Rock summed it up the most concisely from the stage at the Texas Theater on Friday night. Joking about critical reactions to The Uncluded's debut album, a project completed with long-time pal and collaborator Kimya Dawson, "Everyone is all - why do you all even know each other?" Hokey Fright, their first recorded endeavor together, is an at-times puzzling collaboration. Still there is something genuinely charming to their combined effort. I am hesitant to admit that getting through the album is a bit of a studious affair, because I realize that makes it sound less fun, but it's the best way I can think to describe the experience. I do feel made better on the other side of an attentive listen, but it take some work.
I had the gut feeling though, based on the fun they seem to be having, that this is a collaboration that grew out of their personal chemistry which made seeing the whole exercise live all the more intriguing. And Friday, The Uncluded, and the strange, charismatic album they have created provided something really special in the dark of the Texas Theater.
Ms. Dawson, Aesop and multi-instrumentalist James Lynch scattered the stage with guitars, synthesizers, and a xylophone. Filling the room with Dawson's signature skittish strumming and live looping from the other players, live The Uncluded feels entirely singular. It's a testament to the distinctiveness of Aesop's delivery that so many songs didn't include traditional percussion elements, relying on his driving flow to keep time with Dawson's strumming.
Dawson's touch means things can get a little precious, Aesop's touch means things can lean a little brainy which should all add up to something more pretentious but instead it feels so utterly genuine you can't help but smile. It's a lesson in not giving a shit about genre and wearing your heart on your sleeve. Something so many of us have gotten too cool for and The Uncluded are having none of.
The night began with "Organs," a song about the literal and metaphorical importance about giving pieces of yourself away. And in a full-circle touch ended with Kimya Dawson's touching "Walk Like Thunder," (co-written by Aesop Rock). It's a song that rambles but the story is well worth it. And on Friday night I am not sure there was a dry eye in the house at its conclusion.
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The album was better live. Seeing the chemistry onstage made sensual sense of this collaboration, which at first approach seemed mostly intellectual. Afterwards both artists stood in the lobby of the Texas Theater greeting fans and signing records and just hanging out. Kimya Dawson greets each fan with a hug so warm it appears every interaction is with a family member.
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The Uncluded is a strange little diversion for both of these artist's careers but what happened onstage Friday night felt like a special experiment for fans who encourage their favorite creators to work outside the box. Even if the collaboration is temporal, that may be the only reward any of us needed.
PS - More, more, more live shows at The Texas Theater please.