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Last Night

Steven Severin Scores Silent Films at Cinefamily

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Mon, Jan 18, 2010 at 6:13 AM

For two nights in a row, I headed down Fairfax to Cinefamily to sit cramped inside a sold-out movie theater of the pre-stadium seating variety and watch a small handful of silent films scored by former Siouxsie and the Banshees bassist/co-songwriter Steven Severin. Though Severin's reputation certainly contributed to the success of the events (both nights were visibly sold-out), this wasn't your typical night with a musician who was once in a band you adored.

click to enlarge LIZ OHANESIAN
  • Liz Ohanesian

Many of the bands that I love dearly stem from the 1980s, so, when they were most active, I was still trying to stage concerts with my Barbie dolls in my bedroom. In most cases, I did eventually catch those bands, either in the later stages of their careers, on reunion tours or, in rare instances, at DJ sets where one member of a legendary group takes to the turntables only to play dance mixes of nearly his entire catalog. When this is your fate, you learn to accept disappointment easily. The scene will never be as mindblowing as those presented in the magazine articles you collected. Instead, you will inevitably be shoved between throngs of people who will scream incessantly for that one song that was really, really popular.

Thankfully, Severin has relieved his fans of any nostalgia for a time they may or may not clearly remember. In recent years, the founding member of the legendary band has turned his focus to music for film and theater, electronic and largely ambient compositions that, sonically, have little to do with the rousing punk sound he helped define in the late 1970s.

Night one of Severin's stint focused on the material from his 2008 release Music for Silents. The crux of this is dedicated to The Seashell and the Clergyman, Germaine Dulac's 1928 film based on a concept by Antonin Artaud, though both the album and the Wednesday night engagement also included scores for six short contemporary silents. Thursday night's event featured the debut of Severin's score to Jean Cocteau's The Blood of a Poet.

Both performances unfolded in the same fashion. Severin walked onto the stage dressed in all black. He sat down behind a MacBook that was set up on a table draped in red velvet. He played by moving the mouse back and forth as he glanced at the movie screen every few minutes. When the films ended, he moved to the center of the stage, bowed and left. There was no banter, no encore and altogether very little of what you might expect from a concert. More importantly, though, there was virtually no link to Severin's acclaimed past, unless you happened to be one of those people who coincidentally began name-dropping Artaud and Cocteau around the time you were obsessed with the Banshees. Instead, there was an element of the unexpected with Severin's performance and that's what made these two events special.

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