Why you should care
The quietest voices can be the most proficient eviscerators.
Video by Tom Gorman.
We’re shivering on a sidewalk beneath a towering blue mural in the Mission District of San Francisco around 10:30 on a springtime Saturday night. Annie Lewandowski, aka Powerdove, is huddled over her guitar case. Twenty minutes ago she finished a show around the corner at the Brava Theater as part of Switchboard, a festival of genre-resistant music; she’s been playing out West to support her new full-length release, Arrest. Lewandowski’s recordings feature intricate arrangements, but out here on the pavement under a handful of battery-powered lights, this OZY-exclusive micro-performance is going down unplugged.
First, she straps on the acoustic guitar. Been there, done that. Right? Not so fast — now she’s fastening some kind of headlamp contraption to her head. And right about now, we get the feeling we’re about to go spelunking.
Virtuosity, or showy technique, “is not where the musical nourishment is.”
A teacher from Bemidji, Minnesota — home of Paul Bunyan — who now lives in Ithaca, New York, Lewandowski was reared in the hymns of the Scandinavian Lutheran church. Her mom was a children’s choir director, and Lewandowski accompanied the choir. In college, she studied classical piano but soon became interested in experimental and improvised music. Ten years ago she co-founded an independent performance space in Seattle, Gallery 1412, before moving to the Bay Area and later England.
Founded in 2007, Powerdove, which also includes Thomas Bonvalet, Chad Popple and Deerhoof’s John Dieterich, operates in the tradition of avant-garde and intuitive acts like Glenn Branca, Sonic Youth, Yoko Ono and Diane Cluck. This collaboration vaults Lewandowski’s church-music roots into fertile experimental territory. Stoic and uninflected, her vocals pair with an instrumentation that frankly shouldn’t work — Bonvalet uses tuning forks, reeds, mics, “spinning devices,” clapping, stomping and a six-string banjo, and Dieterich plays a metal Dobro guitar. Simple ideas, like the question “How long is the night?” accumulate organic textures and sensual contours. Don’t look for emotion in this woman’s voice — but don’t think that means you can walk away unmoved. For Lewandowski, virtuosity, or showy technique, “is not where the musical nourishment is.” Rather, it lies in sophisticated, sub-basement rhythms and a wiry tension. It’s in the eaves and rafters of vacant sonic space; the charmingly Midwestern straightness of Lewandowski’s delivery; and in the clanging, rushing din of unlikely tools.
Tonight, as she begins “Wandering Jew,” from 2013’s Do You Burn?, the city seeps into the song. A house party kicks into gear across the street. Cars roar past, blare their horns. And San Francisco itself becomes a backing band almost as experimental as Lewandowski’s own. Contrast this simple performance with the heart-pounding clatter of “When You’re Near.” OZY is pleased to premiere the video, directed by Eben Portnoy.
This OZY encore was originally published April 25, 2015.