Concert Reviews

Last Night: The Books at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth

The Books
The Modern Art Museum of Ft. Worth
April 6, 20011

Better than:
taking a musicology class at the University of North Texas

Augmented by a third, and sometimes a fourth member, the duo known as The Books thrilled a packed and energetic audience for 90 minutes last night at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth.

And what a thrill it was. The auditorium at the museum only holds 250 people, and it was clear by the line at the door that the venue would promptly be filled to capacity. But the crowd was respectful and reverent, even as The Books began their set 30 minutes late.

As the band walked on stage, the crowd hushed to a silence rarely heard outside of funerals.

Beginning with "Group Autogenics I" from The Books' most recent effort, The Way Out, it was clear that a museum was the proper venue for this performance. As a large video screen displayed a variety of self-help gurus spreading words of wisdom, bassist Nick Zammuto and cellist Paul de Jong began coaxing all sorts of odd sounds from their respective instruments, as a backing sample played a heavy dose of noisy percussion.

Each song was accompanied by a video. Some images were harsh -- visuals of body parts and sullied food items -- while others were quite peaceful and nearly hypnotic.

Easily the best video accompanied "A Cold Freezin' Night," a song constructed from tape recordings made by children speaking on a Talkboy. While the band furiously strummed various stringed instruments, the images of kids sliding down a mud path were set against samples of a little girl saying, "I want to be a boy" and a young man proclaiming, "I will cut off your toes and work my way up."

Such is the weird and wonderful world of The Books. Part found sound archivists, part neo-classical wunderkinds, this arty and talented duo make structured "music" that only sounds random.

As the band made its way through songs from its back catalogue, the crowd grew increasingly engaged. When cellist Paul de Jong began the first notes of "Be Good to Them Always" (from 2005's phenomenal Lost and Safe), the hearty applause seemed to take the band by surprise.

When bassist Nick Zammuto introduced "Take Time" from 2003's The Lemon of Pink, the audience was hanging on his every word. Appreciative almost to a fault, the crowd seemed to see this concert as more of an artistic event.

And, in a way, it certainly was.

Ending with a rather conventional take on Nick Drake's "Cello Song," The Books took in a second standing ovation and left the stage.

It was an amazing evening of music. I walked away astonished that so many people would find their way to an art museum to hear music this esoteric. I dare say I felt proud to be one of the 250 lucky souls who got to take part in this visual and auditory extravaganza.  

Critics Notebook
Personal Bias:
Even though their music definitely falls into the neo-classical category, The Books are a life-affirming unit. While seeming at first to be a random collection of sound bites and unearthed video tapes, the overall effect is one of universalism and the ways in which all creatures interact. Yes, it's that heavy and it's that good.

By The Way: Since the traffic on I-30 was a pretty ungodly, I was glad that it was my fellow show-going friend who was driving. He and I were easily the oldest people at this show. And, yes, such made us both feel significantly past our prime.

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Darryl Smyers
Contact: Darryl Smyers