Over the course of its first season at its new permanent location in the Bywater, the New Orleans Airlift’s Music Box Village has quickly earned a reputation as one of the most interesting music venues in New Orleans. Even the “music venue” moniker fails to do the space justice—a fact that was made perfectly clear this weekend when Aurora Nealand closed out the first season with a two-night run from her Monocle Ensemble.
Led by the relentlessly creative accordionist, saxophonist, singer, songwriter and composer, the Monocle Ensemble was created to perform the music of Nealand’s avant-garde solo project (a.k.a. The Monocle). While Nealand held down all instruments on The Monocle’s politically charged, emotionally complex 2016 album KindHumanKind, the ensemble performance found her joined, to great effect, by musicians Cliff Hines, Nathan Lambertson, Will Thompson, Graham Hawthorne, Julie Odell, Christin Bradford and Tiffany Lamson. The full band helped bring the music to life on stage and added new layers to the material, but it only accounted for part of the production. In typical Music Box Village fashion, the show featured a slew of dancers who—thanks to Shannon Stewart’s inspired choreography—brought an intriguing visual element into the foreground and incorporated some of the venue’s bizarre instruments into the sound. They also might have offered something of a narrative to go along with the music, but I’m not entirely sure that’s what they were even going for anyway.
Regardless, The Monocle Ensemble’s blend of music, dance, poetry and more was a perfect fit for the Music Box Village. A unique performance space should play host to equally unique performance art, and it’s safe to say that fans got just that on Friday and Saturday night. New Orleans music and aficionados who missed their chance to catch a show during the Music Box Village’s first season should waste no time making it out there when things start up again in the fall.
All photos by Elsa Hahne.