The concert was the first full-on detonation of live rock and roll assistant curator Jeannine Jackle can recall the gorillas being exposed to. The zoo staff made sure to give Grass Widow CDs cautionary listens before the fact, to ensure the gorillas would find them more enriching than harmful. As for Grass Widow themselves, they were psyched.
Grass Widow went so far as to plan an entire tour around the Franklin Park Zoo show.
"The whole concept was coming to them as individual female gorillas," Lew says via phone from San Francisco. "We think a lot about spectacle and objectification, and deal with a lot of assumptions based on our gender in our field. I think people approach animals in a similar way."
To mark the occasion, the band shot a video for the title track of their latest seven-inch, Milo Minute.
"There are some things that get so taken for granted, things that we interact with every day when we're on tour," Lew says. "You never know how people are going to respond [to your music]. Your hope is they'll dance, or react in some way. It's interesting with other species, because they have ways of expressing what they like and don't that are totally different than humans."
After Grass Widow wrapped up their set, Kiki, another gorilla, strolled over with her baby daughter, Kambiri, hitching a ride on her leg. Kiki sat against the glass and shot guitarist Raven Mahon an endearing glance, as if to say, "Hello. Good job. This is my baby."
"I feel like they were less into the songs, and more into the instruments. I'm not sure if they understood the concept of song-to-song," Lew speculates. "They were interested when we were setting up our equipment. They were like, 'What are those things?' We think, 'Oh, a band is playing for them.' I don't that that fully registered."
More often than not, animals play the role of unwitting entertainers. It's a stretch to presume Gigi, Kiki, and their friends understood that, for once, they were being entertained. But we can safely say they enjoyed the show.
"The thing about gorillas is, they don't have jobs," Lew points out. "Playing for humans, sometimes, is more lucrative. But I think every musician should try to play for animals. It's a really cool exercise in reflexive thinking. It makes you ask questions, like . . . 'Wow, why do I play shows for humans?' "
Barry Thompson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read the rest of the Monkey Issue at thephoenix.com/monkey.