It was an entirely different way of hearing our music. I’m sure at some point all of us thought, “this is what James Hetfield felt like.” That being said, it might happen again.

**This Will Destroy You’s second full-length, Tunnel Blanket, is available at Suicide Squeeze Records.

**Our own John Darnielle will also be taking part in the Ecstatic Music Festival when The Mountain Goats team up with vocal quartet Anonymous 4 on March 24th. While interesting in its own right, we’d be remiss if we neglected to point out John’s shirt in the festival’s print brochure. No wonder they relegated him to the back cover.