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Popcorn polishes off rock 'n' roll #hf12

Popcorn wants to build bridges and dissolve borders; away with the differences between high and low culture. Covers of the band's favourite songs are interspersed with new compositions, thus blurring boundaries. Unfortunately, they do not succeed in this and the band sounds mostly academic and soulless.

Popcorn is an experimental performance in which a composite band aims to bridge the gap between pop music and new music. The band consists of Belgian guitar quartet Zwerm, violin/guitar duo Mr Probe, drummer Matthijs Vanderleen and singer Gregory Frateur. All band members were allowed to choose a favourite song that the band covers during the show. These include songs by Jimi Hendrix, Tom Waits and Nick Cave. The favourites are interspersed with six new compositions, composed by Bruno Nelissen, Luc Houtkamp and Yannis Kyriakides, among others, and are variations on those favourites. In the press release, Popcorn reports that this way "the boundaries between high and low culture disappear. That experiment failed.

Popcorn does not carry the audience. The performance begins with minutes of whirring sound, which very slowly becomes music. When that is over, a spectator shouts loudly "Yes, stop it! In between songs, the audience also reacts lukewarmly and applauds only sparsely. It seems like it doesn't quite know what to do with the performance.

The band plays their favourites, so to speak, but in new arrangements by Peter Vermeersch. By and large, those arrangements are not even that different from the originals, the main difference being that they all sound equally measured and academic. In doing so, the band removes the rock 'n' roll feel, which they say they love so much, from the songs.

The musicians clearly have an excellent command of their instruments, but there is no soul in the performance. Thus, a song like Nick Cave's The Mercy Seat brutally robbed of the colossal balls that the original possesses. This, of course, leaves little. Then, when the vocalist lashes out, or a guitarist starts soloing out of bounds, it sounds almost ridiculous and is quickly knocked back by the band.

The new pieces played in between the covers should complement the favourite songs. Sometimes this works well and a composition intrigues, but most of the time it is mostly distracting and even a bit irritating at times. Bruno Nelissen's composition, for instance, consisting of well-known lines from pop music larded with sound, is downright bland and easy. The family at the small table next to me looks down at their drinks in alarm.

Occasionally, parts of the performance suddenly stick out way above the surface. Then suddenly there is a beautiful vocal line or a mean interplay, as in the cover of Tom Waits' Poor Edward, but by then Popcorn has long since lost me. Unfortunately, the interesting parts never last long enough to really stick. Otherwise, it is a measured performance with a lot of fuss. In that respect, the intended cross-pollination between high and low culture has failed, because Popcorn is hopelessly elitist.

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