CAS 2014: Steven Lester Company puts the performance first

Why is there a large, blurry picture of Shakira performing in Dubai at the top of this article? Let me explain.

Steven Lester of the eponymous Steven Lester Company was again on hand to… well… Let’s call it “screw with people.” He wasn’t listed in the show program, he didn’t show up on the map, he was stuck in a room at the far, far corner of the almost unpopulated second floor, his gear selection was almost haphazard, his room was pitch dark, and he was using a projector that cost more than my mortgage to play Youtube videos (among other things) on a giant screen.

Mr. Lester is a consummate music lover. He is also a consummate salesman. Pay no attention when he tells you how bad he is at that second job. He’s only talking about his weaknesses. His strengths lie in his ability to deliver the unexpected and his eagerness to engage a customer.

If you check out his website, you’ll see that the good Mr. Lester has been involved in training more than a few salesmen over the years. You might even wish that more of them had taken his advice. One basic principle in one white paper, is “everyone gets a demo.” It’s not at all surprising, then, that Mr. Lester wasn’t so much attending the show to sell equipment as he was attending the show to sell folks on on the idea expanding their horizons.

Which brings us to Shakira. The playlist in this room included plenty of Amy Winehouse (live), Tom Waits (live), Allen Toussaint (live), and Shakira. Saturday afternoon closed with a performance of “Ciega, Sordomunda” from her Oral Fixation Tour Blu-Ray, and the sheer exuberance of this 2007 performance of late nineties pablum pop had me giggling in my chair.

Not the sound. Not the video. The performance.

Which, I think, was Steven Lester’s whole point.

The audiophile experience can be a rut. Between Norah Jones, Bruddah Iz’s “Over the Rainbow”, or another listen to that damn Hell Freezes Over version of “Hotel California,” that rut is so deep that you can almost forget that you’re stuck in it. Whatever you can say about Steven Lester’s methods, he at least tries to dig you out of the rut. Is he wholly successful? I want to raid his playlist; I’d call that success.

So let’s do what we’re not supposed to do in this case: let’s talk about the gear. It was the kind of haphazard motley that only a long time dealer could put together. There was that Sim2 Superlumis projector (priced to make audiophiles faint), an Oppo disc spinner, some Krell preprocessor thing, a pair of old VTL amps whose tubes were on their last legs, and a pair of Tannoy Kensington GR speakers, whose alnico sweetness instantly made me regret my purchase of Tannoy Glenairs, and whose price I was therefore too personally terrified to ask. If the whole mishmash wasn’t, strictly speaking, competitive with some other exhibits on purely audiophile terms, it was more than effective enough at the task set for it — enjoying the living crap out of music on a Saturday afternoon.