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Ground and Sky » Psych/Space Rock
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La Otracina is a psychedelic/space-rock group from Brooklyn that played a show a few blocks from my house last Friday night, at a church/community center known as “La Casa.” It’s a fitting name for the space as this turned out to be pretty much a glorified house show, with very much a living-room feel. (The band brought their own PA because there wasn’t one onsite, and they brought their own lights as well, as the only house lights were plain incandescent bulbs hanging from the ceiling fan.)
While I am familiar with this band based solely on their recent release on Holy Mountain, Tonal Ellipse of the One, it appears that the band’s lineup has changed considerably since that recording, with new members on both bass and guitar; and their style has changed noticeably as well. Tonal Ellipse of the One is all long, sprawling, improv-heavy space rock; what the band played at this show (and what is present on their tour CD-R, The Risk of Gravitation), is more straightforward stoner-rock. It still rocked and there was definitely plenty of heavy instrumental psychedelic bliss, but there were also some vocal-heavy tunes with more traditional song structures.
For a house show that got basically zero local publicity (none that I saw, and I live a couple blocks from the venue and read all the local listings religiously), the crowd was actually pretty decent. There were a few titters when Adam, the drummer, very earnestly introduced one song as “Crystal Wizards of the Cosmic Weird,” but that shouldn’t surprise anyone. Also, if I recall correctly, that song kicked ass, with a straightforward vocal intro leading into one of the wilder jams they did all evening. All in all, a pretty excellent show; I enjoy La Otracina’s long-form spacey instrumental explorations more than their vocal tunes, but there was enough of the former to keep me happy.
Photography was challenging since, as mentioned, the band brought their own lights and the main light on the guitarist and bassist was your basic red-gelled flood. So, lots of black & white conversions for me. I managed to isolate the performers in some shots so you can’t tell they’re basically playing in a living room, but in others I didn’t try, and I actually kind of like the look, what with the long shadows on the walls and ceiling. Depending on my lens choice, I was at ISO 1600-3200 and generally keeping shutter speeds above 1/100.
Once upon a time, I owned more Pink Floyd CDs than CDs by any other artist — combined. I was depressed because I thought I’d never find a band whose music was as transcendently amazing or that affected me in such an emotional way. I put up posters at my school celebrating the 25th anniversary of Dark Side of the Moon. I bought or downloaded “RoIOs” (seems like only Pink Floyd fans use this term instead of “bootleg”) and became familiar with tens of different performances of the same few songs. When I was a junior in high school, I once told a class that the one thing I wanted to do before I died was to see Pink Floyd live.
Needless to say, I’ve since set my life goals slightly higher, and Pink Floyd has slipped considerably in my list of favorite bands. Still, when I found out that The Australian Pink Floyd Show (hereafter “Aussie Floyd”) were going to play in the DC area, it was with only mild hesitation that I ponied up fifty bucks for a ticket. And I somewhat guiltily slipped out of work an hour or so early — it was a late night tonight as a bill we’ve been working to kill for over years now is going to a vote tomorrow — to make it to the show.
When I got to the theater, 45 minutes late, the band was just wrapping up what sounded like a killer version of “Us and Them” and seguing into the finale of Dark Side of the Moon. It looked like the first set was that album in its entirety; despite my poster shenanigans in high school, Dark Side has never been one of my favorite Floyd albums and so I wasn’t overly bummed about missing out on most of the set. However, to my surprise I did nearly get chills listening to “Brain Damage/Eclipse,” so things were looking good.
After a brief intermission, the second set kicked off with “Shine On You Crazy Diamond,” much to my delight (Wish You Were Here remains my favorite Floyd album). I won’t list out the whole setlist, but suffice it to say that it drew from a wide variety of albums, although the only pre-Dark Side songs were “One Of These Days” and “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.” The latter was godly. The live rendition was trancelike at the beginning and ending, but unlike the original, added in an absolutely crushing middle section, with a pair of white-hot solos courtesy of the guitarist and saxophonist. Easily the highlight of the show for me. The pro-shot YouTube video below is good, but doesn’t do the performance I saw justice.
Elsewhere were some totally unsurprising selections like “Wish You Were Here,” “Another Brick in the Wall Pt. 2″ (with a nifty guitar solo section), “Comfortably Numb,” etc. If I had a complaint it would be that there were too many songs from The Wall. The vocalists in Aussie Floyd did a decent job with Gilmour’s rich vocal parts, but couldn’t pull of Waters’ reedy, tortured-soul vocals nearly as convincingly. In fact, overall their vocal performances, while technically sound, were emotionally a little flat. Some of the songs from The Wall (in addition to not being my favorites in the first place) suffered as a result.
An odd highlight for me was “Learning to Fly” off of A Momentary Lapse of Reason, which was played in a form closer to the funkier Delicate Sound of Thunder version. Momentary Lapse is not an album that most Floyd fans would ever call one of their best, but I have a bit of a soft spot for it. It was the first Floyd album I ever heard; I stayed up all night on a long bus ride from North Carolina to the Florida Keys on a seventh-grade school trip, listening to this album over and over again. When Aussie Floyd played “Learning to Fly” — my favorite song on the album then and now — I closed my eyes and I was 12 years old again, watching the nighttime landscape zoom past under the light of the moon as a whole world of music was opened up to me thanks to an old cassette tape in a borrowed Sony Walkman.
Been to several shows since I last posted to the blog. I’ll talk about them in reverse chronological order, in separate posts. This past Thursday, I saw Circle, the Finnish psych/metal/whatever group, at DC9, a little club here in DC that usually caters more to the local indie-rock and dance scenes (ie, there’s a reason I’ve never been there before this show). It was kind of a surreal experience. I’m not all that familiar with this band’s work, having only heard Tower before the concert, and that is, from what I understand, a pretty non-representative sample, consisting as it does mostly of lots of electric piano and having a very relaxed, nearly ambient feel overall.
Anyway, the band is a four-piece of guitar, bass, drums and keys, with the keyboardist and bassist doing their fair share of singing. The keyboardist was fully decked out with all the (in Steve F’s words) rock star accoutrements, including studded belt, bracers, and some kind of suspenders, and was one of the most bizarre frontmen I’ve ever seen, between his strident vocals and his unconventional dancing (through one of their more metallish, fast-paced songs, he spent the entire song essentially sprinting in place). The music was more along the lines of what I’ve heard about these guys than Tower — a meshing of hard rock, metal, and ambience, all served up with a heaping portion of repetition. There were a few songs that did absolutely nothing for me and a few that I thought were totally brilliant. Often the band seemed to fall into a kind of formula, bouncing a bit predictably between ambient textures and heavy riffing, but when the combination really worked, they were awesome.
All in all, I was sold enough to want to buy a couple albums. Steve had given Andexelt his highest recommendation, but sadly they weren’t selling it, so I came away with Tulikoira and the second Pharaoh Overlord album (the latter band is a spinoff project headed by the Circle guitarist but featuring most of the rest of the band as well). Tulikoira seems like a pretty representative album of the band’s heavier sound, but while I like it well enough, I really like the Pharaoh Overlord album — it’s got the ambient, almost trancey feel of Tower, but uses ominous riffs instead of relaxing electric piano. It’s almost like a kinder, gentler, much more melodic drone/doom metal, with the addition of lots of acoustic guitar for texture.
I enjoyed the Circle show quite a bit, but it also illustrated to me how bad I am at going into a show without knowing much about the band. I almost never enjoy those shows as much as I should, merely because I’m not familiar with the music beforehand. Hopefully these guys will tour again soon, after I’ve had a chance to digest some more of their stuff.
One of my most recent acquisitions, which has quickly become a prized possession, is the 2003 box set of Fläsket Brinner’s Swedish Radio Recordings, 1970-1975. It is amazing that such a thing exists: four discs of top-notch performances from this obscure (outside Sweden, at least — but I imagine they are hardly mainstream material even in their native country) psych-prog group. Perhaps the best of these is the final disc, from 1975, in which two members of Älgarnas Trädgård joined the band, giving a much spacier and more “out” feel to the jams. But it’s all fantastic stuff and highly recommended. The packaging is gorgeous, and the little note in the booklet confirms my suspicions as to why: “This project was supported by the Swedish Council for Cultural Affairs.”
The Swedish system of social democracy at its best: public grants supporting boundary-pushing artists in the interests of advancing the state of modern music. Well, Fläsket Brinner was “boundary-pushing” 30 years ago, at least. Still, I’m not complaining.
Oh, and. I saw Dungen on Sunday night at the Black Cat here in DC (where, incidentally, Ken Vandermark is playing tonight with his Free Music Ensemble, but I don’t think I’m going to make it). It was a decent show. Reine Fiske was having some issues with his guitar (”vintage gear,” he kept muttering) but his work was great — which is a good thing, because unlike on Ta det Lugnt at least, his guitar was way up in the mix and was definitely the focal point of the band. Overall the sound was much more “rock” and less psych/spacey than on record. A favorite piece of mine is one in which Gustav Ejstes pulled out his flute and played a few nice, melodic passages that bookended a white-hot jam or two. If this is on their first album, reissued on 1999-2001, I really need to get that one — especially as multiple people whose opinions I trust tell me that it’s better than Ta det Lugnt. A fun show, if one marred by the crappy sound at the Black Cat.
Oh, and #2. Maybe that Cathedralreunion announcementwasn’t a hoax after all. It’s sort of up in the air now. Go to ProgressiveEars, search for the relevant thread, and see for yourself if you’re curious. I don’t know.
The SPV remasters of the entire Popol Vuh catalog are beautiful, and sorely needed given the utterly confusing state of the band’s CD catalog — what with various twofers combining albums in a nonsensical way, or worse, CD reissues that don’t correspond to original albums at all, containing tracks taken from completely different records. And they sound fantastic. However, I do really wish they’d put more effort into the booklets. Every single reissue appears to have the exact same booklet, with a brief history of the band and bios of Florian Fricke. Would it have killed them to have added in a page or two of info about each specific album?
There’s been an announcement circulating that the famed Cathedral, that American one-shot band that released Stained Glass Stories, is reuniting with all original members and recording new material. I haven’t heard their first album and after this announcement don’t have much interest in the new one, thanks to this totally idiotic statement from one of the band members…
“Our newest collections will place you back in the past, where PROG BELONGS. Don’t get too comfortable! You’re going to be selected to land where the future of Progressive Music should have planted it’s heels not long ago!”
Maybe this is tongue-in-cheek, but somehow I don’t think it is. This represents just about exactly the opposite mentality of what I have, so at least now I can cross something off my want list.