Live review: Garretson & Gorodetsky, "What Must the Hummingbird See?" at Automata, March 23.


Put a couple of wide-open musicians together, you never know where it's gonna go. Weba Garretson has been a performance artist, folkie, Brazilian-jazzy chanteuse, Kurt Weill interpreter, puppet, pirate, pawn, queen. Ralph Gorodetsky has done avant pop, jazzy punk, jumpy funk, soul yoga. Combine her operatic voice and her lyrics about small critters with his jagged jazz guitar, and it's unprecedented.

We're in a small Chinatown art space. Here's Weba, sheathed up to her larynx in an elegant black gown behind an electric keyboard. Here's Ralph, in a gangster suit with a hollow-body electric. Here's angelic Frances Garretson, standing next to an overhead projector with her shadow puppets and some organic auxiliaries (a small animal skull, some feathers and stuff). Okay, go.

Ralph plucks lines that meander like a dosed fire ant at the crossroads of Beefheart & Braxton, breaking up the trip with jazzy chord chops. Weba's voice swoops like a dove alongside and between, sometimes ending a song with an intense sustain. She's singing about the creatures in her Echo Park life: birds, bugs, possums, cats. She watches them, tries to help them, and they die anyway, or they kill. Although not human, they traverse the same cycles of searching, nesting and predation that we do, a similarity Weba clearly grasps without stating it. The beauty's there, but the inevitable end bothers her, so she kind of sings it away.

Meanwhile, Frances is cycling through a parallel sequence of the nature videos shot by Weba's husband, Mark Wheaton, assembled by filmmaker Susan Mogul and projected on two walls. A raccoon pokes through leaves; a hummingbird hovers; insects and grubs by the dozen crawl through disturbed earth. The critters are doing their own performance, and we hardly know where to look, especially when Frances adds a layer of shadow puppets (combinations of natural objects found around the yard). Some of Joe Baiza's edgy drawings are in there, too. We got ourselves an environment here.

Some of the songs are folky, some a little noisy/punky. Weba strokes minimal keyboard most of the time. For two musicians, they spread out a wide spectrum.

Most concerts don't leave a lasting impression. After this one, we could find ourselves looking at other life forms in new ways. I hope they don't look back.