Multimedia performer at Cat
It’s rare for a band to put something other than music at a show’s forefront. However, last Thursday night at the Cat in the Cream, with sunglasses over his eyes and merely six months of guitar experience under his belt, Andy Friedman incorporated art, poetry and music into a holistic presentation of stories about life experiences, touring and the nature of art.
Brooklyn-based band Andy Friedman and Other Failures, comprised of Friedman on guitar and vocals, Ethan Hein on harmonica and electric guitar and Greg McMullan on lap steel and resophonic guitar, has a distinctly folksy blues, homegrown sound. Their music — laid-back, cheerful and peppered with an occasional bout of percussive foot stomping — serves to support lyrics and art, rather than draw focus to itself.
As slides of photos, drawings and paintings by Friedman, a Rhode Island School of Design-trained artist, were projected on a screen set up on the stage, he spoke his lyrics as if at a poetry slam, allowing his voice to occasionally drop to a deep, guttural growl.
The lyrics ranged from the delicate “I was what you are/ I am what you will be” to the comical “guys like me don’t get grants/ writing poems in my underpants.” His slides also created interesting juxtapositions. For example, a photograph of a fast food restaurant advertising Allen Iverson bobble heads followed a soft charcoal drawing, titled “So Long Sunshine,” of light filtering through a cloudy sky.
Most impressive, though, was the resemblance of Friedman’s unplanned speech in-between songs to poetry. His advice and stories were articulated with even more expressiveness and poignancy than his lyrics. Before singing a song about meeting his idol, Dave van Rock, he encouraged the 23 audience members to “meet [their] heroes [and] write them letters because they’re just people.”
He believes “art is a chance to experience perfection as close to possible how you want to experience it” and admires the painters Vermeer, Velasquez and Rembrandt. The most poignant moment of the show came without music, when Friedman shared a story of laboriously working on a painting until accidentally destroying it by putting sealer on before the paint was dry.
His slides of the painting, all that remain of his work, depict an elderly couple sitting in a café, their wrinkled features and puzzled expressions carved out in immaculate detail. The loss of the painting forced Friedman “to come up with a new understanding of perfection.”
“[Otherwise], I’d still be behind an easel, obsessively compulsively painting a third painting. I never would have got into any of this,” he said.
Although Friedman has been playing this show for three years, during the first two years he performed without music. Friedman’s show grew to incorporate more mediums as he searched for a more comprehensive form of expression.
“It started with hanging my pictures on the wall, but I felt like I wanted them to say more, so I started writing poems. Then I thought, why not actually have music,” he said.
When Friedman played at Oberlin last year, on the inopportune night of the first presidential debate, only three people showed up. However, the experience didn’t faze him. Friedman tours college campuses often and particularly enjoys playing to that audience.
He said, “You guys represent the generation of searchers in this
country. My music is about searching, so I feel I have something to offer