THINGS FALL APART:
by Jeff Tompkins
Timur and the Dime Museum at the Brooklyn Academy of Music
For three consecutive nights in September, BAM showcased the Los Angeles band Timur and the Dime Museum as part of the Fall 2015 Next Wave Festival. The group was presenting the New York debut of its hour-long concert program Collapse, which came with the intimidating subtitle “A Post-Ecological Requiem.” The program notes made it clear the band wasn’t fooling around: each of the piece’s eleven numbers corresponded to a text in the traditional funeral mass, with song titles prefaced by Kyrie, Dies Irae, Agnus Dei, and so on.
And who, or what, was being mourned? Nothing less than planet Earth itself, “irreversibly scarred”—as the songwriter and keyboard player Daniel Corral explained in his Composer’s Note—by mankind’s single-minded exploitation of natural resources.
That may sound like a lot of conceptual baggage for one fifty-five minute concert to shoulder, particularly when the group in question bills itself as “post-punk glam-rock.” But Corral and his bandmates’ achievement in Collapse was to turn a welter of ideas into a compact, satisfying piece of music theater that also gave the listener something to think about after the curtain. At the end I was left with the impression I’d just been treated to an old-fashioned concept album, the kind where the individual songs are strong enough that you can take or leave the accompanying liner notes.
In this case the concept came to life through the skills of five talented musicians working with the help of costumes, interactive video projections, and about as many bells and whistles as BAM’s black-box, 250-seat Fishman Space could accommodate. For all the accouterments, though, the Dime Museum’s strongest asset was front man Timur Bekbosunov, a classically trained tenor with the stage presence to match his impressive singing range. Bekbosunov’s voice would make him equally at home in an opera house, a cabaret, or a punk club, and his vocal stylings helped put across the show’s initial, Goth-tinged songs. (He was aided by a sumptuous floor-length black coat that practically deserved its own billing—the first, but not the last, of designer Victor Wilde’s costumes to merit special mention.)
A more overt sense of fun arrived with the third song, “House of Moloch,” the set’s first real rave-up, and one that seemed to galvanize the band. From then on, with each succeeding number, the Dime Museum displayed a versatility that was all the more impressive for being so matter-of-fact. They brought a sardonic soft-rock lilt to “Pacific Gyre,” an ode to the non-biodegradable flotsam polluting that ocean, and no-nonsense, power-pop oomph to “Yucca Flat Thistle Tea,” whose sole lyric had Bekbosunov barking, “We’ve got the bomb, ba-bomb, ba-bomb!”
The band’s theatrical sense reached a peak about two-thirds of the way through, with “Honey Bee.” Androgyny has always been at the heart of the glam-rock project, and here Bekbosunov paid homage to the tradition by shimmying back onstage in an outfit that was half-dress, half-suit; when I craned forward to look at his feet, sure enough he was wearing one dress shoe and one high heel. The vocal performance kept up with the conceit, Bekbosunov alternating between a masculine growl and a breathy baby-doll coo with quick-change comic timing.
Not all the moving parts in Collapse meshed successfully. I’m not sure how much the video projections contributed, at least in this setting—it may be that the video is better suited to larger venues the Dime Museum will undoubtedly play. But I was only vaguely aware of a bright bustle unfolding on the screen behind the stage while my attention remained focused on the charismatic singer and his bandmates. When I did give the video a second look, I saw found-footage montages reminiscent of the ones Donald O’Finn screens at Freddy’s Bar (in its own way, another Brooklyn art-rock institution)—droll and pointed, but not quite essential to the performance.
At times the environmental theme also got away from me. But by the close of the set, Timur and the Dime Museum managed to convey a pervasive sense of loss, the proverbial world out of joint, that was affecting on its own terms. They circumvented cliché by ending not with the apocalyptic blowout you might have expected but instead—with “Chora, Adore”—an eerie evocation of the morning after the apocalypse.
Ever the showmen, these performers weren’t about to send the audience home on a complete down note. For an encore, they returned with an infectious cover of Klaus Nomi’s “Total Eclipse” that let Bekbosunov give voice to his inner diva, his falsetto ringing through the rafters. Collapse may be the end of the world as we know it, but Timur and the Dime Museum felt fine—and made sure that we did, too.
JEFF TOMPKINS, a writer and comics artist in New York City, is the Online Content and Community Manager for the Library of America.