Erik Friendlander's Block Ice and Propane was not a show I was particularly excited to see. A cellist playing songs to accompany videos and photos from his childhood—it sounds pleasantly snoozy. The reality is far more beautiful, and more moving, than I'd anticipated. Friedlander's show is structured like a road trip, based on the trips his family would take every summer, as his photographer father hopped from gig to gig around the US. It's a nostalgic vision, and a relatable one—anyone who ever packed into the family car (or truck camper, in Friedlander's case) will remember the feeling of staring sleepily out the window, playing games with passing cars and with one's own perspective as the scenery passes by. Friedlander tells a few stories to supplement his songs, giving context to some of the snapshots, and his storytelling style is casual and conversational. It feels less like a rehearsed performance, and more like watching old home videos with a friend. When he picks up his cello, though, any sense of casualness slips away: Friendlander is an incredible cellist, his rapid fingerpicking and expressive sound perfectly accompanying videographer Bill Morrison's footage of clouds, flashing roadsides, and the endlessly unfolding highway. Every summer when I was a kid, my family took road trips back east to visit my parents' parents—I was surprised to find myself getting a little misty as Friedlander brought those trips back with perfect clarity, and a little relieved when the friend I saw the show with confessed she'd teared up a bit too. In a festival full of aggressively challenging and often impenetrable work, it was refreshing and moving to see a show that reflected, subtly yet directly, such a quintessentially American experience.
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