Lisa Germano | Live ReviewCat-death-inspired ditties and other melancholy offerings First published: Wednesday, October 11, 2006
ALBANY -- Lisa Germano's songs are so hallucinatory that you become
convinced that she's singing the soundtrack to your dreams. And nightmares. Her music is so visual that there must be a thoroughly strange movie that goes with it. And at times you swear that the movie is playing inside your own head -- directed by David Lynch, Guy Madden or, perhaps, the Brothers Quay.
On Tuesday evening at Valentine's, Germano created her own little universe with a timeless brand of music that was both antique and in the moment. There's a Japanese word, sakura, that doesn't easily translate into English, although it's often defined as "the beautiful sadness of things." Germano's music has sakura to spare. Her new album, "In the Maybe World," is a haunting song-cycle about death. She described the songs as "little stories to help me - and hopefully anyone else - deal with loss." And although half of Germano's set list on Tuesday featured songs from that album, it was not a particularly grim concert. "Here's a song about an alien watching us from above and laughing at our silly planet," she explained before launching into "Reptile," the most rhythmically propulsive selection of the night. "My cat wrote this song through me as he was dying," she declared, "to cheer me up." The song, "Golden Cities," was a cheery, almost jaunty little ditty, which featured a whistling solo from Germano as she sat behind the electric keyboard. Switching back and forth from keyboard to electric guitar throughout her 55-minute performance, Germano sang in a disquietingly intimate voice, occasionally downshifting into a whisper. She was accompanied by Craig Ross, who played a bit of electric guitar and lap steel, but spent most of his time conjuring up a dense gauze of sound with an omnichord (something like an electronic autoharp), which he ran through a dizzying maze of effects pedals and filters. He seemed to be playing atmosphere more than music, but it was crucial to Germano's music, and Ross was certainly good at it. Germano's languid songs often slid from one to another without any demarcation, and the pairing of "Except for the Ghost" and "Too Much Space" sounded like one song rather than two. Ditto for the opening volley of "In the Land of the Fairies" and "In the Maybe World." Germano's music most closely resembles that of Jane Siberry with just a bit of Julee Cruise mixed in. But in the end, any such comparisons are really beside the point.
Germano is a truly unique artist, and while she's highly unlikely to ever break into mainstream success, she seems content - or perhaps even grateful - for her dedicated cult following. Opening the show was Alta Mira, a young quartet from Clifton Park, whose music seemed to draw on the past several decades of art-rock, fusing together the intricate arrangements and musicianship of the classic '70s progressive rock bands, the herky-jerky new wave rhythms of XTC and the passionate vocals of Jeff Buckley.