The same weekend NPR premiered the stream of Corn, a new posthumous collection from Arthur Russell, the Red Bull Music Academy assembled a live musical tribute to the “great genius” of New York’s ’80s music scene. Held over two nights at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, “Red Hot + Arthur Russell” featured band leader Stuart Bogie and numerous musicians, including Sam Amidon, Cults, Lonnie Holley, Devonté Hynes, Redding Hunter, Little Scream, Thao Nguyen (of Thao & The Get Down Stay Down), Richard Reed Parry (of Arcade Fire), Rubblebucket, Jake Shears (of Scissor Sisters) and Grey McMurray performing songs from the late, great Russell. Many of those tributes were released as part of the Master Mix compilation from Yep-Roc last year.
However, in the context of the stage, the music had a new import. The musicians on stage all had been influenced by Russell and not only were there to perform the songs but to share a bit of their feelings and experiences. But first Russell’s partner Tom Lee gave an emotional introduction to the performance as he shared some insight into the musician’s life and how everything seemed normal even if others may have been kept at a distance. Afterwards, the music kicked into high gear as Shears took the stage with six throwback dancers. The disco-ey opener was just one of the many genres Russell found himself working in, the other artists tapped into his different sides. As the NY Times reported, “Mr. Russell’s eerie, solitary side was assigned to Lonnie Holley, singing in a bluesy, abstracted tone (and sometimes whistling) over clusters sustained on an electric keyboard; to Sam Amidon, who played terse banjo parts and sang with quizzical innocence; and to Richard Reed Parry, playing bass and singing just above a whisper. Devonté Hynes played guitar and sang the lean, meter-shifting indie rock that Mr. Russell recorded as a member of the Necessaries.”
One of my favorite songs was Sam Amidon’s plucked take on “Lucky Cloud” one of the lonely pieces. However the powerful guitars from Hynes were perhaps the most surprising as his own music is on the mellower side. What wasn’t surprising was that, just like many of the past Red Bull Music Academy events, ‘Red Hot + Arthur Russell’ was a celebration featuring a multitude of musical dimensions. But this time it was just the work of one multi-dimensional composer that was enough to inspire and invite so many talents.