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Recap: Station to Station Happening, Los Angeles

For three days last week, I joined the merry band of artists, musicians, craftspeople, chefs, coworkers and documentarians on Doug Aitken’s cross-country art train for Station to Station: A Nomadic Happening, made possible by Levi’s®. —Dave


I nearly bumped into Beck walking out of an art yurt. That was how my Station to Station journey began, really.


I had wandered onto the South Patio at Union Station to find crews in the process of setting up for LA Happening. The guys from No Age checked amps and drums at the center of a formal garden. Film crews milled about, preparing and documenting. Artists from Folk Fibers and Junkyard Jeans crafted their wares in the skeletal Levi’s® Makers tent. 




And in the middle of it all, I found the Station to Station yurts. So I did what you’re supposed to do: I explored.


Ernesto Neto’s monochromatic, biomorphic interior, begging to be touched.


Photo via Misha Vladimirskiy


Kenneth Anger’s blood red videodome, with a pentagram-shaped seat from which to reckon with his experimental films.


Photo via Misha Vladimirskiy


A hallucinogenic disco nap in Urs Fischer’s glimmering, smoke-filled dream bed.


Photo via Misha Vladimirskiy


And finally, a light-absorbing felt maze from Liz Glynn. During the proper operating hours of the Happening, Glynn could be found inside her creation, lecturing visitors on the history of the universe. But during my visit, no one was there. Until I walked out. And that’s when I nearly bumped into Beck! So we did what two guys on either end of a cosmic art yurt experience would do: we nodded politely and went our separate ways. Bottles and cans and just clap your hands.


Photo via Misha Vladimirskiy


After that, it wasn’t very long until the front gates opened and the Happening began. People filtered in, exploring the grounds and experiencing the yurts as I had done. Then, from the depths of the train station marched a procession of drummers led by world champion whip cracker Chris “The Whip Guy” Camp. They led a crowd to the center of the South Patio, passing the torch of performance to No Age.


 


No Age played a sprawling, noisy instrumental set, at times sounding very much like the train at the philosophical center of the Station to Station project. They skronked, thunked, willed feedback from contact mics and then they were done.  


The crowd broke up and wandered through the giant space, ultimately catching on to the fact that the show was continuing inside the massive space of the station’s original Ticket Lobby. So inside we went to find legendary Jamaican reggae group The Congos performing with Sun Araw, M. Geddes Gengras and friends. It’s a combination that barely makes sense on paper, but the result is a kind of slightly glitchy take on roots reggae that feels entirely right on.


Art films played as sound crews switched stage rigs between sets. And before long, Dan Deacon was ready to party. Set up on the floor at the foot of the stage, in the crowd and of the crowd, Deacon led the room through one of his undeniably (almost aggressively) fun performances. Tweaking an improvised hypercolor sound board and singing through a haze of pitch-altered vocal effects, Deacon was hilarious, engaging and completely insistent that you join his dance party. Late in the set, audience members used his Dan Deacon iPhone app (it’s available for Android, too), creating an interactive light and sound show powered by Deacon’s music. Felt a bit like the future.




After another short break, headliner Beck took the stage. His set was created specifically for the Station to Station shows and featured an absolutely massive Gospel choir, who lent disembodied voices to a chilling “The Golden Age,” singing from the sidelines before joining Beck on stage for the remainder of the night. Things quickly went to church, as the choir bolstered down-home renditions of “One Foot in the Grave,”  “Fourteen Rivers Fourteen Floods” and “Where It’s At.”



Beck’s set felt at once informed by and dislodged from the past; songs old and new, reimagined with Gospel choir force and performed in a forgotten wing of the last great American railroad station. The place itself held significance for Beck, who grew up in LA and spent childhood days reading in the station's lobby. He has fond memories of Union Station. I think I’ll have them too.


I took the Metro Rail back to my hotel. There was an after-party there. I stopped in, but I didn’t stay long. I needed to get some rest. The next morning, I was getting on the Station to Station train for an epic 12-hour journey to Oakland. More to come...


Visit the Station to Station site for additional (incredible) coverage.


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