A Truly Stirling Performance

photo by Devin Graham

It’s a shame Lindsey Stirling booked The Rio. Not on account of the overly self-conscious hip hop of The Vibrant Sound, or the bizarrely satisfying bluegrass of von Grey, but because the second Lindsey’s beat dropped, hot damn did everyone want to jump. And there we sat in our nicely ordered seats while Lindsey crackled across the stage, a force of inexhaustible dynamism on which the smooth beauty of a violin somehow balanced perfectly.

I’m betting the venue will be more appropriate next time, and I look forward to it.

Stirling is the electronic-violin-dubstep gamer-music contemporary-dance choreographer/videographer/composer/performer – you know the one? I say “the” because she may well be the only person so far to have collected that particular list of descriptors. A YouTube sensation by merit of her enthusiastic and original work, Lindsey’s passion is obvious, and with young openers Vibrant Sound and von Grey, the whole show carried a sense of fumbly new-artist excitement.

Unfortunately, Vibrant Sound’s pink-shirted, skinny-jeaned hip hop set never hit its groove. A personal idiosyncrasy, maybe, but the mixture of the rawness of hip hop and the glibness of hipsterism has always seemed odious. The appropriation of hip hop by the establishment occurred long ago, and maybe we’re meant to move on, but I have to admit it still makes me shudder to see those thick-rimmed glasses behind the mic. It’s difficult to reconcile hipsterism’s almost mandated apathy and inauthenticity with a genre that emerged from the rhythmic myths of West African griots and from the melancholic veracity of blues music. Maybe we’re not supposed to. Good things are for everyone, do what they may.

There’s something awesome about von Grey, though. Maybe it’s that they’re four sisters, or that those four play at least eight people’s worth of instruments, or that they dropped a totally unexpected, dirge-like Tom Jones cover in the middle of their folk/bluegrass set. In any case, there’s some source of ineffable satisfaction.

It’s not their stage presence, because they have none. I feel safe in the bluntness of this statement, though, because the awkward yet comfortable performance, and the song introductions best suited to a family band at someone’s wedding – “Our next song is ______, I hope you like it!” was the enduring mantra of the evening – made the music all the better. When an artist can’t quite express themselves in person, it’s gratifying to see them express themselves fluently in art. Von Grey’s unique take on folk, with a dash of Tim Burton-esque darkness, is nothing if not expressive.

Lindsey Stirling, of course, was not dark. She’s about as bright as it gets.

There’s a trope in screenwriting known as the Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Through no fault of her own, Stirling embodies it exactly. Relentlessly energetic and immensely talented, she’s a fitting personification of the type of feminine freedom that (presumably) male screenwriters have reduced to stereotype, and a fascinating presence to see on stage. She probably does fit a subculture ideal, dressing up as Link to cover Zelda music and doing her own arrangements of the themes from Lord of the Rings and Skyrim (in collaboration with a capella artist Peter Hollens). While Lindsey’s work is unique, she finds herself, in my mind, pitted against stereotype. I couldn’t help but wonder, as she energetically careened around the stage, how much the room must be filling up with a conscious or unconscious masculine sense of wanting to capture her. Certain things appeal in our culture. Poor Tink ends up in a lantern, after all. And Stirling’s own Link traipses around with jars of captured fairies.

Stirling’s music is awesome – I should say that outright. The combination of slamming percussion, aggressive violin, and Stirling’s energetic dance moves make for an absolute spectacle. In fact, the screen which intermittently displayed video behind the band was a distracting miscalculation and a testament to Stirling’s strength as a physical entertainer. I spent some time wishing the damn projector would turn off so that I could focus on the performance.

The set included many original compositions in addition to the requisite video game covers and soundtrack medleys that were likely the main proponents of Stirling’s YouTube success (no slight towards the artist; the YouTube crowd tend to be more excited by pop culture riffs than they do by original content, excepting the odd stoned child). With due deference to Howard Shore and Andrew Lloyd Webber, Stirling’s original songs are probably her most enjoyable, a fact which speaks to the singularity of her musical voice.

Vancouver was the last show of a first tour for Stirling (and a first Canadian show for von Grey, who commented that they were selling their $8 EP for $5 because they didn’t understand Canadian money – the audience’s laughter was, I think, good-natured) and she hopes to come back soon. When she does, trust me – bring your dancing shoes.