Bill Murray and Jan Vogler – New Worlds Tour
Michael Fowler Centre, Wellington
Wednesday 14 November 2018
Jan Vogler and Bill Murray met each other on a plane ride from Berlin to New York. A friendship formed, and soon the two decided to collaborate. Vogler, being a renowned cellist, and Murray a famous actor. The result is look into fine arts, with particular focus on classical music and American literature.
Joining the duo onstage Vogler’s wife, Mira Wang, on violin, and pianist Vanessa Perez. There was also a young man who turned the pages of Perez’s sheet music for her.
I’ve toured across America and some of Europe with the band Ranges during the past year, and have been trying to figure out how I could make a living doing something along those lines ever since. I think I may have found the answer. Perez employs someone to turn the pages of her sheet music. I could do that! I can become a page turner! I’ll travel the world, hanging out with rock stars, living the dream. I’m willing to risk a few paper cuts for that kind of career!
It’s a great concept – poetry and prose with powerful music for company. In the past I’ve extolled hardcore band La Dispute for trying this themselves (their Here, Hear EP’s fuse literature with experimental music). Sometimes Murray gave solo readings, sometimes the band played classical instrumental pieces, and sometimes they all came together, either for songs with Murray on vocals, or for literature with classical backing.
I’ll be honest, this is not my usual style of music. Other than the recent Rhian Sheehan show, the last time I saw a cello in a live context was in Portland, Oregon last year, where I saw cello quartet Apocalyptica play a set of Metallica covers. It was about as far removed from this event as you can imagine.
But although I seldom listen to chamber music, I can still appreciate the talent. As always, Michael Fowler Centre sounds incredible. And you could tell that the trio playing were masters of their craft. They plucked, bowed, strummed and played with great passion and dynamics.
We also had some more modern numbers. A rousing short version of “It Ain’t Necessarily So” had everyone in the auditorium joining in loudly. West Side Story, featured a few times (please picture a grown man singing “I Feel Pretty” and running about in excited circles.) Murray downed a tumbler of liquor, because launching into Tom Wait’s “The Piano Has Been Drinking”
As you’d expect, Murray was quite the character. He has someone managed to evolve beyond the image of the standard acting celebrity Internet forums share rumoured urban legends of him showing up to random parties uninvited, or taking over bars to serve tequila to all the patrons, regardless of what they order. Many stories end with Murray telling someone: “No one will ever believe you.”
It is also heavily rumoured that the contracted purchasing agreement between pharma cretin Martin Shkreli and the Wu Tang Clan specifies that Murray is legally allowed to burgle the exclusive copy of the Wu Tang album from Shkreli, should he choose to.
Of course, we are all familiar with Murray’s quirky film characters too. Which made me wonder whether we were seeing the true Murray tonight. Is it authentic, or is it an act?
Either way, he was thoroughly enjoyable. Drawing upon his acting talents, he adopted accent for some readings. And he was wickedly funny, both in dialogue and mannerisms. His singing ability was nothing to write home about – not bad, but not good either – but he injected such life into the performances that songs captivated regardless.
I’d love to sit down with Murray and Vogler to pick their brains, and see why they chose the pieces they did. What kind of narrative or message or theme did they want to share with us?
The literature was interesting too. My favourite was Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s “Dog”. Another highlight was an extended passage of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn.
Murray sat down to read (in a Southern hick accent) when one person approached the stage and left placed a small gift bag at his feet. Murray continued to read, but his fan clearly needed some attention. Ushers came down to sit with her, but she actually ran onto the stage and chased Murray later in the show.
At the end of the night, before the last song, someone from backstage came on with a bouquet of roses and handed them to Murray. Murray proceeded to run about the auditorium, pelting members of the audience with said roses. Usually offering someone flowers is a lovely gesture, but seeing a grown man attempting to hiff them up to those seated in the balconies was pure comedy. And our friend from earlier, who had left the gift onstage, received a rose for her efforts too.
All up it was a great night. Some of it was a beautiful look into music and literature. Some parts were more shambolic. But it was all engaging and entertaining, and everyone left with cheery smiles, enraptured with the comedic spell Murray had cast.
Words and photos by Joseph James