Michael McClure & Ray Manzarek
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GREG HAYMES Staff writer

SCHENECTADY -- It's not often the crowd demands an encore at a poetry reading.

But then again, the combination of playwright-Beat poet Michael McClure and former Doors keyboardist Ray Manzarek didn't exactly make for a typical evening of poetry at the Van Dyck on Wednesday, either.

"What should we do tonight?'' asked the gray-haired McClure as he ambled back and forth across the stage for the first of two shows of Wednesday night. "A lot of Doors songs?''

The sold-out crowd erupted into a chorus of cheers and whooping as if on cue.

"Well, that's not what we do,'' explained Manzarek in mock horror as he sat down at the Yamaha grand piano. "The poet has made a mistake.''

Instead, in the grand beatnik tradition, McClure offered the verbal input, while Manzarek riffed around the words -- not so much accompaniment, but rather a duet. A pas de deux between words and music.

Call it word-jazz.

The die-hard Doors fans hoping to hear a concert of the band's classic hits may have been a bit disappointed, but it was clear that Jim Morrison's legacy -- if not his ghost -- hovered over the evening's proceedings.

Manzarek inserted themes and variations on a number of Doors gems during the show, tagging one of McClure's rants with the instantly recognizable introduction to "Light My Fire.''

During McClure's "Ode to Jim Morrison'' -- with lines like "I am my abstract alchemist of the flesh made real, nothing more'' and "I am the melody that screams for silence'' -- Manzarek conjured up the dark, brooding rumble of "Riders On the Storm.''

And McClure even read one of Morrison's own poems, "Ensenada,'' while Manzarek created a a bleak, desperate landscape of sound by strumming and plucking the strings inside the piano, scraping at them with a quarter to evoke a hard-edged metal-on-metal sonata.

McClure opened the night with a bit of Henry David Thoreau and closed it with some incantations by Chaucer (spoken in Middle English), but he was at his best with his own work, especially when he managed to escape the looming shadow of Morrison and establish his own voice.

The sexually charged energy of McClure's back-to-back "Love Lion Blues'' and "Mama Lion'' was underscored by Manzarek's swaggering roadhouse boogie-woogie. "It's a good life,'' McClure declared, "out of body/out of mind.''

The most impressive work of the night, however, was a midset collection of what McClure called "musical haiku.'' With crystalline, meditative melody lines that owed more to Erik Satie than the Doors, Manzarek's classical training came to the fore, while McClure's miniature nature-mystic poems floated out over the music.

"Oh, accident / Oh, perfect crushed snail / Like a star gone out,'' McClure offered.


Schenectady Times Union © Greg Haymes

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