Swell and Hum: The Heart Song of Evan Flory-Barnes Mar 6, 2018
by Elissa Favero
A response to On Loving the Muse and Family by Evan Flory-Barnes (Mar 1-4, 2018) (Photo: Ripple Fang)
Remember in the film La La Land, the best picture that never was, the one-woman play that Emma Stone’s Mia writes and stars in before she earns her big break? The show, we’re made to understand, is a tribute to childhood imagination and to an aunt whose stories burst open wide the world to her niece. But we never see the show itself, only Mia’s disappointment at the poor turnout and at the tepid comments she overhears from a few audience members.
Evan Flory-Barnes’s On Loving the Muse and Family is the show Mia might have made if she were a black man who grew up playing music at Seattle’s Garfield High School and has since become one of the celebrated performers in the group Industrial Revelation. In the first half of the performance, Flory-Barnes introduces us to his alter-egos: the debonair higher self who serves as host and emcee; the inner child who revels in connection, love, and cuteness; the foul-mouthed, Cockney-accented shadow; and the cranky old-timer who complains of and rejects psychological (toxic) bullshit and its associated “distorting, deflecting, gaslighting, projecting.” To share these multiple selves must feel vulnerable — silly, even — but Flory-Barnes’s tender daring was met with, buoyed by, both a receptive audience happy to go along as well as a light-hearted orchestra performing the leading man’s own music, which draws on influences from jazz, doo wop, soul, and country, among other genres. (I knew when the musicians started playing Outkast and then Nirvana and then the Game of Thrones theme in the moments before the performance started that we were in for some levity.) Once the show began, The Traumatics and Mushbu Singers, who sing back-up to Flory-Barnes’s tenor, added glamour and glitz, harmony, and one memorably sweet falsetto.
In the second half of the show, the host persona is gone, and we’re left with Evan Flory-Barnes himself, walking around stage with a mug of tea as he moves from microphone to piano to upright bass to guitar and tells us about and plays and croons to us of his many loves, with a little music theory on the side. The second half stretches long, but it sang to me in the theme Flory-Barnes wrote for the private detective character his father conceived when he was alive but never had time to develop on the page. That character exists now in music, if not in fiction. And Flory-Barnes’s show and the music that carries it along sang to me especially when the string instruments swelled big, when the brass blared loud, and when the percussive power of his own bass pizzicato hit and hummed.
“La la la la la la la,” he and his musical companions sang to us at the end and sent us off with into the night. He had spoken in the first half of the show of us wanting to hear each other’s hearts. I know I heard his.
Elissa Favero teaches critical and contextual studies at Cornish College of the Arts and writes essays about art, architecture, and landscape.
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