In downtown Los Angeles last night, some set out for the Music Center to see Ukranian bass Vitalij Kowaljow sing a passionate farewell to his daughter, as Wotan in Wagner's"Ring" cycle, while others tucked into the Central Library to see Timur Bekbosunov, a tenor from Kazakhstan perform operatic versions of "I Put a Spell On You" and "Closer" backed by The Dime Museum, an 8-piece Vaudevillian band.
Bekbosunov knows what his audience likes and he is a brilliant architect of tension. Dressed in stone-washed black and white striped pants, with an iridescent belt draped around his waist and an outrageous, striped coat with comically elongated cuffs and lapel, singing Radiohead covers and Kristian Hoffman originals, the CalArts graduate fits the part. Unabshedly quirky, Bekbosunov is one of those kids with a freakishly high creative IQ, a policy of giving his audience the benefit of the doubt, and a pass on Halloween costume shopping, as his daily wardrobe will do.
Onstage in the Mark Taper Auditorium, home to the library'sALOUD series, Bekbosunov assumed the suspicious playfulness of a circus performer, a role encouraged by the eerie backdrop of The Dime Museum's accordion and toy piano. "Check out our Website, which for now, is my Website," Bekbosunov said. "After all, I am the museum." He joshed about morbid Russian history and the confusing nature of the English language, sneaking in quips about Stalin and self-consciously admitting to his use of American colloquial phrases. Bekbosunov's video for "Autumn," a collaboration with Sandra Powers, was removed from YouTube for explicit content, but the Russian version remains on the site. "It's the same video and you can see everything," he laughed.
Bekbosunov is a fascinating Kazakh-American hybrid, a flamboyant performer with the emotive tendencies of Rufus Wainwright and a beautifully haunting voice which is not quite as polished as Antony Hegarty's, but approaches a similar place. In March, Bekbosunov performed in a tribute to Peter Eötvös as part of the Green Umbrella series at Disney Hall and he is currently working on a debut album inspired by Charles Darwin's "Origin of Species."
There were costume changes, face paint, a sparkly black tail attached to his behind that Bekbosunov whipped around for his version of Nine Inch Nails' "Closer," in which the "f" word was replaced with the "l" word (love), until the final line, when Bekbosunov finally let out a scratchy, exhausted "fuuuuuuuuck." Oh, and a bass clarinet solo from Brian Walsh during "I Put A Spell On You" that was so completely dirty it would have made Screamin' Jay Hawkins shriek.
Two female performers dressed in black danced onstage like seductive, gothic rag dolls while a woman shot bubbles into the air with a bubble gun for "Total Eclipse," a piece written by Hoffman for German countertenor Klaus Nomi. "When we performed this song for America's Got Talent, the judge said that he'd never been to hell but that after hearing us, he thinks he has," Bekbosunov said. He prepared to close the show with a song called "Friendship," a piece he performed for a vocal competition at age eight, but remembered that he'd skipped a song on the program. "Singers are not musicians," said Bekbosunov. "We have a space here, where the brain is supposed to be, where we keep our tones." The band finished the set with a Hoffman original, a ukelele-supported tune with the cheery instrumentation of a Belle and Sebastian song and dark lyrics that wouldn't be out of place on a Thom Yorke album: We'll make religion out of fear/When did the killing get so serious/Let's get ethereal.