By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
The album-release show for Peter Wolf Crier is so atypical that it's almost difficult to describe, but here goes. It's not in a rock club or theater—it's in a house. But no one lives in the house, and it appears to exist only for the purpose of putting on this show. The performances aren't contained in a single night, but rather span two weekends like a theater performance. And there are actors. But it's not a play, and it's not a concert, and it's not performance art, really. It is, for lack of a better word, a CD-release experience, titled, rather ominously, "This Is Not for You."
Let's start from the beginning. It's a dreary October evening, and a smattering of unsuspecting guests have been invited a press preview performance at an unmarked house in St. Paul.
From the outside, the house looks completely normal. Audience members are told to gather on the front porch and are handed small props depending on the price level of their ticket: General admission ticketholders get nothing, "hand-held" level ticketholders get a sealed note card, and "private" level attendees receive a wine glass with a candle inside. From the get-go, it's obvious that those willing to pony up a little more for their ticket are going to have a more intimate experience.
Our guide for this concert—er, for this experience—is director Jeremey Catterton, who some might recognize as the mastermind behind similar mixed-media performances like Fort Wilson Riot's Idigaragua. Catterton leads the audience on a small tour of the house's perimeter, explaining that the previous owners had discovered that the rooms inside were larger than the measurements of the outside of the house. Leaves crunch under our feet as we follow him through the darkness, and for a moment I wonder if this was all a big charade to get us to come to a haunted house.
But once inside, we are told to sit down in rows of folding chairs, a black curtain is pulled up, and we suddenly find ourselves face to face with two-piece band Peter Wolf Crier. Peter Pisano (the Wars of 1812) is singing and playing a guitar, while Brian Moen (Laarks, the Shouting Matches) plays a shuffling beat on a small drum kit. The band is seated in what would appear to be the house's dining room, and the area is decorated sparsely with antique furniture. Four actors dressed in white clothing and white face paint silently act out some of the lyrics in front of the band, and for a moment it feels like we have all been transported into some fantastical dollhouse that was crafted specifically for this purpose.
When the band finishes the first song, we are told to stand. Those who have purchased "hand-held" and "private" tickets are led out of the room on a tour of the house; those with general admission tickets are told to stay in the first room and watch the rest of the show on closed-circuit televisions. A mysterious, steady ticking noise accompanies us as the first two groups are led down a narrow hallway into a back room, and we are surprised to find Pisano already seated in the corner, strumming an acoustic guitar. Once we've all filed into the room, Pisano starts to sing a slower folk ballad while a pair of actors sort through a pile of old letters by candlelight. As his song builds, a noise comes from below our feet, and a chill runs up my spine as I realize that Moen is in the basement, banging away his part of the song from below on what must be a giant tom-tom, the tempo resonating through the floorboards and soles of our shoes. The two musicians are playing in time with each other perfectly, even though Moen can't possibly hear Pisano playing his guitar and singing from his place in the house, and it's more surreal than any haunted house I've ever been through.
The tour continues in this fashion, with Catterton and Pisano leading the group from room to room, and actors performing silent vignettes in time with the music. The two musicians alternate between playing in the same room and having Moen drum from a neighboring room, and the walls between rooms serve to dampen his drums and create a muted sense of immediacy. Pisano's voice sounds best when it is unamplified, softened by the wooden floors and walls around him, and the entire CD-release experience seems tailor-made to match the mood of the band's atmospheric folk music and the tone of the songs on their debut work, Inter-Be.
For those seeking an entirely new adventure, this part concert, part play, part performance-art piece is a highly recommended venture into the unknown.
PETER WOLF CRIER's CD-release show series runs from WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 14, through FRIDAY, OCTOBER 23. Location disclosed at point of purchase. Tickets available at peterwolfcrier.com.