Earlier this week the Clarion Content’s editor was delighted to attend the premier of the Listening Room at Mercury Studio. Mercury Studio has been the epicenter of so much amazing cultural activity in recent months, it is probably hard to keep up.
The Listening Room is the brainchild of founders Katie DeConto and Megan Jones, who are always looking to utilize Mercury Studio in game-raising ways for the community and the arts. The Listening Room brings premier musicians to an intimate space to play a set of their music, and then, host a music salon; questions and answers, discussions and flights of musical fancy with the audience.
Tuesday1 Duncan Webster and Leah Gibson of Prypyat lit up the room with beautiful, haunting melodies that draw inspiration from sources as diverse as Twin Peaks, Chernobyl, and the darkest of Japanese forests. The crowd was positioned on couches and folding chairs mere feet from the musicians and the music. As Duncan later confided during the Q&A, this is the way he likes it, if it were up to him, they would never play with an amplifier at all.
Their set began with nothing more than a quick, “How are you doing?” to the crowd and a even briefer, “You ready?” to each other. Twelve gorgeous tracks followed, cello, guitar, kickdrum, whistling, and vocals. Gibson and Webster admitted this was one of the longest sets they had ever played. Lucky us. Applause was hearty, sincere, and sustained.
The show was so personal even before the floor was opened up for questions, it made your spine tingle, like the first time one encountered MTV Unplugged. With the country’s cultural eye turning ever more toward Durham, one had to wonder were we sitting in the room with future stars?2 Gibson’s band The Bowerbirds already tours nationally. Webster’s well-known Hammer no More the Fingers has pounded out their rhythms on the distant shores of England and literally played hundreds of shows in the states from New York City to Huntington, West Virginia.
How personal? Duncan and Leah dedicated the third song to Madeleine in the front row who had just turned four yesterday. We also heard a wild wedding story of couple who lost power in middle of the reception as their tent flooded and the DJ panicked for lack of battery back-up. The couple road in through the pouring rain on a house and carriage to a darkened tent where Duncan and Leah stood in for the DJ, playing on by candlelight, all the way through the Bride and Groom’s first dance, the daughter-Dad dance, the groom and his Mom’s dance, mind you, all spontaneous, all unrehearsed. This is the kind of back story I predict we will come to treasure the Listening Room for.
Want to get to know your favorite musicians better? DeConto reports she has acts booked through May. And at our Mercury Studio HQ, the Clarion Content might have overheard a conversation with a couple of Durham’s favorite hip-hop stars about doing a Listening Room and giving you some of their backstory and inner sanctum breakdown this Summer.
Can’t resist giving you one more fabulous behind the scenes anecdote. And, do note, the Listening Room, was videotaped by friend of the Clarion Content Eric Chen, aka, The Cota Flota, so it should be coming to an internet near you some day soon.3 Someone asked Duncan Webster how he got started playing guitar. Duncan said his parents, who were in the room when he told this tale, agreed to get him a guitar for his tenth birthday if he could learn to play Wipeout. Yes, that Wipeout, the Surfari’s classic. As he told the story, sheepishly smiling, not only did he learn it, he broke it out in front of the entire school, at the talent show,4,5 with no less than Durham music phenom Stephen Coffman on the drums, who played, get this(!) with TWO BROKEN ARMS!6
I don’t know about you, but at the Clarion Content, that is the kind of behind the music story that makes our juices flow. Can’t wait to hear Curtis Eller next month at Mercury Studio.