People Museum innovates at NOMA

Mackenzie Camp, Contributing Writer

Mackenzie Camp

Fog carpeted the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art. Spanish moss hung down from the large oak trees, absorbing the bright concert lights, turning them shades of blue and red and giving an eerie yet fantastical environment to the concert. New Orleans locals spread picnic blankets onto the dewy grass or idled around the sculpture garden, which acted as the opener for People Museum’s innovative show.

Louise Bourgeois’sSpider” sculpture housed the band, shielding and entrapping them from the garden. Large oak trees draped over them but remained under the piece, clad in all-white outfits and illuminated by pulsating lights. When the band played the entire garden transformed into a twisted fairy tale, moody and soulful, punctuated by trombones and synthesizers, yet distinctly New Orleanian.  

People Museum, formed in 2015, is a local New Orleans band composed of Claire Givens and Jeremy Phipps with Aaron Boudreaux and Charles Lumar II. Givens saw Bourgeois’ work for the first time in a magazine and began to write music based on the art. Coincidentally, NOMA invited the band to create an EP and perform under Bourgeois’s “Spider,” merging music and art to draw in a younger crowd. 

People Museum puts on a captivating performance; their live music achieves the full force of Phipp’s trombone and Given’s haunting voice. For performances, Phipps often choreographs motions with precise steps. He launches himself at the microphone stand only to catch himself. Other times, his body cracks open. He reaches his hands out and soars in place, allowing the music to wash over him. 

Their enthusiasm elicits the same response from the audience, inviting them into the same space to revel in the unique sounds. During the concert, audience members abandoned their picnic blankets to dance under large oak trees, pulling each other in and nodding their heads to the beat. 

“I think we’ve been drawn to venues and places where everybody’s on the same physical level. You’re like there in the midst of chaos with people. I think that’s a really inspiring experience,” Givens said. “That also, I think, has informed the way we write music and the way our music has evolved to just be more of like this give-and-take thing with the audience.”

With its electronic, jazz and pop influences, the elements fuse to form a distinct sound that could only come from New Orleans. Their sound strays from traditional jazz or a more upbeat band on Frenchman Street. Instead, they encompass a dark, sensual sound with heavy beats and wispy voices, but it is always danceable. In “Ice,” the synth creates an enticing rhythm as Givens sings, “Shake the ice from your back.” Their sound is edgy, but it is also accessible. Their appreciation for the audience invites anyone to join the local music scene. 

“I think that, if you were coming from out of town and were like, ‘What is New Orleans music?’ We wouldn’t fit into that specific gap,” Phipps said. “But what, I think is, if you come to a show, you will be like, ‘Oh, this is, the spirit is here.’ But it’s not sound. It’s spirit, like New Orleans as a concept.” 

 With a new album in the works, People Museum prepares for a big year ahead of them with more eccentric shows and a dedicated fan base to follow them.

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