Parlour to Parlour, Episode 41: Conspiracy of Venus
I knew I had been in San Francisco long enough to call the place home when I discovered that, much to my surprise, it didn’t seem unusual to see an all-women’s choir playing shows in the same venues as indie rock and folk bands. And on the same nights, sharing the bill with these bands. Where else does this happen?
Conspiracy of Venus is exactly that kind of choir, one that dispenses with the stiffness inherent in the choir format in general in favor of a looser, more fun approach. Their repertoire reflects this attitude, encompassing songs by artists as diverse as Leonard Cohen, David Bowie, Joni Mitchell, Bjork, Tom Waits, and even an original tune by choir director Joyce Todd McBride.
I first heard COV three years after their 2007 formation, having been introduced to the choir by longtime member and local promoter Jessie Woletz. I was particularly struck by how well the choir blended in with all the other bands in San Francisco, even though they’re about as different from a small rock or folk band as you can get. It’s all in the attitude – inviting, good-natured, and lots of fun. McBride lets her singers be who they are, and the music benefits from this in ways you can feel when you’re there.
For this particular shoot, it would have been, shall we say, difficult, to round up and record 30 or so women in one person’s house. As it turned out, the choir already had a photo shoot scheduled at the Sutro baths ruins at Lands End by Ocean Beach in San Francisco one Saturday morning, which made it very easy to tag along and get some footage for this episode.
We interviewed Joyce Todd McBride, surrounded by a handful of other choir members, inside the new gift shop built in the parking lot of Lands End. And prior to that, the performance of McBride’s “Wildwood” was filmed with the women of the choir holding court in front of, on top of, and within the famous Sutro bath ruins. Given the drizzlyy start to the day and the overcast weather, we were all very lucky that we didn’t get rained out.
The performance: “Wildwood,” composed by Joyce Todd McBride
Conspiracy of Venus performs live on May 2, 2013, at Great American Music Hall in San Francisco.