The Manichean Get Classy at the Alley
The Manichean is one of Houston's best claims to pure experimental genius in the realm of music. Cory Sinclair and Justice Tirapelli-Jamail have left an unbroken trail of brilliant albums behind them, each one redrawing the line between pop and art.
Now the band is upping the ante on their stature significantly by performing their newest record, LOVERS, not at a rock club, but on the boards of the Alley Theatre. Chatter couldn't let something like that happen without getting an explanation.
Chatter: What made you decide to perform at the Alley?
Justice Tirapelli-Jamail: We've always wanted to do something of this caliber, but were never presented with the opportunity to do so. Cory and I aim for each of our performances to be these big, theatrical affairs, so in that respect it feels perfect.
Cory Sinclair: I have been a stage actor my whole life and have always respected, desired and perhaps coveted the Alley Theatre, the breadth of their work and quite simply their presence. I left the craft of theater just over five years ago when Justice and I began working together, but the draw of its stage still weighs heavy in my heart.
The chance to not only perform at the Alley but to do so on our own terms, with Justice's music and with my own words, was too strong, too perfect. It's not only the best theater in Houston or Texas but the entire region, and one of the absolute best in the nation.
C: What about LOVERS makes it more appropriate for the theater than, say, AvantGarden?
JTJ: A few years ago, we would be given the option to do a show and our approach would be to say, "We have this place we've been asked to play. How do we transform it into the best possible space for what we do?" Now we're approaching each show with the question of, "Is there any chance that this could be less bombastic and intense and affecting than our previous performance?"
If the answer is yes, then we don't play it. It's tempting to play any show that sounds like fun, which was what we did for a very long time, but at some point we've had to become better about passing on the shows that can't be as good or better than the last one.
C: How did you get the Alley to agree to it?
CS: Well, quite frankly no one has ever done this before. They've had low-key musical performances on the Neuhaus Stage, such as acoustic or classical shows, but never a theatrically oriented rock show. The logistics of creating such a thing in their smaller but still sizable black-box theater seemed to intrigue them very much.
I also believe they're looking forward to exposing their unique and refined space to people who might never have attended a show at the Alley.
JTJ: And, to be honest, this whole thing was my dad's idea. He has produced plays in the Neuhaus stage for a long while now and came to me one day asking why we hadn't thought of it sooner ourselves.
C: What about this performance will be different from a rock-club performance?
JTJ: Our idea has been to create the experience of going to see a badass rock show and at the same time completely repurpose it. We have guests that everyone will know joining us, like Asli Omar of the Tontons, Tyagaraja, Two Star Symphony, Mills-McCoin. There's a 20-foot-wide set piece for Cory to go crazy on, professional audio and video, and what we hope will become an uncertain yet intimate relationship between ourselves and the audience.
People won't have the common comfort of leaving during a slow song to get a drink, because aside from a 15-minute intermission and the Alley's kind allowance of drinks in the theater this will be much like going to see an actual play. I'm hoping it will be unfamiliar and shocking but also awe-inspiring.
C: As one of Houston's best avant-garde bands, how receptive to weirdness do you think this city is?
CS: Houston is much more receptive than other major cities, I'd say. This concept ties in with the overall nature of how music is perceived and championed in this city; there aren't many standards by which many local musicians create or perform their efforts.
The lack of a truly established "scene" or "center" leaves room for many, varied works and a myriad of interpretations. This is ideal for artists in our position now, but ten years from now Houston will be a force with which to be reckoned musically, and with such clout you inexorably inherit expectations passed down from previous successes.
We are capitalizing upon the current status quo, and that is all for which any artist of their respective epoch can hope.
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