Welcome to Breakdown, an unofficial resource and discussion list about the innovative guitarist/producer Michael Brook. This site is infrequently updated, but contains a great deal of background info which will remain online. For up-to-date news and information, visit Michael Brook's official site and MySpace page.

Live tour dates and concert reviews

San Francisco
2 August 1999
by Charly Rhoades

Me mate Denise and I attended the Brook / Gasparyan concert last night in San Francisco.

While the music was occasionally marred by some minor technical difficulties, and there was occasional miscommunication among the musicians, this was clearly a superb event -- both spiritually and musically.

Accompanying Brook (whose short haircut made him appear to me a bit like David Byrne!) and Gasparyan were Richard Evans (keyboards, loops, other prerecorded snippets, as well as bass guitar and flute), and Jason Lewis on drum set.

Gasparyan in particular was astounding. His duduk's tone was exacting, even when emoting with glissandos and slurs. His voice, too, was masterful -- precise yet expressive -- in the same way. A treat to experience.

My memory about setlist specifics is usually spotty, but I do recall the show starting with a stirring rendition of "To the River" (which I swear Brook called "Black Rock," while noting that most of the songs have several "titles.")

Other songs performed: "Take My Heart," "Freedom," "Together Forever" (duplicating the same lush chorused effect on Gasparyan's vocals), "Immigrant's Song."

"Fallen Star" was so beautifully sad it literally brought tears to my eyes...

Michael performed "Ultramarine" alone, propelling the piece with the insistent rhythm slapped with open hand across his guitar pickup. I missed the overdubbed guitar melody from my familiarity with the studio recording (Cobalt Blue), but live Brook still carried the main tune with subtle fretting, accentuating the delicate nature of the topping part -- at times only gently hinting at the medlodic main line.

The only other piece from his solo recordings that he performed was "Breakdown", which included the rest of the musicians -- with Gasparyan providing a very complementary accompaniment on his duduk.

As I mentioned earlier, there were a few rough parts to the show... Brook attempted to anticipate this, noting early on that this was only their third live performance together -- and adding that the first WOMAD performance was cleaner than the second, but that the second -- even with its mistakes -- was more stirring, and was overall the better of the two.

A few songs seemed to end just a bit abruptly... Gasparyan's microphone was not adjusted ideally, and with no stage help, he eventually grabbed it out of the holder... A few instances of feedback threatened, but were eventually eliminated. By far the worst however was the last song, the traditional "Dark Souls," played as a duet between Brook and Gasparyan's plaintive singing. An annoying electronic hum persisited throughout most of this heartfelt song. Disappointing.

In the end, it was a tad short... perhaps an hour... but as Denise and I spoke of the concert on our way out, it occurred to me just how Gasparyan's music -- both with the duduk and his voice -- embodies the very contradictory literal meaning of the word "bittersweet." A sorrow so much larger than one man, the sorrow of an entire people, so pervasive and immense, they cannot help but polish their laments into beautiful gems of sadness.

Please make a special effort to see this if you have the chance!

I'd estimate about 150 people attended. The Great American Music Hall is a smallish venue whose capacity is listed at 450. I think that is a maximum capacity that assumes a standard "rock" concert arrangement with the audience standing.

This, however, was a "sit-down" show, with modest tables and chairs just about completely filling the main floor. Unfortunately the upstairs was closed. This is a great vantage point for concerts (where I've seen groups like the Robert Fripp String Quartet and The Roches). Of course the Stereolab / High Llamas show I saw while standing on the main floor was a knockout too...!

The Great American Music Hall is an ornate building built after the '06 earthquake. It's in the same block as the (in) famous Mitchell Brothers "adult theatre," and was itself a bordello in previous years. There is a rococo style, with a few classical murals on the ceiling and large stone columns holding the second level.

Check their website at: www.musichallsf.com