Reading Between the Stars: Hauschka

“Constellation” is a coveted concept for urban dwellers. Whether it’s because of smog or tall buildings, we don’t get to see the stars too often. This may be part of the allure of Chicago’s hottest new venue. Situated under the bridge at Belmont and Western, you could easily walk past the bolted front door and think Constellation was another one of Avondale’s mystery monuments.

A quaint bar, ticket counter, and vaulted ceilings are highlighted with soft yellow lighting that welcome guests into the main performance space. There is also a dance studio and two other performance rooms in the building.

On January 11th, the room was filling up fast; I grabbed the first seat I could find next to an unassuming couple and a jazz musician. Ryley Walker opened the stage with a silky guitar web accompanied by Charles Rumback on percussion. The six string serenade sounded like the soundtrack for bareback horse riding on the beach, a respite from the bitter cold waiting for us outside.

Just as we had drifted away, Volker Bertelmann aka Hauschka came on the stage and turned up the show a notch. Listening to him was like watching an artist paint a canvas right in front of us. He messed up, he paused, and he altered his instruments with duct tape, toys, and—eventually—ping pong balls. His little yellow bag of props could have been a grab bag from a 6th grade birthday party—we’ll never know.

In between sets, Hauschka talked about interconnectivity. One chance meeting leads to a new idea, which could create a new path in life. Abandoned City will be released in March 2014 and is named after the feeling of being alone in a city. He pays homage to the ghost cities around the world from the secluded mountain town in which he composes his music. For the encore, he put ping pong balls inside the piano on top of the taped chords. Each note was a bounce in time, and we left craving one piece.

After the performance, I got a chance to talk to Hauschka about his experience playing in America versus the rest of the world. This man has four booking agents, yet he deals with his fans individually and genuinely appreciates their feedback. He talked about the similarities between Berlin and New York and said he was glad to live in a smaller city like Dusseldorf. Like the fine lines connecting the constellations in the sky, the connections formed between the people in the crowd weren’t necessarily visible, but they gave new shape to old forms. People left the show to brave the bitter cold feeling slightly more connected in an increasingly disjointed world.

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