“I feel everything at the same time…”
That’s the last line of the chorus to “Intention,” one of the many striking songs to be found on Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith’s 2017 album The Kid. A quick live listen to Smith, as I had the privilege of this past Friday, will have you saying the same — and I mean that in the best way possible. And, if there’s anywhere in LA as good as unadulterated nature to experience her, it’s the Masonic Lodge at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. There, in two hours, I received just about all the intense aural and visual stimuli I could handle.
Beyond the bucolic surroundings of the graveyard, the reason the lodge’s homey mausoleum-like interiority was perfect to host Smith and her signature Buchla synthesizer—which she helms like an orchestral conductor or woodland goddess—has more to do with the theme of “The Kid” itself, which is, according to the record description, a “a sonic journey from birth to death.”
One second, you’re hearing animal and insect warbling, the next you’re hearing those varied frequencies of light-up kids’ toys or the piercing calls of orcas. At times you encounter something more primordial, something more akin to the gurgles of being born into existence.
The kid’s aforementioned journey is eerily brought to life by interpretative and otherworldly dancer Ty Wells whose movements were synched to each of Smith’s various notes, or voices as she’s called them in interviews, as well as to the visual grandiosity of abstract moving pictures projected on the massive screen behind her. One really felt as if Wells was birthed, evolving into a whole other being, before ultimately dying peacefully before the audience’s eyes. The only thing that sometimes shattered utter immersion was when the crowd couldn’t help but applaud at the close of each song.
Before Smith got into “The Kid,” however, she opened her first set with “Abstractions,” a 22-minute rhapsody accompanied by animations from late beatnik artist and self-taught anthropologist Harry Everett Smith. This was a jarring montage of shape-shifting colors and patterns that vacillated from what to me looked like mutating bacteria mixed with cave paintings to something more resembling the paintings of Russian abstract expressionist painter Mark Rothko before transforming in a more generally psychedelic direction to graphic spinning Buddhas, serpents, skeletons, etc.
As difficult as it can be to talk about Smith’s music, perhaps just how different she is can best be illustrated by the far more reverent and multidimensional crowd one is accustomed to seeing at LA shows, one distinguished by both young hipster types as well as older, more opera or symphony-going sort. Even before a single note played, the overall affect of the evening, mausoleum or not, was one of a polyphonic solstice festival. It was the perfect marriage between artist and venue and, it must be said, a very different sort of scene than when GUM performed there a month earlier.
If there was one thing to carp about in what was otherwise a near religious experience, it was the rare moments when the venue’s harmonics failed to resonate quite as well as Smith’s songs and ethereal voice demanded inside the old Spanish Baroque walls, though that deficiency would only register for those intimately familiar with her music. One of these skipped beats came with the dramatic opening of The Kid’s penultimate song, “I Will Make Room for You,” as Wells is approaching the end of the kid’s life. It opens with a dramatic and mellifluous fanfare of horns that couldn’t quite reach their intended pitch, though it certainly wasn’t without effort. At times, the bass left the transecting aisles trembling as if we were all on one of those old Disney simulator rides into a beautiful void.
Before Kaitlyn took to the stage, an artist in a retro blue Hawaiian shirt, calling himself Cool Maritime, opened. His music, which is categorized online as aqua-electronic, really set a chill tone for Kaitlyn to blow to pieces. Both he and Wells are part of a multidisciplinary artistic label started by Smith called Touchtheplants.
As Cool Maritime did his thing, a young woman flitted past me, taking a seat a few rows up by herself, her hands folded in her lap. In spite of my fandom, it took me almost two whole minutes to register that this was Kaitlyn. I’d stared straight through her. So unassuming.