Henning Goes To The Movies. . . and The Bookmill
MONTAGUE — Since Pleasant Street Video and Blockbuster were no longer available, there was no better place than the intimate Montague Bookmill for Henning Ohlenbusch to host his “Henning Goes To The Movies” CD release party.
Surrounded by shelves of books and flanked by the Film Biographies section, the lanky singer-songwriter took the audience to all nine movies that inspired the nine songs on his new release.
The room was filled with just about every member of the local music cognoscenti who weren’t gigging that night. There were band-mates from School For The Dead — Brian Marchese, Tony Wescott, and Max Germer (who designed the album jacket); Winterpills’ Philip Price and Flora Reed, Group Deville’s Rick Murnane, Dave Houghton of Fancy Trash, as well as Jason Bourgeois, Matt Silberstein, Lord Russ, Lesa Bezo, and the spellbinding opening act, Jose Ayerve.
The overall vibe in the room was familial and jovial, with the master of ceremonies slowly building a long Mad Lib between songs, soliciting the audience for adverbs, adjectives and nouns throughout the set. But when Ohlenbusch delivered his cinematic tunes accompanied only by his acoustic guitar or electric piano, the crowd was riveted and pin-drop quiet.
And the sing-alongs were all in tune.
The songs from Henning Goes To The Movies are neither reviews nor film-spanning narratives. Instead, Ohlenbusch simply pulled from his own emotional reactions to the films’ key characters or memorable scenes.
And in making this album over the past winter, he did not allow himself to revisit any of the movies while composing.
In an interview with this writer leading up to the Book Mill gig, Ohlenbusch explained, “I made a rule that I was not allowed to. Because I had written “Planes, Trains, and Automobiles” (which he had been carrying around for years before making the record) just on my memory of this one scene in that movie, I said I am not going to allow myself to watch any of them. So there could be some mistakes , but it really is about my memories or how the movie has stuck with me throughout the years. Most of them are pretty old.”
The compositions that make up the new record are often incisive and sometimes woozy recollections of films that are neither Big Budget Hollywood, nor Art-Theater Staples. Many are modest, slightly dark comedies from which Ohlenbusch managed to pull bits of pathos and alienation.
Both the concert and album opened with Joe vs the Volcano, and ended with Meatballs. In between, Ohlenbusch reached back as far as 1976 for the smart sci-fi of Logan’s Run while the most recent movie being Judd Apotow’s 2007 crudely comedic Superbad.
I may have been the only member of the audience who had never watched any of the movies Ohlenbusch chose for his album. That did not diminish the experience. The songs worked without the cinematic frame of reference, more like Elliott Smith and Conor Oberst than Gene Siskel and Roger Ebert.
Indeed, a hardcore movie buff would be hard pressed to sit down and listen to Henning Goes To The Movies without the titles available and match the correct movie to any of the songs. And this is a good thing.
Superbad turned out to be a setlist highlight, as Henning inverted the film’s gross humor into haunting melancholy when he sang “It’s a thought that’s as jarring as the homeroom bells. The next time you see me, I might be someone else.”
As the set came toward a close, Ohlenbusch had fans switch the lights off as he handed out small red, white, and blue lights to the audience the audience members who swirled them around the room as Ohlenbusch launched into Logan’s Run. He kept the lights out for Poltergeist as he sang in the shadows, ever so slowly, “The speed of sound, a thousand feet per second/ Its five seconds per mile/Lightning flashes shadows on my bedroom wall/Countdown starts , one one-thousand, two one-thousand, three one-thousand….”
It was a surreal and fixating moment, like I imagine the best scene of Poltergiest to be.
To download Henning Goes To The Movies for less than a large tub of buttered popcorn go to:
— Dave Madeloni, Oct. 2011