|Annette Peacock (from Blank Forms)|
By Eric Stern
On Friday, December 8th, I went to the First Unitarian Church in downtown Brooklyn to see a rare solo performance by Annette Peacock. The show was produced by Blank Forms and Artists Space. It was part of an end-of-the-year fundraiser for Blank Forms with the first few rows being set aside for donors. The room was full, and the audience waited patiently for nearly an hour before the performer took the stage. The lack of any audience response to the delay demonstrates that this behavior was both anticipated by the sizeable crowd and provided also a fortuitous opportunity for the community of music fans to socialize with one other in anticipation of the set.
Peacock, who is now 78 years old, demonstrated that time has not diminished either her playing or her singing ability. The most effective songs from the performance were those that did not include synthesizers and pre-recorded instruments. Those that did feature synthesizers often felt trapped in the time of their creation, the 1970s and the 1980s. Those pieces that relied only on her voice and piano skills felt fresh, exciting, and new despite that fact that most of these songs were written decades ago.
Annette Peacock's work feels sui generis, a prototypical "one of a kind." The first stage of her
musical career spans the decade from 1965 to 1975, during which Paul Bley recorded many of Peacock's songs including "Touching," "Blood," "Mr. Joy," and "Nothing Ever Was, Anyway." These important recordings helped to establish ECM Records, and they continue to be frequently covered by other artists, including recent versions by guitarist Mary Halvorson and Nels Cline. Peacock was an early adopter of synthesizers and was among the first to use a Moog to treat her vocals. Her songs are often notable for their oddly melodic structures and the frank discussion of sexuality and relationships. Since the ECM release of An Acrobat's Heart in 2000, there have been no studio recordings and only a small handful of live appearances.
While not the subject of a major re-issue campaign, Peacock has managed the trick of establishing a new audience even in the absence of new recordings or touring. The audience on Friday contained plenty of grey-haired persons but also a strong contingent of young listeners. Considering that the artist controls much of her own catalog, which was released on her own Ironic Records label, this would seem to be a good time for her to make them available again, at least in a digital format.
The set ran a little more than an hour. The singer appeared to be suffering from stage-fright which resulted in the feeling that she was unhappy to be performing, and indeed she disappeared from the stage as quickly as possible without a word to the audience when she was finished. Despite the audience's clearly demonstrated desire for an encore, no encore was forthcoming. Yet none of this behavior seemed to surprise those in attendance.
I had seen a very similar performance from Annette Peacock last year at the "Le Guess Who Festival" in Utrecht. She arrived late to take the stage and was seemingly miserable while performing, and then left abruptly while concluding. I checked a few other reviews of recent performances, and this does seem to be a pattern. If not for the truly original nature of her compositions and her wonderful voice I would not recommend this so enthusiastically!
Peacock's gifts are impressive and more than made up for her shortfalls. It was clear that this was a feeling that was shared by the members of her Brooklyn audience.
***After coming to New York City in 1983, Eric Stern has practiced law by day and followed the improv music scene by night. He presently coordinates the House of Improv which organizes monthly performances.