Hell is Other People: A New Orleans Solo Summit
10 p.m. Sunday, April 4; through April 18
Dragon's Den, 435 Esplanade Ave.
Hell, Jean-Paul Sartre wrote, is other people. How true, Chris Lane thought.
"It started off as a joke," says Lane, a burlesque show host and event producer whose cheekily titled concert series "Hell Is Other People: A New Orleans Solo Summit" premieres Sunday at the Dragon's Den. "I hang out with a lot of musicians, and they'd get ticked off about certain gigs that they had. You know how people like to gripe about their jobs."
During one such session, with man-of-many-bands Jonathan Freilich (Naked on the Floor, New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars), Sartre's solipsistic witticism got tossed around. "I thought that would be a good title for a showcase of artists," Lane laughs.
The roster he assembled after reaching out to a network of musical acquaintances consists of a dozen performers from almost every genre and discipline of New Orleans music, cleverly organized into three diverse, deconstructed quartets that are designed to spotlight solo talents. The kickoff features jazzy torch singer Meschiya Lake (Magnolia Beacon), multi-instrumentalist rocker Casey McAllister (Happy Talk Band) and experimental drummers Mike Dillon (Go-Go Jungle) and Simon Lott (WATIV).
Two following gigs on successive Sundays are just as adventurous: April 11 pairs keyboardist Anthony Cuccia (Other Planets), saxophonist/accordionist Aurora Nealand (Panorama Jazz Band), rapper Jay Poggi (MC Trachiotomy) and wack-of-all-trades Bernard Pearce (One Man Machine); and the April 18 finale has cellist Helen Gillet (Wazozo), bassist James Singleton (Astral Project), saxophonist Brad Walker (a recent transplant from Baton Rouge) and acid-cabaret extraordinaire Ratty Scurvics (Singularity).
The group, Lane says, contains close friends like Singleton, a former roommate, and virtual unknowns like Walker, who made an impression sitting in on a quartet at the AllWays Lounge. "Some of these things are just straight-up gambles," Lane admits. "Some of them, I don't even know what they're going to do. ... [Walker] is a beautiful player. We'll see what he does. He may end up doing some singing."
Unpredictability is an integral component of the series. Lane jokingly describes his role with the Fleur de Tease dance troupe as a cross between Las Vegas shtickler Shecky Greene and a lion tamer ("I distract the crowd between naked women"). But he's serious about the need for surprises both in theater and in music. "I think there's some good metaphors at work between both of those disciplines," he says. "It doesn't have to be outlandishly new or groundbreaking. Just something I'm not going to anticipate."
The same, he notes, holds true for performers. "A lot of musicians, they love playing, but they're like, 'Oh, I have another trad gig tonight,' or 'Oh, I'm going to play with this band again.' It's a great way for people to spread out, give themselves some elbow room and breathe a little bit."
To that end, Lane gave minimal instruction to the participants. Sets must be no longer than 30 minutes and performed by just one person, with a 10-minute break between acts to keep things moving. Other than that, "Do whatever you want," he says. "I like to be hands off in that area. For me, it's more delightful. I might be surprised too."
If the conceit works as he imagines, Lane hopes to reprise it with different parts. Just not too often. That, he says, would defeat the purpose. "I'd like to do it like every six months. If you do a new thing enough, it becomes an old thing. That's where the experimental quality comes in: We'll see what happens."