I went into Craig Wedren's show with ACME (the American Contemporary Music Ensemble) bearing an open mind, determined not to be disappointed if he didn't launch into a set of rare Shudder To Think songs. As it turned out, not only did I get my secret wish to hear “Pebbles” again, but I also got knocked on my ass by the power of Wedren's voice combined with a classically trained mini-orchestra.
ACME began the evening with contemporary classical composer Michael Nyman's String Quartet No. 2, an ear-friendly alternative to John Cage's "String Quartet in Four Parts," which had been programmed originally. Artistic director and cellist Clarice Jensen expertly guided her fellow players through terrifyingly complicated rhythms and delicate chord structures without a hitch; a blessing, as we all know what a wrong note on a violin sounds like.
ACME cleared the stage for a visibly awed Wedren, who would later stand and smile appreciatively, almost like an audience member, as ACME wove impossibly intricate melodies around him. Wedren treated the Shudder To Think fans with “Hit Liquor,” “No RM. 9,” and more, making it incredibly difficult for me to contain my contented sighs. Ushering ACME back onto the stage, Wedren shared that he couldn't remember how long they'd been collaborating, but that it had happened within the past year.
“I have no sense of time now that I've had a child,” he admitted. “I'm 1... I'm 100... I'm not sure. Making music with ACME has been a revelation... now let's just hope we don't suck.” “One Man's Heart,” written with ACME, is one of the most tuneful and comfortable pieces of music ever to have been associated with Wedren, who is clearly embracing a more blissful muse these days. Yet, he uses his classical leanings to give new teeth to Shudder to Think track “Pebbles,” which is all the more unsettling and obtuse with the organic scream of strings and woodwinds.
The piece de resistance was latter-day Shudder To Think keyboardist Jefferson Friedman's three-part composition "On In Love," for which Wedren wrote lyrics. “On In Love” plays like the soundtrack of an imaginary stage show, with Wedren as the soulful narrator, describing the different facets of love reflected by three movements: “Refuse to Die,” “Famous Planets,” and “Tarrying.” Wedren howled and crooned, eyes closed, acting as ambassador of art rock and its chaotic and euphoric collision with the classical world. At the close of the final movement, he turned around and beamed at the musicians, as enamored of them as I was of the work as a whole.