Music makes the people come together

ife through a Jens: young, trendy couples went to see Swedish singer Jens Lekman.
Life through a Jens: young, trendy couples went to see Swedish singer Jens Lekman.

I like people. And I think they like me. And in this line of work it’s vital that people and I have a reciprocal but what will probably end up being brief, relationship — good while it lasts but over oh so quickly.

So in a twist on your bog-standard music reviews, I attended two rather different events in June, first a concert performed by the National Symphony Orchestra downtown and second, a Swedish folk singer in San Telmo (yes, this musical genre as a concept exists). The intention was not to cast my beady eye on cello soloist José Alberto Araujo’s vibrato, for example, but to review the people checking out the music.
As an aside, I reached the dizzying musical heights of grade five cello myself although that doesn’t qualify me in any way to proffer an opinion on an orchestra that has been going for more than 50 years. So you won’t be hearing about its performance from me. However I was out and about with my friend Jonah, who plays in Los Alamos, an Argentine band that has released albums and toured and everything, who’s allowed to speak his mind and helped me identify a few musical gaffs (even I heard the bassoon’s out of-synch parp during Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition).

Freedom of Music. Friday’s programme featured music from Argentine composer Hernández-Medrano as well as Prokofiev and Mussorgsky and was a free event, so I expected a real mishmash of people to take advantage of a warm room, perfect for winter germ-ination and a few hours out of the chilly evening at the Bolsa de Comercio.

Jonah observed quite a die-hard fan base in the queue to pick up our tickets: a young woman in her late teens to early 20s chatting away to a group of much older ladies. Clearly all friends, they arrived early to bag the best seats alongside the musicians. If only we’d been in the know…

Not an acoustically ideal venue for a symphony orchestra, the Bolsa de Comercio was however pretty much bursting with a microcosm of society. Asking a smartly dressed gentleman, complete in tanktop, tie and highly polished shoes, to shift one seat along, I wondered who he might be waiting for. The obvious answer was his wife, but as he eagerly bobbed up and down in search of his companion, it was clearly someone special. A first date? A secret lover? His boyfriend?

People and people watching really are a favourite pastime of mine. As I don’t live in my birth country, meeting new folk can be a little tedious what with the same ol’ questions popping up every time, but once the dull niceties are out of the way, a natter, a friend in common, a shared interest in Swedish folks singers or Prokofiev make the people come together. Yeah. Just this weekend I was reminded by a mate of an excellent 1990s track called Yes by British duo McAlmont and Butler, and the bonding we have had over this single song has been phenomenal. Madonna was right.

In the hot seats. The first six rows at the Bolsa de Comercio contain the most sophisticated chairs, complete with arm rests and occupying a good few among the generally elderly hardcore were some little kids. But the pro of sitting at the back meant it was a good place to spy on the crowd and etiquette was maintained by some vigilant young woman behind who kept shushing we whispering English speakers before the concert even began. Security wandered among the marble pillars, routinely sending people back to their seats, including a harmless young goth-light couple simply searching out a better view of the orchestra in action.

In keeping with current global preoccupations, one middle-aged lady unabashedly wore a surgical mask although she was the standout among the crowd. Across the way, two men had their eyes firmly shut and chins surgically attached to their chests, sound asleep and not to be confused with closed-eye music lovers with stiff, steady necks.

Mid-way through Prokofiev, my neighbour’s companion snuck in. Too old to be his son, too young to be his brother, the pair whispered enthusiastically throughout, and were shushed enthusiastically throughout. Perhaps they were just classical music lovers in search of an evening of classics.

What was unusual was the rather hooliganesque way soloist Araujo was celebrated on finishing Op. 125. The guy returned five times to feel the audience’s love, and it was like he was a favourite soccer player who’s just completed his hat-trick. The ladies at the front were dressed in their pearls and finery but the weight of their jewels didn’t stop them from adoring their hero, forcing him into an encore.

Nuevos Aires. Following a few pieces of dirty pizza on Corrientes Avenue, our next stop-off point was La Trastienda Club on San Telmo’s Balcarce Street. Jens Lekman, a guitar-playing Swede who currently resides in Australia, was in town for the first time and the fairly cute but not overly blond 28-year-old was bound to attract a predominantly 30-something crowd.

Lekman and his love’s-lost lyrics were participating in the fifth version of the Nuevos Aires folk festival, and despite no advertising he had sold out the 900-seat venue at $65 a ticket.
Walking into the sweaty venue, to my right was loved-up couple. A first date? A secret lover? Boyfriend and girlfriend? He was rather preppy, all chinos, brogues and pale blue pullover with a shirt collar peeking through, she was all hair and legs, turning round every so often to gaze at him adoringly. I couldn’t work out if he had taken her on a cheap date or not, because once you factor in a few beers to get a first date or secret lover mildly tipsy, we’re talking $200 for a night out.

A single white female snapped away at the front, shimmying away to the guitar and laptop between photos. She was the only one really getting into the woe-is-me lyrics, catchy though Lekman’s acoustic guitar strumming was, so perhaps she in her little vest top was part of his entourage. I only hope she had a sensible jacket to fling on later.

To my left, some younger women draped their arms round each other and swayed gently, mouthing the words. To my right was a fair number of hairy young men with big trouser turnups, all trying to break out of the traditional fashion mould with their army jackets and baggy jeans but fitting into the shaggy sheep mould.
The overall fashion consensus was about looking different but despite this, the anorak brigade was out in full force sporting grubby trainers while a pink-coiffed girl actually stood out. Good hair colour choice.

After yet another song that Lekman had written when he was 17 (get over your adolescence man, you’re twenty flipping eight!) the men with facial hair and women with quirky head ornaments left the building. I’d already made my way out for a beer on my own as I’d had enough of hearing about him wearing his broken heart in two pieces on his sleeve, and that gave me ample opportunity to sum up the crowd.

I’d have put the average age of the Lekman audience at about 28, but Argentine DJ Zuker wandered out with the masses, and he hasn’t seen the right side of 28 for a while.

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