Photo by Ted Di Ottavio

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Rave Review of the MASS MoCA Show

Mass MoCA, N. Adams, MA
Friday, August 29, 2008

If you're going to make up a word and use it as your band name, you damn well better be able to back it up. Flutterbox have done this, and more. A duo of singer Janine Nichols and bass guitarist Neill C. Furio, the latter originally coined the term as a moniker for the vintage effects box he uses to create parallel and enhanced musical sounds. Adopting it for their own name was an apt choice. The word itself is playful and layered in ways that mirror their unique and inviting songs. The first half of the compound word reflects movement, with bird-like darting, wings in motion. The second is solid and stationary, a defined space with one side enclosing a finite volume, the other standing as the edge of infinity.

This New York City-based pair have been together for only a couple years and their appearance at Mass MoCA in North Adams last Friday marked their area debut. Nichols and Furio were a study in visual contrasts, she looking like a silver-haired Annie Hall, he like a mod-shirted Jeff Beck. What Flutterbox have created straddles genres with the confidence of seasoned travelers. Furio's songs, as sung by Nichols, create a breadth of character enriched by the strength of the two vantage points. It can come as a surprise that the words being sung were not her own, so completely did she inhabit them. The songs were poetic reveries on flight, dreams, love, hope, time, and wonder. Even elements of loss, longing and goodbyes were given a warm glow. Once you hear a song like "Whoops Wrong Daisy" it's hard to recall that you've had decades of life before it came on board.

Without a hint of grandstanding, Nichols gently let her idiosyncratic sense of time and space elevate everything she sang. Meanwhile Furio brought the sensibilities of a guitarist to his bass, using a capo, fuzz and other effects to provide both a rhythmic foundation and melodic flourishes. The sheltered outdoor setting was ideal for the sonics being created on stage.

Early on, crickets in the surrounding night became a part of the musical atmosphere. Later, sirens wailed down the road, their notes in the same key as the song being played and Furio gave them room before returning to the verse at hand. Finally, rain began to fall, bouncing off the paved surfaces and percussing on the fabric coverings overhead.

Fluttterbox's first CD is just out and there's an electricity in hearing something this good near its beginnings. Their between song patter hasn't found a natural ease yet, but more time on the road will bring that into focus as well. Such a sympathetically matched pair is hard to find.

– David Greenberger
(4 Sept 08)

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