to Lindsey Stirling
Truly Stirling Performance
By Chris Shalom
Lindsey Stirling, von Grey and Vibrant Sound at the Rio Theatre, November
It’s a shame
Lindsey Stirling booked The Rio. Not on account of the overly self-conscious
hip hop of The Vibrant Sound, or the bizarrely satisfying bluegrass
of von Grey, but because the second Lindsey’s beat dropped, hot
damn did everyone want to jump. And there we sat in our nicely ordered
seats while Lindsey crackled across the stage, a force of inexhaustible
dynamism on which the smooth beauty of a violin somehow balanced perfectly.
I’m betting the venue will be more appropriate next time, and
I look forward to it.
Stirling is the electronic-violin-dubstep gamer-music contemporary-dance
choreographer/videographer/composer/performer – you know the one?
I say “the” because she may well be the only person so far
to have collected that particular list of descriptors. A YouTube sensation
by merit of her enthusiastic and original work, Lindsey’s passion
is obvious, and with young openers Vibrant Sound and von Grey, the whole
show carried a sense of fumbly new-artist excitement.
Unfortunately, Vibrant Sound’s pink-shirted, skinny-jeaned hip
hop set never hit its groove. A personal idiosyncrasy, maybe, but the
mixture of the rawness of hip hop and the glibness of hipsterism has
always seemed odious. The appropriation of hip hop by the establishment
occurred long ago, and maybe we’re meant to move on, but I have
to admit it still makes me shudder to see those thick-rimmed glasses
behind the mic. It’s difficult to reconcile hipsterism’s
almost mandated apathy and inauthenticity with a genre that emerged
from the rhythmic myths of West African griots and from the melancholic
veracity of blues music. Maybe we’re not supposed to. Good things
are for everyone, do what they may.
There’s something awesome about von Grey, though. Maybe it’s
that they’re four sisters, or that those four play at least eight
people’s worth of instruments, or that they dropped a totally
unexpected, dirge-like Tom Jones cover in the middle of their folk/bluegrass
set. In any case, there’s some source of ineffable satisfaction.
It’s not their stage presence, because they have none. I feel
safe in the bluntness of this statement, though, because the awkward
yet comfortable performance, and the song introductions best suited
to a family band at someone’s wedding – “Our next
song is ______, I hope you like it!” was the enduring mantra of
the evening – made the music all the better. When an artist can’t
quite express themselves in person, it’s gratifying to see them
express themselves fluently in art. Von Grey’s unique take on
folk, with a dash of Tim Burton-esque darkness, is nothing if not expressive.
Lindsey Stirling, of course, was not dark. She’s about as bright
as it gets.
There’s a trope in screenwriting known as the Manic Pixie Dream
Girl. Through no fault of her own, Stirling embodies it exactly. Relentlessly
energetic and immensely talented, she’s a fitting personification
of the type of feminine freedom that (presumably) male screenwriters
have reduced to stereotype, and a fascinating presence to see on stage.
She probably does fit a subculture ideal, dressing up as Link to cover
Zelda music and doing her own arrangements of the themes from Lord of
the Rings and Skyrim (in collaboration with a capella artist Peter Hollens).
While Lindsey’s work is unique, she finds herself, in my mind,
pitted against stereotype. I couldn’t help but wonder, as she
energetically careened around the stage, how much the room must be filling
up with a conscious or unconscious masculine sense of wanting to capture
her. Certain things appeal in our culture. Poor Tink ends up in a lantern,
after all. And Stirling’s own Link traipses around with jars of
Stirling’s music is awesome – I should say that outright.
The combination of slamming percussion, aggressive violin, and Stirling’s
energetic dance moves make for an absolute spectacle. In fact, the screen
which intermittently displayed video behind the band was a distracting
miscalculation and a testament to Stirling’s strength as a physical
entertainer. I spent some time wishing the damn projector would turn
off so that I could focus on the performance.
The set included many original compositions in addition to the requisite
video game covers and soundtrack medleys that were likely the main proponents
of Stirling’s YouTube success (no slight towards the artist; the
YouTube crowd tend to be more excited by pop culture riffs than they
do by original content, excepting the odd stoned child). With due deference
to Howard Shore and Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stirling’s original songs
are probably her most enjoyable, a fact which speaks to the singularity
of her musical voice.
Vancouver was the last show of a first tour for Stirling (and a first
Canadian show for von Grey, who commented that they were selling their
$8 EP for $5 because they didn’t understand Canadian money –
the audience’s laughter was, I think, good-natured) and she hopes
to come back soon. When she does, trust me – bring your dancing