Ivanovic and Kapsalis are disciplined and fluid in their command of jazz, classical, Balkan folk and other elusive, worldly sounds.
The Andreas Kapsalis and Goran Ivanovic Guitar Duo matched their free-form chemistry with the dark streets of Alfred Hitchcock's 1927 silent film The Lodger, in a Monday performance at the High Noon Saloon.
The Chicago-based duo had originally planned to provide a soundtrack to another early Hitchcock movie, Blackmail, and they have previously proclaimed their love for Hitchcock movies and interest in silent film. Kapsalis and Ivanovic are disciplined and fluid in their command of jazz, classical, Balkan folk and other elusive, worldly sounds. That suits them well to the episodic flow that silent-film accompaniment often has, whether it's coming from a well-preserved movie-house organ or the hybrid stringed instruments of Madison's own Biff Blumfumgagnge.
In The Lodger, subtitled A Story Of The London Fog, a serial killer called the Avenger strikes every Tuesday, his victims always young women with curly blonde hair. In the midst of the city's panic, a strange young man rents a room from a family whose daughter, Daisy, happens to be dating a detective on the case. Though the film hints at Hitchcock's growing cleverness and macabre sense of humor, it's still got a silent film's habit of telegraphing. Perhaps that gave the guitar duo freedom to complement the film's moods in less obvious ways -- they never attempted the guitar equivalent of an organist thunking down on a massive chord of dark import.
The first shot after Lodger's credits is a ghastly close-up of a woman's face as she is murdered, which set the tone both for the film and Kapsalis and Ivanovic's response to it. Shadows and close quarters tended to bring out their sharpest playing. During a scene in which the lodger sneaks out late at night -- perhaps to kill, since it's a Tuesday -- the duo's playing (Kapsalis on steel-stringed guitar, Ivanovic on classical guitar) grew more intricate in its fingerpicked arpeggios, clustering up into something that almost recalled a James Blackshaw song. The duo's instinct for panic showed strongly moments later, as a crowd gathered around a fresh victim.
With those little pauses that seem customary in silent-film music, the two deftly changed tone, volume and genre, even for the less grave moments, fitting bits of their own compositions and improvisation into the score. They switched into something like straightforward gypsy-swing fun during a scene of girls prepping for a fashion show in a dressing room.
It wasn't clear whether the musicians or the 35 or so audience members caught some grim jokes in the film. There wasn't much laughter or musical mischief at one morbid juxtaposition from the detective: "When I've put a rope around the Avenger's neck..." he says, and in the shot between dialogue cards, he pantomimes the face of a hanged man, head drooping sideways and tongue lolling. He continues: "...I'll put a ring around Daisy's finger."
The film climaxes with a genuinely frightening mob scene, and Kapsalis and Ivanovic's urgency seemed like something they had been saving. As the film wrapped up and the DVD menu popped back on, they played a little of "Shadow Thief," from their 2009 self-titled album.
Sitting to the side of the screen, the duo didn't try to be showy, but it was tempting to watch them play instead of the film. Both incorporated percussive elements. Kapsalis thumped the occasional suspenseful heartbeat on the body of his guitar, and he beat additional rhythms with right-hand tapping on his fretboard. Ivanovic incorporated faster and faster leads as the tension built. It wasn't the London fog, but the duo's fluidity and note-for-note volume control made their accompaniment fittingly eerie, and not ostentatious.