Thursday night, six indie-rock luminaries-including two sets of twins-debuted their unique collaboration with renowned visual artist Matthew Ritchie at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The Long Count, a 70-minute multi-media piece, featured the guitar work of Bryce and Aaron Dessner (both from The National), and the vocal talents of Kim and Kelley Deal, of Pixies and Breeders fame, My Brightest Diamond's Shara Worden, and Matt Berninger, also of The National -- along with a 12-piece orchestra.
The Long Count is inspired by Popol Vuh, the Mayan creation myth featuring "hero twins," and, improbably, the Cincinnati Reds-specifically the team, known as "The Big Red Machine," that won back-to-back World Series in '75 and '76. (The Dessner brothers, both from Cincinnati, are big fans.)
The Dessners and Deals were BAM's hero twins last night: Bryce and Aaron wrote the music for The Long Count, while Kim and Kelley provided the lyrics and most of the vocals. Ritchie set the scene with a riot of hallucinatory digital video projected on to three giant screens that enveloped the musicians on stage.
The Dessners, sitting at opposite ends of the stage, were also the evening's de facto conductors-though instead of batons, they wielded guitars. The orchestra answered to the brothers every pluck and strum.
Sometimes the music seemed perfectly recognizable: The brooding pop of "Tests" (The Long Count consisted of 13 songs strung seamlessly together), which featured Berninger behind the mic, would fit easily on the next National record. Other times, when the string section wailed away and the Dessners savaged their guitars, the brutal apocalyptica of Godspeed You! Black Emperor seemed the best comparison.
Amid such otherworldly (or rather pre-worldly) surroundings, it was nice to hear Kim and Kelley's familiar voices-each distorted, "Cannonball"-style-cut through the madness.
But it may have been Shara Worden singing that stole the show. Breathy, ethereal, unpredictable, Worden's voice was the perfect fit for Ritchie's mad tale of creation and resurrection. On the haunting "Ninth," Worden took on the guise of Venus as she welcomed the dawning of the new world: "Simple words brought it forth like mist," she sang, while overhead, Ritchie's projections seemed to form whole trees out of roots and earth. And later, dressed as the evil deity Macaw, Worden declared: "I am the sun and the moon for those who are born."
At least as far as their wide-eyed audience was concerned, Worden and the rest of Ritchie's crew certainly deserved their night of worship.