Even at 9:30 p.m, a half hour after the show was expected to begin on Saturday, Sept. 1, the Horn Gallery was almost empty. The lights were dim. A rectangle of tin foil had been tacked to the wall behind the leaning instruments at the back of the room. A long and terrifying stretch of floor stood between the instruments and the scant members of the crowd.
There is no stage in the Horn Gallery; because of this, a concert at the Horn can become a confrontation, an audition, a sales pitch, a therapy session in which the roles of the audience and the musicians are blurred. Therefore, one might be able to understand if the audience at a Horn show was unpassionate, or if a musician felt discomfited enough to begin describing the plot of a Star Trek episode in between songs. In fact, this seemed to be the cumulative ethos of their music no matter the variety of the styles: Ko Takasugi-Czernowin, Deer Scout (Dena Miller) and Beverly Tender (Molly Hastings and Tristan Brooks).
The first to perform were Takasugi-Czernowin and Miller, a musical partnership forged at Oberlin College. The duo played backup for each other’s songs, with first Takasugi-Czernowin, then Miller playing frontperson. Takasugi-Czernowin is tall and willowy, and looks and acts both careful and careless at once. His music was dissonant, filled with repetition and glitter, no song truly settling into a format familiar to the listener. At times, it approached an aquarium horror movie soundtrack. The audience appeared dumbfounded. When one lyric happened to be, simply, “potato,” after an instrumental pause, there was even giggling. Takasugi-Czernowin’s set was at its best when the dissonance was not overdone, melody could be deciphered and Miller sang along, her high voice contrasting with the depth of Takasugi-Czernowin’s instrumental accompaniment.
Miller’s set, which came immediately after Takasugi-Czernowin’s, was starkly different. A small, fair-haired person with a quiet intensity, she performed music that was more solid and lyrical, with clever, emotionally-charged verses. Miller seems to take her influence from both folk of the past and the new wave of indie pop that has added a particular jazzy accent to the voices of female singers. In listening to Miller, one can hear many different genres of music woven together. Her music is reminiscent of fellow folk and folk-inspired artists Jean Ritchie and Angel Olsen.
Perhaps Miller’s softness is what made Beverly Tender’s performance immediately after seem the opposite of its name. Dressed in tin-foil and shouting, playing their instruments with as much force as possible at the loudest possible decibel, Beverly Tender drew a larger, more active audience that attempted to bop around to even the least-boppable shrieks. They even danced to the screaming monologue backlit by disorganized guitar that characterized the middle half of Beverly Tender’s set.
This, perhaps, was the unifying energy of a show that seemed to have no unification. Takasugi-Czernowin’s wiggly, sometimes uncomfortable thrum, Miller’s sweet but unhappy self-reflections and Beverly Tender’s absolute loudness all seemed to channel the emotional experience of their strange and specific age group, the younger edge of millennial; able to be critical both of themselves and of the system of success that their older millennial counterparts seem to have bought into. Yes, the show was weird and uncategorizable. Yes, it sometimes seemed to be a prolonged voluntary self-humiliation. But the embarrassment went both for the artists and the audience. Everyone was vulnerable, everyone leaned into discomfort, and if it was weird, it was on purpose.