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We often speak of David Lynch in terms of his vision, whether it is a severed ear crawling with ants amongst the grass, or a puffy-cheeked lounge singer squashing mucousy spermatozoa with her heels, or the river-washed body of a prom queen, pale blue and wrapped in plastic. Such strikingly iconic images leave a lasting and unforgettable impression, but the auditory experience of his films is integral to the visual component. Unsurprisingly, hearing performances of his soundtracks instantly brings to mind such imagery. Sky Ferreira singing a tortured version of “Blue Velvet” conjured the figure of a tortured Isabella Rosselini. The sparse guitar plucking of the Twin Peaks theme brought to mind a logging town plagued by capricious other-worldly spirits who wandered in from the woods. Zola Jesus performing “In Heaven” practically turned the stage to black and white as the anxieties of fatherhood welled up even in the childless. As a visual artist, we like to talk about what a strange world David Lynch sees, but on this occasion we got to celebrate what David Lynch hears.
That said, the incredibly ornate Ace Hotel Theater was a perfect visual companion for such an event. Almost grotto-like in detail, the Spanish gothic stonework festooning the walls were lit ominously from within, resembling the eyes and noses of skulls in places, casting a morose backdrop for a theater full of stylish doe-eyed patrons. It could almost be called Lynchian, although the theaters in his films tend to be a little less populated.
Several of the performances were by vocalists who captured the despondence of Lynch’s tragic women in trouble. Rebekah del Rio performed the tear-jerker “Llorando”–the Spanish a cappella interpretation of Roy Orbison’s “Crying” featured just prior to the moment midway through Mulholland Drive, when the world suddenly turns upside down. Lykki Li, lithe and statuesque, crooned her way through Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game”, appearing to use her entire being to push the notes out as the house band nailed the instrumentation and iconic guitar bends. Zola Jesus performed the remarkably weird “In Heaven”, though it’s a shame she wasn’t made up with puffed cheeks like the woman under the radiator.
Not to dwell on the fatalistic, there were upward turns in mood as well. Karen O performed the rocker “Pinky’s Dream” from Lynch’s Crazy Clown Time. Moby had the audience dancing in the isles for “Go” as he gave a kinetic performance on the congas, and followed it up with the tongue-in-cheek singalong “The Perfect Life”, which he admitted had nothing to do with anything, but it was infectiously exuberant nonetheless. Duran Duran, for whom Lynch directed the live concert film Unstaged in 2011, closed the show with an explosive three song set that had yet more people dancing in the aisles, cell phones held high to capture it, as lead singer Simon Le Bon, wearing a salmon pink suit, worked the stage into a froth with a spectacular vocal performance and ageless enthusiasm.
But perhaps the most “Lynch-y” sounds of the evening were accomplished by Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd of the Flaming Lips–who had performed a psyched-out version of “Good Vibrations” at Brian Fest at the Fonda just two nights earlier–only now they went far deeper into the abstract with a soundscape inspired by the score eight minutes into Eraserhead. Using a light sensitive device that looked somewhat like an aquamarine spider, Coyne created a noise like an AM radio squelch that morphed in response to the distance and angle the device was held in relation to a bare light bulb, while Drozd on keyboard and two other musicians painted the walls with apocalyptically pulsing klaxons and staticky hiss. After a few minutes, Drozd segued into Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings” from the somber closing titles of The Elephant Man, as Coyne recited sparse poetry through a vocoded mic, eventually repeating “Nothing will die” over a dozen times as the heartbreaking strings belied this naïve yet painfully hopeful sentiment. Like many of the performers of the evening, Drozd addressed Lynch, who was sitting in the front row, to thank him. “You got it, buddy,” Lynch said warmly and without hesitation.
The paradoxically positive and humanistic vibe Lynch emits comes through even in the darkest moments of his work, which even so have a humor to them for the fact that they are so ridiculously dark. Likewise, levity characterized the evening, even though the music did often dwell in the forlorn. Angelo Badalamenti, Lynch’s longtime collaborator, told funny anecdotes as he introduced performances of his most memorable compositions, like how Paul McCartney told him that he missed out on the chance to perform for the queen of England because she didn’t want to miss Twin Peaks.
Not to be deprived of Lynch’s own work, the house was treated to a two part video to illustrate how school can be, and then how it should be. The first half was a Lynch-directed short in which we see an old man holding two rocks, and we are prompted by the question, “Pete has how many rocks?” After the student in the film writes two wrong answers on a tiny blackboard hung over a doorway, a rubber ducky is decapitated, the water blooms red, and we see the old man beating the ground with a hammer. The second half was an NBC news segment that delves into the David Lynch Foundation’s goal of incorporating transcendental meditation into the particularly problematic public schools. According to the piece, the schools in question experienced an extreme drop absenteeism and boost in academic performance just by adding two fifteen-minute meditation settings to the daily curriculum. Ticket sales and donations went to help fund DLF.
Finally, Lynch himself took to the stage, and accompanied by Donovan on guitar, said some thank yous and recited a short poem that he said was of unknown origin: “May everyone be happy. May everyone be free of disease. May auspiciousness be seen everywhere. May suffering belong to no one. Peace.” However strange, or dark, or twisted the world can be, as Lynch’s work seems to reflect, it is of great comfort that the master of the absurd and disturbing believes there is a path towards the opposite, and that transcendence through art and music is a means to get there.
Laura Palmer’s Theme (ft. Angelo Badalamenti)
Love Me Tender (ft. Donovan)
Swing With Me (ft. Chrysta Bell)
In Dreams (ft. Tennis & Twin Peaks)
Llorando (ft. Rebekah del Rio)
Blue Velvet (ft. Sky Ferreira)
Sycamore Tree (ft. Jim James)
Pinky’s Dream (ft. Karen O)
Dance of the Dream Man (ft. Angelo Badalamenti)
Dark Spanish Symphony (ft. Angelo Badalamenti and Kinny Landrum)
Twin Peaks Theme (ft. Angelo Badalamenti)
Wicked Game (ft. Lykke Li)
Go (ft. Moby)
The Perfect Life (ft. Moby)
In Heaven (ft. Zola Jesus)
Eraserhead Soundscape (ft. Wayne Coyne and Steven Drozd)
The Chauffer (Duran Duran)
Ordinary World (Duran Duran)
Hungry Like the Wolf (Duran Duran)