Posted by: Johnny Loftus on January 31, 2008 at 9:00 am

Frontier Justice Vol. IX: Cornelius (and his fans) Get Geeky With the Cheese-Whiz

By Johnny Loftus

Listen: “Point of View Point”

Japanese psych-pop mystery man Cornelius has flirted with notoriety in America, notably with his Matador albums Fantasma (1997) and Point (2001), both of them precision masterpieces that emphasized his fanatical attention to detail as much as they did his adoration for all things pop. Then again, they were all things pop, all at once: unlike Beck, who he’s constantly compared to (yes, I just did it again), Cornelius sees no reason why all forms of music can’t coexist inside the space of a few minutes. Rather than put out theme records like his American counterpart, Cornelius will often wrap gentle folk guitar, offhand lyrics, pristine electronics, and even sudden metal freakouts into the same song. It makes for some incredible moments, but it also confuses the shit out of a lot of people. But Cornelius is such a musician’s musician — a music geek’s music geek — that he doesn’t even notice; he’s wrapped up in his world, spending seven months trying to rectify the randomized tone of an ancient keyboard with three bits sliced from the center of a Beach Boys song.

This was evident on a recent Wednesday night when Cornelius brought his Sensuous Synchronized Show back to Chicago. (He and his band were here in May 2007, as well.) It was an event for the respectable crowd gathered inside Metro — you could tell because everyone stood in quiet reverence to the gauzy curtain separating them from the stage, the one with color bars flashing on it intermittently; they murmured about it, and someone in front had some fun with shadow puppets. But they respected it, too, since they knew it was “part of the show.” It was like an experiment in behaviorism applied to a Music Geeks Anonymous meeting.

And then the curtain flashed a welcome — “It’s the Cornelius band’s Sensuous Synchronized Show!” — and down it dropped, revealing Cornelius and his three-piece band dressed in matching checkerboard shirts and…dungarees? Behind them an enormous screen projected images synched to the music, which began with the clipped, electro-acoustic future music of “Point of View Point.” No one spoke; if Cornelius’s team had handed out museum tour headsets, people would have put them on. It was a show dominated by the featured guest’s extreme fetishizing of pop music, an angle similarly held by some of the dudes in the crowd, the kind of guys who alphabetize their record collections as a course of therapy. As Cornelius drew from his back catalog as well as his current record Sensuous, it wasn’t about the music anymore; it was about the forms of it, how he was playing, what it was doing sonically, and sharing his religious fervor for instruments. For an example of how all of this felt, visit Cornelius’s Web site. Those chimes are hitting you from light years away.

There were “ooh’s” in the crowd as the band switched guitars, and became united in the force of three gold-topped Gibsons. There was laughter as Cornelius pulled a sheepish kid onstage to help him with his oscillator, a sleek antennae that snaked up from his keyboard and created a careening whipple of a musical bell curve when the airspace around it was broken. It was the closest physically the crowd ever got to their music geek chief; watching Cornelius guide the kid’s hand to make the tone was actually kind of cute, especially when he relinquished his arm and the guy choogled around on stage for a second like he suddenly found himself teleported into Ringo Starr’s body. Finally, as part of his deserved encore, Cornelius brought out a strange little box that seemed to be some sort of rudimentary sampler. He pressed buttons on the front, each of them playing bits of “Chicago” songs — the electric blues standard “Sweet Home Chicago,” Chicago’s 1970 hit “25 Or 6 to 4″ — then nodded to the crowd and handed the box over. The band launched into the staccato opening chords of “25 or 6″ as the machine was handed back and forth in the crowd, here and there making a squawk as some enterprising nerd tried to join in with the jam. It wasn’t stolen though, or broken, or even fought over; it was handled like a gift, or even an acknowledgement from the master that we were all on the same page, together in our weird fetishizing of pop music’s myriad building blocks, and how they’re alll just a button or two away from synching into greatness.


[tags]Frontier Justice, Johnny Loftus, Cornelius, Matador, Fantasma, Beck, Sweet Home Chicago[/tags]


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