The title character of Tunde Adebimpe’s “A Warm Weather Ghost” first appeared on a giant screen as a young African-American woman in a Jimi Hendrix T-shirt. Very soon after, she may or may not have been hit by traffic while crossing the street.
And then, with a flute trilling over a martial drumbeat, and with five musicians and two vocalists engaged in a concert below the screen, the video yielded to kaleidoscopic animation.
We were on our way through Adebimpe’s hourlong magical mystery tour of the afterlife, the first of three performances that will conclude Saturday at Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.
Best known as the frontman for the influential indie-rock band TV on the Radio, Adebimpe jumped at the chance to do his own multimedia project when approached by organizers of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra’s Liquid Music series and the Walker two years ago. In fact, he had already embarked upon a rough draft of the show’s visuals after the deaths of several close friends.
Although the 42-year old Adebimpe once did animation for MTV’s “Celebrity Deathmatch” series and directed a stop-animation video for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, he is best known as a musician. Even so, he says that visual art is “grounding for me” and “the way I end up processing the world.”
Thursday’s world premiere proved the point. With the musicians almost always cast in darkness, the screen more than held its own as the focus of attention. Images varied their pace and design in sync with the music. Cartoons, wallpaper-like patterns, mandala circles, landscapes, birds and the outlines of human eyes, faces and bodies flitted, ululated, fuzzed and morphed in a manner that split the difference between narrative and pure impressionism.
The animation panned over and through an iridescently colored horizon that mixed bayou, jungle and ocean images within a cosmic thunderstorm — warm weather for the ghostly journey.
The music deftly correlated with this barrage of images. Drummer Aaron Steele was a polestar rhythmic presence between the ethereality of the keyboards and guitar, not to mention the punch and swoon of the two horn players. Add to that the delicate, mystical vocals of Mia Doi Todd and Adebimpe’s higher-pitched, soulful phrasing (he’s never sounded better vocally) and the result was a mixture of old-school trip-hop and 21st-century psychedelia, with TV on the Radio’s trademark pop amalgam as a familiar spicing.
Despite the show’s incredible busyness, the only criticism is that the entire shebang felt a little too controlled. That said, Adebimpe should be satisfied with the way “A Warm Weather Ghost” negotiates his feelings of wonderment and fatalistic nonchalance about the afterlife. On the final song, “O Death,” he sang about how dying will “liberate your living/from your being.”
And then he instructed: “But in the meantime/Why don’t you be kind/Nothin’ we can do about it/Wouldn’t be the truth without it.”
With buoyant good nature, the horns tooted forth in affirmation.
Britt Robson is a Minneapolis freelance writer.