October 16, 2008

Fall Break: An Artsy Take

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While most of us spent our Fall Breaks half-comatose on a couch, a few members of the Arts staff took it upon themselves to do what they do best: be artsy. From an Okkervil River concert in Montreal to a not-so-scary haunted house in PA to an experiment in arts and crafts, three Arts writers share their break experiences.

Okkervil River (Saints Bar, Montreal)
by Julia Woodward
Hey, hey, hey, Cornellians. Hope your break was just the bee’s knees. I spent mine in Montreal, as I usually do. On this particular jaunt, I saw Okkervil River play Saturday night, in a slick basement bar called Saints with an absolutely enormous disco ball.
The night got off on the right foot with an opening band called Crooked Fingers, which, though unbeknownst to any of us, turned out to pretty darn slammin’. Though they lacked any vestige of stage presence, their music — guitar, bass, drums, violin and various assorted shakers — struck a chord (har de har har) with us right away. Their style was basically indie-folk-rock, but there was something about the combination of acoustic and electric sounds and the blend of the male / female vocal harmonies that made this particular band stand out. The sound was textured, soulful and immediately appealing. Their new album, Forfeit/Fortune, came out last week.
Okkervil River pretty much brought the house down. Although their stage presence was also rather lackluster, lead vocalist Will Sheff’s performance more than made up for it. I remember one song in particular in the middle of the performance: one of the few self-labeled ‘slow songs’ the band played. The song is titled “A Stone” and featured only Will Sheff with an acoustic guitar and, at times, accompanied by a trumpet (very cool). Mostly, the song was just Will Sheff singing a heart-rending song about a girl who wanted a man who wasn’t who he was: “I think that I know the bitter dismay of a lover who brought / fresh bouquets every day / when she turned him away / to remember some knave who once gave / just one rose, one day, years ago …” Sheff’s plaintive tones left the audience absolutely silent throughout and garnered what can only be described as a rousing cheer at the finish.
The performance by both bands was about as tight as it gets, especially considering the intricacies and multi-layered parts that characterized both sounds. We came away from the whole night thoroughly impressed and eager to listen to more of both Okkervil and Crooked Fingers (and with one very wet pair of pants, thanks to some inebriated looney-toon unable to keep hold of his beer).

Terror Behind the Walls Haunted House (Eastern State Penitentiary, PA)
by Lauren Herget

This past weekend I was truly terrified. Actually, not really — and this is the tragedy underlying my forthcoming spew against Eastern State Penitentiary’s Terror Behind the Walls Haunted House. Although Terror was voted as one of the “Top Five Scariest Haunted Houses in the Nation,” and visited by such television shows as MTV’s short-lived Fear, I came out of it feeling only slightly startled, not spooked to my core. Hey, what gives?
Granted, the issue might have come from how much I built up the haunted house in my mind, but I don’t think that’s all my doing. As my older sister pointed out, its initials are ESP. It has got to be creepy, simply due to its prescient spelling.
What’s more, my sister is a self-described “baby” and requested to go to the 7:30 p.m. house. When the tickets sold-out except for the 11 p.m. slot and we decided to go anyway, she talked all day about how terrified she would be come haunted house time. Naturally, I fed off of her fear.
Plus, Eastern State’s website bluntly asks in its FAQs: “Is it Scary? Will Things Jump Out at Me?” and Eastern State Pen responds, “You bet it’s scary. We do our absolute best to terrify you and your friends. Imagine just being inside an 11-acre abandoned prison at nght.”
Well, lemme tell ya, I was in that “11-acre abandoned prison at night” (at midnight, in fact) — and I wasn’t terrified. Don’t get me wrong — it did everything haunted houses should do: led me slowly through a pitch-dark decrepit building while weird crap popped out at me, but it was more laughable than scary. For instance, the coolest and most hilarious room was the trippy 3-D room, for which we were required to don 3-D glasses. I’m no connoisseur of haunted houses, but I would say that Eastern State definitely took the cake for “most creative” haunted house I have ever attended. Otherwise, the rest of the house was standard fare.
As we were leaving the house my sister asked, “Are you singing Chaka Khan and Rufus because you’re actually scared, Lauren?”
“No,” I replied.
“Really?” She asked, “Because I am.”
Does my stoicism imply that I’m tougher than my 24-year-old sister? No, it simply means that I’ve learnt how not to be scared by actors in really elaborate make-up. Being terrified is subjective — and I think the period of getting scared at haunted houses for me has passed.
This realization leads to a follow-up rhetorical question: Do I regret spending 25 dollars on a ticket, even though the devil wasn’t scared out of me? No way — I’ve got a great photo to commemorate the event — but I wouldn’t go again.
Instead, if you’re like me and not easily “spooked,” I’d bet the cheaper day tour, where one can see real cells once holding real criminals (i.e. Al Capone), is truly chilling.

Popsicle Stick Box (Roslyn, NY)
Justine Fields

While the rest of the Arts staff was actually arts-ing it up over break (I didn’t catch a see a single movie, Broadway show, concert or even the newest Entourage), I was doing arts-and-crafts. That’s right, I was kicking it Kindergarten-style with Popsicle sticks, making a box as a birthday gift for a friend.
Since my friend only wanted homemade presents and I’m about as good at art as Amy Winehouse is at being straight edge, I reverted to the basics. After a trip to the wood aisle in Michael’s, I was overwhelmed with excitement because I wasn’t going to have to paint each popsicle stick, as they now come pre-packaged in colors! I’ll spare you the nitty-gritty of how I perfectly stacked each stick to make the architecturally cutest popsicle stick box EVER, but know this: it was so much fun.
What does it really matter if I was in cultural oblivion all weekend? I actually stopped critiquing art for a few minutes and instead made a little piece of my own.