The beauty of the Atari Star is in its relaxed subtlety, something I found out in an unexpected way.
I'd heard of them for almost a year but I didn't have a clue as to what to expect. After pursuing them for months, I was able to catch them at the Empty Bottle with three other bands ( they were third ) . I walked in on the second band, a raging punk/metal outfit that had the audience slam dancing. Imagine my surprise when the Atari Star took the stage and instead of thrashing/bopping/punking out they quietly and calmly sang pleasant sounding songs with such relaxed candor that the energy level in the room plummeted by a good 50 percent.
Which isn't a bad thing, really, it's a great thing. The Atari Star is about listening, not necessarily for interaction or watching. The group, led by Marc Ruvolo, is concerned with musical nuances and shadings—almost a completely sonic experience in itself. In fact the best way to take them is sitting down in an overstuffed armchair with a fragrant zinfandel.
On their latest CD, "shrp knf cts mtns," they display a definite identifiable sound—sort of a cross between the oriental picking on "Talking Heads '77," 1965 era Bryds, and a studied reflective aura like "Mingus" era Joni Mitchell. They sound like a lot of things, but they're actually their own.
Between Ruvolo's pristine near falsetto pitch, his consistent guitar riffing ( as a lead guitarist he seems to play the rhythm parts ) and keyboard-man Sevillesdotes bell-like chimes, the sound of the Star comes across like one thick gush of air. The result is near hypnotic; the CD and the band are set up to engage the ears—you have to listen attentively to get all the Star's rewards. "Someone More Deserving than Myself" is a definite distillation of their sound and probably a small masterpiece, a fleeting mosaic of still images and emotions, remembrances and sounds. The rest of "shrp knf" has the same strategy of compact phrasing, dreamlike imagery, and fleeting observations.
After the Queer is Folk Fest in June, I had been pursuing seeing Aerin Tedesco in a full gig ( I've spent a lot of time chasing after people in the last two months ) . Lo and behold I was lucky enough to see her at her Ladyfest gig at the Local Grind. It was a nice surprise to see her in a bohemian-style coffeehouse filled with overstuffed couches and an attentive audience. Seeing her in a theater is definitely not the same experience, not nearly as personal. To be blunt, the Local Grind show blew my head off.
Looking totally boss in a suit and tie, Tedesco not only has a vocal range that goes from a quiet tear-stained whisper to a ferocious razor lilt, but also a telling feel for drama that's both arresting and vulnerable at the same time. The only vocalist that I can think of who comes close to such a combination is Prince. But there's nothing smug about her confidence in pushing across the lyric ( which served him well ) , nothing removed about the emotional punch that she delivers in her phrasing ( which served him well, until it got grating ) , and certainly nothing held back in her approach ( after all, it was just her and a guitar ) . Playing mostly solo-acoustic ( and I must add that this wasn't A.T.'s headlining gig, she had the same amount of time as everyone else on the bill ) , she displayed a stately suppleness that slid into furious emotionalism, subdued tremors of drama and back again. "Downside Up" and "Crush" were operettas of high drama, but " ( Look at ) Fire," where she and guest vocalist Andrea Bunch traded lilting choruses in a mesmerizing and intense volley, was on an alien plane. Music this powerful and haunting just isn't made anymore. Do yourself a favor, go see this woman.