Get buggy with it

Mirah + Spectratone International at the MFA, January 11, 2008
By MEGAN V. BELL  |  January 15, 2008

In the animated world, creatures that would otherwise be seen as unsavory have been given a family-friendly makeover, from a disease-ridden rat that happens to be an innate culinary genius to a pesky honeybee that cracks jokes and falls in love. But singer-songwriter Mirah ditched the saccharine angle for her song-cycle concept album entirely about bugs, Share This Place (K), which she performed in its entirety last Friday night at the MFA with her collaborative backing group Spectratone International — an eclectic assemblage of cello, accordion, hand percussion, and oud. The songs were short and whimsical enough to appeal to children (whose presence was indicated by enthusiastic squeals), and the layered songwriting behind Share This Place kept the rest of us busy unpacking its meanings.

The show was multi-dimensional in concept, but also in reality: behind the performers hung a blank circular screen that popped with color at the first notes of the opening “Love Song of the Fly.” Mirah enlisted the help of Britta Johnson, who created the stop-motion animated lightning bugs, beetles, ants, and other insects going about their day-to-day bug business on the screen. But in lieu of trying to create them as realistically as possible, Johnson used everyday objects — scraps of cloth, lightbulbs, tape, cotton swabs, and wine corks. These patchwork insects moved in synch with the music, each animated segment beginning and ending in time with the songs, the performers cued by small monitors at the foot of the stage. “It’s about insects, but it’s really about all of us,” Mirah told us right before paper slugs (insects or mollusks?) danced across the screen to the sea-chantey swagger of “Supper.” By the end of the evening, it was evident that Mirah wanted us to embrace nature in our daily lives, and she started by giving the creepy-crawlies a heart without stretching the truth.

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