On Thursday night I went to see ACO Underground performing at Le Poisson Rouge, a small club on New York Citys famous Bleeker St.. ACO Underground is billed as an electro-acoustic collective that is a side project of the Australian Chamber Orchestra, incorporating Jim Moginie from Midnight Oil and Brian Ritchie from the Violent Femmes.
I ended up at the show because I’ve known Jim Moginie since I shot Midnight Oil for the cover of Rolling Stone in 1993 and then became their principal photographer from 1997 until they broke up in 2002. He is one of the sweeter and more humble musicians I’ve known over the course of my career, especially considering he was always regarded within the Oils as their resident genius. Jim got in touch a few weeks ago to let me know he was coming through town with the ACO and so Thursday night I found myself with camera in hand at Le Poisson Rouge.
The ACO was founded in 1975 by cellist John Painter. Richard Tognetti was appointed Lead Violin in 1989 and subsequently became Artistic Director, a position he holds to this day. The ACO is regarded as a ‘cool’ orchestra – Jonny Greenwood from Radiohead spent three months with them last year, during which time he work-shopped with the musicians and composed a piece for them which they will premiere in London later this year. ACO Underground is the even cooler side of the Orchestra and was founded in 2012 to showcase their more playful side.
ACO Underground performed a variety of work on Thursday, ranging from ‘Milk It’ by Nirvana to the ‘difficult’ but beautiful composition by Bach ‘Canons on a Goldberg Ground’, which featured Brooklyn based pianist Jacob Greenberg. They also covered Stravinsky, Shostakovich and Paganini and gave a teaser for the Jonny Greenwood piece by playing his ‘Prospectors Quartet’.
Satu Vänskä was born in Finland and raised in Japan. She is Lead Violin with the ACO and also Vocalist with ACO Underground. As well as being strikingly beautiful she is phenomenally talented and did a remarkable job through the night, in particular on the Finnish hymn ‘Oi Raikkain Jeesukseni’ and ‘Something I Can Never Have’ by Nine Inch Nails.
I would like to have seen Jim and Brian’s talents utilized better as it was strange to see them not doing anything at all for some of the songs, but maybe that will come with time as so far they’ve only done a few shows with ACO Underground. I certainly think that if they are given more of a role they could bring something fresh to the table and stretch this strong collective further.
Overall the night was an absolute treat of music. And the cultural taste makers of NYC were out to see it. David Byrne was tapping his toes at the back of the room and Penny Arcade was resplendent in leopard skin down the front. If you get a chance to see the ACO on one of their many tours then I would suggest you take it, as you will not be disappointed.