Somewhere in the cosmic afterlife, John Cage is grinning from ear to ear. The pure celebration of music coupled with welcoming a new year clashed at Super Happy Fun Land, on a floor sparsely covered in green and purple balloons and small children indiscriminately tossing silver confetti in the air. There was no other place on the planet saying goodbye to a year riddled with both extreme joy and strife this way.
If time is a vacuum, then Super Happy Fun Land is proof positive of that theory. For several hours I was gratefully trapped in a raucous theater of splendid noise, embraced by people amused by simple yet outrageous experiments in sound, an experience that integrated the audience, friends, family and, yes, small children riding around on a pink Big Wheel before performing music onstage with their mother.
No better person could have conducted the evening's invocation than Muzak John. Donning a purple wizard's hat, armed only with a microphone, a Roland VT-3 and a custom-made insanely crafted gadget called the "Synthnoiz Box," he began conjuring otherworldly sounds that at times sounded like a spoiled child throwing fits of dissatisfaction. Malfunctions be damned, feedback occasionally overwhelmed his pursuits.
But not to be outdone by technology, the Wizard of Noise turned knobs the way boxers turn left and right hooks into opponents' faces. Merciless and inaudible rants emerged these twists and turns, yet once in a while there were words that helped to define his mission. "I know you/ You know me/ We know each other" escaped between blasts of feedback and multi-pitched voices that sounded like a chorus of 60 disaffected mutants. And then too soon, his set was over.
Nothing could prepare any audience wielding a Playbill with liner notes from a Ph.D. in Musicology for the next act. Bag O' Forks was a family affair, featuring the guitarist and chanteuse from C4, David from Black Magic Marker, and several children - one, the guitarist's own daughter, had a face painted like a mischievous tiger.
Phase-washed guitar swirled through the air while David played a roll-up keyboard interspersed with primal poundings on the floor of the stage to provide a pulsing backbeat. The guitarist's daughter hit the conga from time to time, while at other times she threw confetti in the air, over her own head and onto her mother and her friend, who showed little interest in performing other than rolling inside of a blanket behind the performers.
A long droning piece concluded the set with a light tapping on the guitar and random notes splayed on the keyboard, creating an ephemeral effect. But in the end, the little children stole the spotlight, blowing their tiny horns and throwing confetti on each other as the last notes were played.
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Before there was enough time to recover from Bag O' Forks, Clockpole's Joe Ortiz started to indiscriminately hand out pieces of a drum set. "Anyone wanna play?!", Ortiz yelled out to the crowd. My photographer grabbed the tom he offered her, but I snatched it out of her hands before she could protest. When he later offered for someone to play the bass, I couldn't resist.
I shoved the tom back into her lap and frantically ran toward the stage. Within a moment, Ortiz began a fierce beat that ensued as trumpet, guitar, bass, and percussion filled the room. A maze of melody from the trumpet blared over the tops of the audience who were now just as much a part of the performance. If sheer joy is Clockpole's ultimate goal, then they exceeded it beyond any expectations.
Seconds before midnight, the Annoysters stormed the stage to greet 2015 with the most uproarious version of "Auld Lang Syne" ever performed --screams and yelps and cries of joy from saxophones, banjos, electric guitars, ukulele and a little girl's voice singing "Let It Go" as the first verse of the ancient New Year's carol was repeated over and over and over again. The master of ceremonies, Super Happy Fun Land's owner and operator Brian Arthur, offered one and all their own bottle of champagne.
Although no corks popped and flew through the air to accompany the layered noises from both audience and stage, there was joy to be had by one and all; not a somber face in the building, just cheerful embraces and midnight kisses from loved ones for good luck. A rite of passage for any Houstonian -- native or otherwise -- should be to make this pilgrimage on New Year's Eve, and join the merry noisemakers who are irresistibly warm, and ring in the New Year with people who are happy at any stage in time.
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