“Andrew Sarchus/King of the Markets/In a hell of a town…” Thus begins one of the songs in Zipperhead, a blistering live multimedia event about life in post-9/11 New York featuring Brooklyn-based progressive rock band Sineparade and video artist Alex Itin. Following a successful one night preview at Monkeytown in September 2009, the highly anticipated show will open a six consecutive weekend run at the newly renovated 17 Frost Art and Performance Space on April 10.
Zipperhead explores contemporary American life through the story of Andrew Sarchus, a prominent Wall Street trader who escapes death in the World Trade Center on 9/11 by stealing away to a hotel room with his secretary. His wife Marla’s anger quickly turns into concern as Sarchus becomes increasingly erratic, the result of a growing brain tumor. In order to cope with his feelings of guilt and loneliness, he becomes an obsessive collector of American art, convinced that he can see God in the paintings. Although later arrested for insider trading, and nearly destroyed by the deterioration of his brain and his marriage, Sarchus eventually manages to come to terms with his life and achieves a bittersweet salvation. His journey is told by a combination of spoken narrative and iconic video art provided by Itin and a set of songs and soundscapes written and performed by Sineparade. At 17 Frost Space, three massive screens and a state-of-the-art sound system envelop both the performers and the audience.
Itin delivers an explosive, almost manic performance, playing multiple characters with visceral conviction. He never plays to the audience for a cheap laugh or gasp. Instead, he dances so close to the edge of role-playing that a sense of danger is continually present throughout Zipperhead. The hallucinations of Sarchus become terrifyingly real in Itin’s moans and screams. The surreal stream-of-consciousness animation that streams across the screens creates a haunting sense of isolation.
The songs of Sineparade, however, pull in the opposite direction. Each is a musical gem that can stand by itself and all surge with life – a welcome counterbalance to the claustrophobic existentialism of Sarchus. The astonishing versatility of the band and the wide range of their songs are due mainly to the diverse backgrounds and styles of the members. Sineparade, which performs regularly at 17 Frost Space, is loaded with amazing musicians. Lead vocalist Steven Pacia combines literate and multilayered lyrics with gorgeous melodies. Although at heart a crooner, he stretches his distinctive voice at every opportunity. Guitarist/producer J. Armen and singer-songwriter Javier Hernandez-Miyares share driving guitar duties. Armen’s jazzy playing has a soulful, penetrating quality reminiscent of Santana while Hernandez-Miyares sounds more like a bluesman on a glorious acid trip. Ariel de la Portilla (bass) and Alex Garcia (drums) are also both members of acclaimed Latin Jazz ensemble Afromantra, so it should come as no surprise that they play as though joined at the hip. Garcia is supple, precise and always bursting with ideas. De la Portilla’s tuneful bass playing never falters and looks teasingly effortless to boot.
Among the songs that stand out in Zipperhead are the smartly crafted power-pop “Underground Man,” the evocative, serpentine “Blast Off” (featuring that rock rarity – a bass solo!) and “Closer Now”. The last of these is not only the best number in the show, but also arguably one of the most impressive pieces of pop music to emerge in recent years. “Closer Now” has an aching, addictive melody as beautiful as one’s first crush and lyrics that reward close listening. Sineparade’s performance of the song is as close to perfection as Zipperhead (or any show) gets, and Pacia’s phrasing in particular is exquisite.
Despite the subject matter of Zipperhead, the show is neither dated nor exploitative. 9/11 and the global financial meltdown are only the background. The real themes of the story are illusion and fragility. Nothing is safe or secure, no matter how impressive the appearance seems. A marriage, a brain or a banking system can crumble as easily as a building and most do so in the end. Interspersed throughout the show at key moments are short notes on neurobiology spoken clinically by Pacia, detailing the frailty of human nature. A brain lesion is simply another damaged piece of tissue. A seizure is an uncommon burst of electrical activity. Addiction and love are just synaptic communications. Even though such an approach may be startlingly cold at first, it actually humanizes Sarchus.
Much of the credit for the remarkable cohesion of Zipperhead must also go to a devoted technical crew led by musician/engineer Dave Scarborough. 17 Frost Space has gained a reputation among local bands as one of the best venues to play in Brooklyn and it shows in the sound and picture quality of Zipperhead as a whole.
The show will play each Saturday evening at 8PM until May 15 (running time 75 minutes). For tickets and additional information, visit www.zipperheadshow.com