Friday night saw the opening of Joshua White and Gary Panter’s Light Show at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD). The impressive, new exhibit presented an unusual audiovisual treat. For instance, when psyche-folk collective Monster Island started the evening off with a performance, as they played, abstract shapes, spirals of light and odd cartoon characters were projected onto large constructions behind the band. Standing in the audience, it felt like the ups and downs of each Monster Island melody were actually creating the surprising splashes of color and strange shapes being projected around the room. Or was it the other way around?
There was plenty of time between performances walk around and admire the general splendor. On one side of the museum was a permanent light show constructed by Joshua White himself (best known for performing the Joshua White Light Show live behind some of the most famous artists of the late ’60s and early ’70s at the Fillmore East in New York). On the front half of the display, colorful shapes of light drifted slowly across a large rectangular screen. On the back half, audiences saw the entire process deconstructed — the show out front was the result of colored lights projected at a massive construction of twirling mirrors.
On the other side of the museum, Gary Panter (most recognized for his Emmy winning set design on Pee-Wee’s Playhouse) constructed an imaginative funhouse, featuring large, psychedelic light projections of robots, animals and houses all drawn in Panter’s signature style.
Bridging the gap between the works of these two prolific artists is what MOCAD calls a “historic corridor.” It consists of old posters from previous Joshua White and Gary Panter Light Shows, photos of the show being performed behind a variety of artists, Panter’s open notebooks full of raw sketches and other materials from the archives of the two artists.
But the highlight of the evening came when Adult., Detroit’s own electronic dance punk duo, took the stage in Detroit for the first time in more than two-and-a-half years. The husband-and-wife team, Nicola Kuperus and Adam Lee Miller, commented on their Facebook page before Friday night’s show that they were “nervous, but in a ‘good anxiety’ way for our first show in 2 years. Taking a break re-fueled our commitment to the abnormal.”
It seems the pre-show jitters and lengthy hiatus more than paid off. A crowd that had been steadily increasing throughout the night reached its peak, packing MOCAD from front to back, as Adult. opened the show with a cover of the Screamers’ “122 Hours of Fear.” It was their first of three covers Friday night (they also did A Number of Names’ “Sharevari” and closed the show with Madonna’s “Material Girl”). But they also unveiled plenty of bold, new music that sounded classically Adult. yet still felt satisfyingly different. Thrown into the mix were old favorites, including “Let’s Feel Bad Together” and, for the encore, (“Maybe we should end with something not Madonna,” Kuperus mused as the crowd coaxed Adult. back on stage) “Glue Your Eyelids Together.”
Kuperus’ stage presence was, as usual, one of the best parts of the performance. Whether she was staring down the crowd over her microphone with her trademark wide-eyed ferocity, busting her dance-punk moves or jumping off the stage to sing and dance with the crowd below (which she did for the entirety of the final song), Kuperus was definitely in her element Friday night.
White Car, an electro punk band from L.A., also played that night, heating up the stage with their industrial, no-wave pop.
Joshua White and Gary Panter’s Light Show is on display Feb. 10-April 29. According to MOCAD’s website “the exhibition will serve as a platform for performances by guests working in a variety of media and disciplines, including musicians, video artists, comedians and engineers, who are invited to interact with the work and activate the space.”