Among indie rock fans, Tunde Adebimpe is well known as the frontman of the influential band TV on the Radio.
What fewer people know is that he has amassed credits as an actor — he was the groom in the 2008 Jonathan Demme film “Rachel Getting Married.” And fewer people still know that he spends considerable energy painting and creating animation beyond TV on the Radio projects.
Yet Adebimpe described visual art as his first love. “When I started with a band, I was concerned that it would take me away from my art making,” he said by phone last week. “It’s grounding for me; it’s the way I end up processing the world.”
And now, for the first time in his career, he has the chance to blend his original art and music making for a single performance. His “A Warm Weather Ghost” will premiere Thursday for a three-night engagement at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The show will include seven musicians — including two horn players — plus the prerecorded voice of a disembodied narrator (performing the role of a dead person) for an experience that “feels like a warm, psychedelic tropic,” Adebimpe said.
Meanwhile, his paintings and drawings will be projected on a single screen. He hasn’t decided whether a second projector will screen images on the performers as well.
The concept for this ambitious multimedia project was born circa 2013. With a break from touring with TV on the Radio, Adebimpe found himself reflecting on a flurry of recent deaths of people he loved. “At first I didn’t know whether I wanted to make an animated film piece or something to accompany music,” he said.
As time went on, he settled on what he called the “wish.” “My attitude toward death is always something that has shifted — it is not a negative attitude,” he explained. So he wanted to create “this expansive, welcoming, exciting psychedelic experience that has nothing to do with pain or suffering — you are done with all that. Is it prebirth? Is it afterlife? I have no idea. It is just this wish.”
That’s why Adebimpe stressed that the show’s theme — death and resurrection — is merely the “casing for an impressionistic piece.”
“It is a meditation on what happens to your spirit or your soul as it leaves your body, the trip it takes,” he said. “It is about transformation, about becoming another thing. It’s not exactly a theme park ride, but I want the audience to have that feeling of movement along with the character.”
Invitation from Minneapolis
When TV on the Radio resumed touring later in 2013, Adebimpe shelved the idea for “A Warm Weather Ghost.”
And that’s where the project stayed until July 2015. That’s when Kate Nordstrum, curator of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music series, asked for a meeting with Adebimpe after a TV on the Radio concert at First Ave.
Nordstrum and Walker performing arts curator Philip Bither had tried to recruit Adebimpe earlier that year for a co-presentation involving musician Bryce Dessner (best known as a guitarist for the indie band the National). The timing didn’t work for Adebimpe, so Nordstrum was back to inquire about developing his own project.
“I thought he might have a side band or something in mind,” Nordstrum said. “Instead he had these sketches and slides and a basic story line with characters for ‘A Warm Weather Ghost.’ It was an amazing pitch out of his back pocket.”
A few weeks later Adebimpe was back in L.A., where he had recently moved after decades in the Brooklyn music scene. He got to work assembling collaborators for “A Warm Weather Ghost.”
The first person he recruited was Mark Ramos Nishita — aka Money Mark — a keyboardist and programmer who worked for nearly 20 years with the Beastie Boys. Adebimpe calls him the “musical A-Team.”
Another key recruit was Mia Doi Todd, a singer-songwriter Adebimpe admired for the mystical texture and sound of her voice. He asked her to sing backup, plus one featured solo for the show.
As of last week, Adebimpe was still busy writing narration to give the story a little more structure while firming up details before rehearsals in Minneapolis.
“I am about 80 percent sure of what is going to happen,” he said with a laugh.
Then again, with interludes left for solo musical improvisation, the 70- to 80-minute shows are sure to change on each of the three nights.
What will that sound like? “There is an unavoidable similarity with the stuff I do with TV on the Radio,” Adebimpe said. “But it’s not like a TV on the Radio show. Someone who saw [rehearsals] said it sounded like King Crimson” — a 1970s English “progressive rock” band with a jazz rhythm section — “and I guess some songs do have that kind of churn.”
However, a marketing clip for “A Warm Weather Ghost” on the Liquid Music website sounds more folksy and whimsical.
That intrepid sense of experimentation across genres plays perfectly for Liquid Music and the Walker. “We are always looking for artists who may get trapped in the pop world and want to do some creative work outside that realm,” Bither said.
For Adebimpe, the payoff is the opportunity to mesh his artwork with his music. “It’s all me,” he said, with amazement. “I am doing the animation and manipulating my paintings.”
Sure, he plans to release an album for “A Warm Weather Ghost” someday, packaged with an extensive booklet of his images. But for now, he’s attracted to the intimacy and immediacy of these live performances at the Walker.
“I like the idea that this is the only time it is happening — not just the performance, but everybody in the room,” he said. “It could be a big disaster, but sometimes the best feeling is thinking the show is going to go off the rails — and then you land it.”
Britt Robson is a Minneapolis freelance writer.