Harptallica | 09.10.07

harptallica1Every time you hear one of those crushing Metallica power chords you love for its heaviness, newly enervated into a trill on harpstrings, you either want to laugh or sigh.

 

 

 

 

"The Underground" at Red Sea, St. Louis

There were quite a few double-takes by pedestrians walking Delmar Boulevard when Harptallica played the Red Sea. It's just nutty to look casually inside the window of a rock club to discover two gals playing harps. The harp is the emu of the music world – huge, ungainly and rare. Any kind of harp duet is, by definition, a gimmick. A pair of harpists who've recorded an entire album of Metallica covers takes it to the next level. Must. Hear. Them.

Ashley Toman and Patricia Kline are Harptallica: two twentysomething women fresh from Rochester, N.Y.'s prestigious Eastman School of Music. Toman's husband introduced her to Metallica's oeuvre, and funny ideas started percolating. She has arranged "Master of Puppets," "Unforgiven," "For Whom the Bell Tolls," and about a dozen more Metallica songs for two harps.

It sounds about like you think it would: sometimes gorgeous, as when Metallica themselves achieve gothic beauty, like in "Fade to Black;" sometimes silly, as when those heavy-metal chords are so repetitive they sound like what has to be an in-joke, coming from a big, awkward melodic instrument with an ambrosial register.

In the end, the beauty beats back the funny. It has to. The intro to "One" is so beautiful you could cry – it's music at its purest. Hearing it live from a pair of harps, in a small room with only about 25 people in the audience, was an exotic thrill. The harps make "Orion" sound like it was written for the medieval lyre. Nothing soothes the savage beast like a harp – even a beast as savage as Metallica.   

Every time you hear one of those crushing Metallica power chords you love for its heaviness, newly enervated into a trill on harpstrings, you either want to laugh or sigh. Usually the arrangement works, and it's the latter. 

Toman really gets into it in concert, too. She rocks and emotes like Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg making a Prokofiev work her own.

Harptallica gave us a treat at their show – they've recently arranged "Call of Ktulu" and Cliff Burton's epic solo-bass number "Anesthesia (Pulling Teeth)," and they trotted them out. They were really nice. One of the musicians, lanky brunette Patricia Kline, told me they're contemplating doing some Iron Maiden now. Hearing Maiden's twin-guitar dogfight on "Two Minutes to Midnight" or "Wasted Years" from twin harps would be a kick – and maybe not so odd, if you think about it. Where do you reckon those metal-guitar arpeggios came from in the first place? | Byron Kerman

 

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