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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Live: Andrew Weathers doesn't say farewell—not yet, at least

Posted by on Thu, May 5, 2011 at 5:22 PM

Note: Last week, I was in error. I said that Andrew Weathers’ senior recital in Greensboro was his sendoff, inferring it was our last chance to catch this remarkable young composer before his upcoming move to Oakland, where he’ll pursue an MFA in electronic music at Mills College. Yet he isn’t actually leaving until August, and he will be playing select engagements until then. What’s more, Weathers says these will be performances of his 2010 record, A Great Southern City, which saw his break from digital guitarscapes into classical acoustic timbres. One of these dates is July 28, at Chapel Hill’s Nightlight.

Andrew Weathers and his big band
  • Photo by Andrew Marino
  • Andrew Weathers and his big band


CFGB is not far from the Greensboro Coliseum. The door of the unassuming little storefront stands open to the street. Pushing aside the black cloth that hangs at front reveals a slate-walled room, a pew pushed against one side. Andrew Weathers—lanky and with a seemingly permanent smile—stands and greets people as they enter. Many get hugs.

Behind him, a nontraditional orchestra tunes: There are two keyboards, most parts of a string quartet, saxes and a guitarist with a red, hollow electric. Weathers’ own instruments—three guitars, a banjo and a laptop—sit by his empty seat. Though many are undoubtedly familiar with his drone-oriented orchestration, there’s a quiet excitement, a sort of “what the hell is this going to sound like?” sense lingering in the room.
Shortly after 9 p.m., the man of the hour takes a seat at the head of his ensemble and says, “Hi, I’m Andrew Weathers. I’m trying to graduate college. I guess we’ll get started.”

He begins with a simple guitar-and-voice piece. There is no microphone, and the room’s natural reverb clings to his vocals. This more traditional approach to the guitar—that is, playing chords and singing—is a relatively recent addition to Weathers’ output. His latest album, We’re Not Cautious, was the first to feature folk-built songs with this feel. Yet several minutes into “O/OU,” the opening movement of what turns out to be a solid hour of uninterrupted music, Weathers’ guitar signal passes through his laptop. A blend of looped feedback tones—rounded sounds that very nearly punish the ear but remain gentle—build for several minutes.

With a quick, commanding glance back at his ensemble, Weathers, the conductor, sets the octet gently playing. Each instrument explores close tones and, as a whole, the sound is of one enormous chord, showing itself asymmetrically. Rich with sustained warble, it’s like an acoustic approximation of feedback. Weathers directs without dominating. Over the course of maybe 15 transformative, patient minutes, the piece unfolds. Harmony, form and melody emerge from the placid wash. In the end, a long cello tone leads into a computer-manipulated soundscape.

“The Lungs, Which Rot” follows. Weathers moderates a conversation between his acoustic guitar and computer. Soon, his fingerstyle playing moves into a new digitized landscape, where the chords expand and multiply into a cascade of signals. He sings, his voice purposefully a bit obscured. At this point, maybe 40 people sit on the floor or on the pew, politely and quietly. “Receiving Vessel” begins with a familiar drone, as Weathers’ ensemble gathers a wash of conflicting sounds. Thankfully, he doesn’t take 15 minutes to bring the piece together this time around.

Even if this isn’t his last show as one of North Carolina’s own, I’d like to remember Weathers as in his final piece, the short “Van Blues.” Barefoot, as he’s been the whole recital, he plays his banjo and sings: “When we’re moving we’re also running.” Two minutes of applause follow and then, as the ensemble packs, the audience moves on. The impression I’m left with is that Weathers isn’t asking questions so much as he’s making assertions: The laptop can be a classical instrument, he seems to say, and that the classical and folk worlds aren’t such disparate spheres as is commonly accepted. His glue for the two—drone—is his own, and he uses it well.

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Andrew Weathers brings the big band to graduate college.

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