9 TRAGEDIES at Art System, April 18. Tickets: $9. Attendance: 150. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
Wicked women doing deadly deeds. That was the creepy concept behind last week's neat 9 Tragedies show at Chinatown's Art System gallery. The show was dreamed up by local artist Heather Goodchild as a companion to her series of nine "textile mosaics" inspired by traditional murder ballads. Goodchild translated the tunes' gruesome lyrics into extraordinarily intricate sepia-toned quilt-photograph hybrids.
The art was gorgeous, and so were the songs.
Goodchild invited nine local musicians to perform the ballads, which ranged from haunting hillbilly bluegrass to ethereal Celtic chants. The lineup was as diverse as the set list, with folks like brassy jazz belter Alex Pangman -- who dazzled with a bombastic take on Frankie And Johnny -- alongside country crooner Caitlin Hanford and handsome boi Emmett Reed, whose stunning tenor carried a lovely Irish ballad.
Fresh off a tour with Crazy Strings singer/bassist Jenny Whiteley, Amy Millan was one of the only solo performers on the bill. What Millan lacked in bandmates she made up for in charisma, charming the crowd with a goofy anecdote about losing the lyrics to her ballad. When an Internet search turned up hundreds of variations, she decided to screw tradition and make up her own rendition, giggling, "Part of folk music is rewriting, right?"
Her cobbled-together, contemporary take on Good Mother was lovely acoustic country-folk, and she followed it up with a few solo tunes in the same vein, a total 180 from the dream pop she serves up with Montreal's Stars.
Whiteley capped off the night with a mournful bluegrass ballad (what else?) backed by her preternaturally talented brother, Dan Whiteley, on mandolin and guitar. The two were later joined by Millan, who helped out with lovely three-part harmonies.
Sightlines in the space are fairly crappy, and the bizarrely sweltering April evening didn't do much to help matters. But with beer flowing like water and a decent sound system, what could've been an artsy-pretentious bomb turned out to be a cool, innovative experience.