Posts Tagged ‘Black Cat’
Saturday, March 3rd, 2007
What happens when the DC band with the most rabid fan base (both local and national) since Fugazi reunites, four years after its breakup, for a single benefit concert at a club with a capacity of maybe 500-600 people? Why, it sells out in 30 seconds, of course. Such was the case for The Dismemberment Plan, who are playing a one-off reunion in late April for which tickets went on sale yesterday at 5pm. I was one of those rabid fans sitting at work hitting the refresh button on two computers every 30 seconds so that I could have a shot at getting tickets. As it happened, I lucked out and managed to get four. I saw these guys four times between 2001 and 2003 (in four different cities no less), but this is going to be a uniquely awesome experience. In celebration I’ll be reviewing their two most acclaimed albums, Emergency & I and Change, on this site. They may actually be of interest to some of the more open-minded prog fans. Josh Kortbein is the one who turned me on to them, sometime in 1999 or so, sending me a random e-mail that basically just said, “Check these guys out — I don’t know why, but I think you’ll like them.” He was right. Thanks, Josh.
I saw their final farewell show in 2003, and while it wasn’t their best, it was one hell of an experience.
Monday, September 25th, 2006
Time for some live show recaps — saw three last week and will be seeing two more (Yo La Tengo and Massive Attack) this week. The first one is the one I mentioned in the previous entry: Gjallarhorn at the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage. This is a Finnish folk group, although they apparently hail from a small isolated region of Finland where Swedish is actually the primary language. Their music is pretty firmly in the style typified by the Northside label’s group of artists — traditional Nordic folk music (in this case, Finnish, Swedish and Norweigian) arranged for different instruments with a rock influence creeping in at times. Without a doubt the centerpiece of this band is vocalist Jenny Wilhelms, who has a remarkable set of pipes and put them to good use, particularly on the rather adventurous final epic song (sadly I’ve forgotten the title). Otherwise, most notable was the band’s use of a rather absurd-looking large, blocky instrument that I thought was a mutant didgeridoo but turned out to be a sub-contrabass recorder (!!!). The mere fact that such an instrument exists is amusing.
Overall, Gjallarhorn seemed like mostly straight-up rockified folk music with a few interesting twists thrown in. They are listed at ProgArchives (a website in which debate about a band’s “progginess” gets seriously intense) for some reason, but there are definitely more interesting Nordic folk bands out there. Jenny Wilhelms’ vocal performance was worth the trip to the Kennedy Center, though.
The next day was a solo/duo show from Nels Cline and drummer Glenn Kotche, both current members of the almost unbelievably popular indie-rock band Wilco. I had no idea what to expect from this one, but came away pretty delighted. Cline was up to his noise-freakout tricks, playing a dense, intense, and pretty shockingly inaccessible set full of electronic manipulation and looping. I’ve never heard him any noisier than this; maybe a good point of comparison would be the ear-shattering chaos of Immolation/Immersion, the trio album with Cline, Wally Shoup and Chris Corsano. If there were Wilco fans in the audience hoping for a solo guitar rendition of “Heavy Metal Drummer,” well, they probably headed for the doors after about thirty seconds.
I found Kotche’s solo percussion set to be more interesting, actually, and I’m inspired to go check out his solo records. He played a pretty wide variety of things, including a Steve Reich piece and a really awesome composition called “Monkey Chant for Solo Drum Kit,” which ostensibly was a setting of a Hindu epic story with each character represented by a different instrument. Kotche was endlessly creative with timbres, eking all kinds of sounds out of his kit, even revealing for “Monkey Chant” a table covered in small boxes containing… chirping crickets! One of the guys standing near me said, “I’ve officially seen it all now.”
Cline came back onto stage to play a couple final pieces with Kotche as a duo, and these were also pretty great — Cline was no less aggressively avant-garde, but tempered his volume and overall intensity a bit to allow the nuances of Kotche’s playing to shine through. Overall this was one of the best shows I’ve seen this year, up there with the Satoko Fujii/Natsuki Tamura show in terms of both how demanding it was and how enjoyable it ended up being. Too bad I won’t get to see these guys again when Wilco comes into town next month.
Finally, last Saturday I made the trek up to An Die Musik in Baltimore with my girlfriend to see Carl Grubbs do his John Coltrane birthday tribute concert. This was a fun one as well; Grubbs stuck exclusively to Coltrane’s more accessible repertoire, which was too bad, but the playing was tight and energetic and the setting was, as always, fantastic; An Die Musik has become one of my absolute favorite venues. I only recognized “Naima” and “Giant Steps” — ironically the only two pieces that were actually announced — but one of the pieces I thought might have been inspired by “My Favorite Things,” although maybe that was just because Grubbs played soprano on that one (which also happened to be my favorite of the set). They only played for an hour and I felt like they never really stretched out to their limits, especially the drummer, but I had a good time.
I also meant to go see the Ed Palermo Big Band in Baltimore last Thursday, but three nights in a row just got to be too much, and work was interfering anyway. And Forever Einstein played in DC on Saturday, but I decided to go to An Die Musik because I thought my girlfriend would enjoy that more. Oh well, too much live music of interest is a good problem to have, anyway.
Tuesday, May 2nd, 2006
On Sunday night I saw what should have been an absolutely astonishingly good show: Isis, Dälek, and Zombi. This unlikely but inspired combination of bands — a metal band, a hip-hop group, and a soundtracky electronic music duo — was the one single show lineup I have been most excited about seeing all year. Isis in particular is one of my absolute favorite modern bands, and I think Dälek’s Absence is one of the best hip-hop albums in recent years. Zombi I had heard compared to the likes of Goblin, and the clips I heard sounded promising.
The bands themselves didn’t really disappoint. I missed some of Zombi’s set, but what I heard sounded interesting — throbbing laptop beats with killer live drumming and the occasional blistering live bass. Definitely less soundtracky and more heavy electronica than I expected, but very cool. Dälek was absolutely killer; the dense, brutal industrial soundscapes that are so abrasive on record are absolutely crushing live. And Dälek (the MC) has an interesting stage presence, all anger and contempt and vitriol, glaring at everything and everyone while spitting his raps into the microphone or nodding his head to the beat. The producer’s rig went out on him at one point, forcing Dälek to freestyle for a bit; he was less than convincing in this respect, but every other part of his set was killer.
Finally, Isis was… pretty much exactly what I expected them to be. They didn’t deviate much from their studio compositions, but they didn’t need to. Their abrupt jumps from headbanging extreme metal to evocative soundscaping were so effective live that audience members were actually laughing in gleeful delight at some of their more powerful transitions. These guys take what Mogwai does best and one-ups them in a big way. Absolutely awesome.
So what went wrong? First, the sound in the club was just stupid loud. My ears were still ringing this morning, some 36 hours after the end of the show. You know how sometimes at shows you can feel the sound making the bottoms of the legs of your pants vibrate a little? Well, at this show all my clothing was vibrating noticeably, all the time. This was definitely the fault of the club and not the bands, as even the filler music player between sets was ridiculously loud, almost at the volume level of what a band at a normal show would be playing at. The end result was that, for Zombi, the live bass lines were so distorted as to be imperceptible; for Dälek, the electronics made Dälek’s rapping all but inaudible; and for Isis, the quieter moments were nearly overcome by what should have been subtle feedback and effects but ended up being overbearingly loud.
Second, I was just too tired. This is the first time that this has happened to me since NEARfest 2000 — I was so tired that it actually affected my enjoyment of the bands. Too bad.
Nevertheless, despite these drawbacks, I have ridiculously fond memories of the show (once my ears recovered). Isis and Dälek were both, despite the volume issues, pretty unforgettably powerful. I can’t wait until these guys come around here again.
Monday, March 27th, 2006
So I was on a whirlwind trip to Würzburg, Germany — home of the Freak Show Art Rock festival — this weekend for a cousin’s wedding (and we’ve accumulated an excellent backlog of reviews to be posted this week). I got back yesterday afternoon, along with a housemate who was in Amsterdam for work for an equally brief time; we were both jet-lagged to hell but needed to stay awake until a reasonable bedtime hour, so we decided to go to see Annie at the Black Cat here in DC.
Annie, of course, is the Norweigian dance/electro-pop star whose debut album, Anniemal, somewhat inexplicably garnered rave reviews from the top indie-rock websites like Pitchfork, Stylus, and Tiny Mix Tapes. Pitchfork even ran a feature-length interview with her. Of the major indie web press, only PopMatters gave Anniemal a less than stellar review. I picked up the album and couldn’t for the life of me figure out why it became such a hipster sensation. My housemate probably said it best: Annie is for indie kids too cool to admit to liking bouncy, fun pop like Britney Spears. The fact that she’s from Norway and has a bit of Euro-techno in her sound gives her that little bit of street cred that her American culture-industry byproducts never had any chance of having.
So that’s what I thought from listening to Anniemal, anyway. To me the album sounds like girl-pop music with more housey backbeats. Don’t get me wrong, I like this stuff, I just didn’t understand why hipsters who wouldn’t touch girl-pop with a hundred-foot pole would glom onto it so obsessively. The music’s not anything particularly out there and the lyrics certainly aren’t any better than anything Christina Aguilera or Kylie Minogue have cranked out (and are sometimes noticeably worse; check out the line from “Chewing Gum” that goes, “I don’t want to settle down, I just want to have fun / I don’t want to settle down, I just want to chew gum!” — yikes!).
But the live show left me with a slightly different impression. First of all, there was a guitarist. Maybe I totally missed this, but I don’t remember much guitar, if any, on Anniemal. But live, he played a big role in the sound, and he wasn’t just playing cheesy melodies or strumming rhythm either; he was playing some pretty far-out shit at times. Second of all, Annie’s vocals were pretty far down in the mix. If she were really the Euro Britney, that certainly wouldn’t be the case; she’d be front and center. Third, the DJ (who also took a pretty nifty electric piano solo in “Come Together”), while often providing a thumping house beat, was also doing some pretty wild synth flailings. Basically, the music was just a lot more “out” than what’s on Anniemal, which was totally unexpected and kind of refreshing. On the other hand, the mix was pretty bad (the guitarist was drowing everything out at times and I think the vocals could have been higher), and I’m not sure I actually enjoyed the music as much as I do what’s on the album. Still, I have a much better understanding of the indie/underground appeal of this stuff now.
Now, after two weeks where there was literally a show every other day that I was interested in, there’s a bit of a dry spell in the DC live music scene, and things aren’t picking up again until late April. Check out my running list of interesting shows in DC.
Wednesday, March 22nd, 2006
A couple recent show recaps: The Claudia Quintet and Animal Collective.
I saw the former play at Twins Jazz last week, as I mentioned in the previous entry. This is a pretty nice little jazz club, reasonably priced ($7 for the show plus a $10 food/drink minimum) and intimate. I brought three friends (how often do you get to bring friends to Cuneiform shows?) and we had some good food and enjoyed the Quintet quite a bit. As I said, I’m not entirely sold on the one album of theirs I have, I, Claudia, but as I expected, I was much more enamoured with them live. Bandleader John Hollenbeck’s busy, groove-oriented drumming comes across much more aggressively live, and vibraphonist Matt Moran is a very physical player who’s a joy to watch. I’m still not entirely sure that Ted Reichman’s accordion presence is either necessary or exploited to the fullest extent possible, though — I spent almost all of the show not noticing his contributions at all.
Chris Speed — whose work with Tim Berne’s Bloodcount band in the mid-90s I really enjoy — was the wild card. His contributions on clarinet and sax gave the band their freest flourishes — while one could call The Claudia Quintet an “avant-jazz” group, they’re not anywhere close to the skronky variety. But Speed comes closest to that aesthetic, and indeed blew up in one particularly blistering tenor solo that literally left my heart pounding. On the contrary, though, my friends thought he was the weak link — too free for their tastes, perhaps.
I’m still not a huge fan of The Claudia Quintet’s recorded work, which lacks the immediacy and intensity of their live show. But I’ll gladly jump on the opportunity to see them again the next time their tour brings them to my neck of the woods.
As for the latter show, which was tonight: I’m not all that familiar with Animal Collective, and in fact the opening band, Stórsveit Nix Noltes, was a big reason I decided to go. I’d actually never heard of them before, but the description piqued my interest: an Icelandic big band playing rocked-up instrumental Eastern European folk. I’m a sucker for that kind of stuff, and sure enough I wasn’t disappointed. These guys played a seriously fun brand of music that brought to mind all sorts of comparisons — the Scandinavian folk-rockers on the Northside label, say, or even the more upbeat side of Alamaailman Vasarat. The nine-piece played numerous horns, banjo, cello, acoustic bass, accordion, and so on in addition to the usual rock instrumentation, which gave them a really big sound. The diversity of instrumentation was used mostly for unison lines rather than counterpoint, but melodies were occasionally traded between instruments (most often trumpet, accordion, and banjo) to nice effect. A really engrossing, fun show, and I was telling myself that even if I didn’t like Animal Collective at all, Stórsveit Nix Noltes was worth my thirteen bucks.
Which was probably a good thing, because surprisingly, I didn’t really dig the headliners that much. Let’s get this out of the way: Animal Collective are fucking weird. Imagine pastoral folk played over thumping neo-Krautrock beats, and all of it dominated by insanely caterwauling vocals — like Demetrio Stratos at his most obtuse squealing away atop PFM’s instrumental backing, with jolts of Faust and the Boredoms inserted randomly here and there. The combination of such seemingly unrelated elements was refreshingly jarring, but the end result wasn’t anything I particularly enjoyed. It was all a bit too repetitive and monolithic — the band hammering away at a single chord or motive for minutes on end while the vocalist(s) performed wild (and, admittedly, at times wildly entertaining) gymnastics over said static background. I liked some of it, but after a while it actually got pretty boring.
Shockingly, the Animal Collective show was sold out. Which leads me to think, if a band this fucking weird can sell out a fairly large club like the Black Cat, what’s to stop different sorts of avant-rock from gaining a similar kind of indie cred? If Animal Collective, then why not, say, Thinking Plague? If anything, the latter, and similar groups like 5uu’s, are more accessible than the former in all ways except rhythm (the single grounding element of Animal Collective’s music seems to be pounding, simple, danceable rhythms). One can only hope that the state of “cool” in underground music will continue highlight bands trying truly different, and difficult, things.
Tuesday, September 20th, 2005
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 Cathedral reunion announcement wasn’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.
Monday, July 11th, 2005
In the past couple weeks I have been lucky enough to see three fantastic live shows — and no, I didn’t make it to NEARfest. A little while ago I saw Sleepytime Gorilla Museum at the Black Cat here in DC. I’ve been told many times that this band is one hell of an experience live, so my expectations were kind of through the roof. Maybe because of that, I ended up a little disappointed, but it was still a great show. Probably based on the kind of younger, punkish audience that the Black Cat brings, SGM played mostly their loud and heavy stuff - the first half of Of Natural History, namely, plus “1997″ from the debut. The performance was fantastic and impassioned, but the sound was awful — maybe because I was standing too close to the stage. I could hardly make out anything aside from the percussion and occasional violin; vocals and guitar especially were way too low. But anyway. The performance-art aspect of the show was neat, and I’ve never enjoyed watch a band set up so much, thanks to all of SGM’s bizarre homemade instruments.
Also, there was one opening band of note, because they were so bad. I forget what they were called, but when they got on stage my interest was piqued thanks to their lineup of five guitarists and a bassist lined up in a semicircle around two drummers. But then they started playing, and damned if they didn’t sound like a pedestrian power trio. Why have five guitarists if they’re all going to play the exact same (boring) riff?
Show number two was a week later, in Pittsburgh’s Garfield Artworks: zany tech-metal band Behold… the Arctopus with new Tzadik signing Time of Orchids. (And a few other bands that I didn’t quite care for.) Behold I went to see on the recommendation of Steve F.; they played an amazingly impressive brand of super-fast complex instrumental metal. Guitarist, drummer, and Warr guitarist, the last of which was clearly the focal point of the band. Pretty incredible talent all around, but it was all a bit too much for me. The way I see it there are two ways to look at a band like this. One: you think Dream Theater is talented? Wait ’til you hear these guys! Or, two: you think Dream Theater is wanky? Wait ’til you hear these guys!
Time of Orchids, on the other hand, I knew from their latest release, Sarcast While. As I state in my review, it’s not an album that I am 100% enamoured with, but I like it a lot and was really excited to see these guys live. They didn’t disappoint. They were alternately powerful and beautiful, looked like they were having fun despite the fact that the audience could have easily fit in my apartment’s walk-in closet, and did a wicked awesome performance of “All You Ever Wish” to close out their brief set. Great stuff — one of those bands I became a bigger fan of after seeing them live.
Show number three was the best of the bunch: Present at Local 506 in Chapel Hill, NC. I had hoped to catch Present in Baltimore and Richmond as well, but as it happened this was the only show I was able to make (though I was sorely tempted to go up to NYC yesterday just to see their show there, but common sense — and financial sense — kicked in, alas). This show was fucking unbelievable. Let me say again: fucking unbelievable. Again, the audience was tiny, 20-30 people tops (though this was considerably larger than at the Behold/Orchids show). But the sound was good and the performance was breathtaking. Right from the beginning I knew I was going to be happy, because they opened their set with “Jack the Ripper” from one of my favorite albums ever, Univers Zero’s Heresie. I hesitate to call it a “cover” since I think Roger Trigaux might have written it — he was still in Univers Zero when Heresie was written. I’ll have to check the liner notes, or someone can tell me in the comments. Anyway, Present’s rendition of this song was tremendous — as one might expect, far more powerful and aggressive than the original.
Otherwise, they played the two long suites from No. 6, both of which were great but especially “Ceux d’en Bas”; two new pieces which sounded a little different from the rest of the band’s material — I don’t remember precisely how, but maybe a little less repetitive, with a few more symphonic flourishes; and closed the set with “Promenade au Fond d’un Canal” from the debut album. This closer was particularly stunning — the addition of the cello and reedist really fleshed out the sound of this piece, which sounds kind of spartan on the studio album.
Of particular note was Keith Macksoud on bass, who was just a total monster. He had a couple jaw-dropping solos and was always just huge. He actually broke a string on his bass twice (to go along with the cellist completely shredding his bow during “Jack the Ripper”). Also impressive was keyboardist Pierre Chevalier, who was playing repetitive themes with metronomic precision but also had some great freakouts and solos. Of course Dave Kerman was up to his usual tricks, bringing back the Barbie doll schtick I remember from NEARfest 2000 with Thinking Plague.
Really, the band was just the tightest, most powerful live beast I might have ever seen. Their show was easily the best I’ve witnessed thus far this year, next to Nels Cline and Wilco’s performance back in February (though that, of course, was a completely different game). I’m gratified to hear that they blew people away at NEARfest as well, and I hope the other shows they played were better-attended than the Chapel Hill gig. Truly, truly astounding stuff.
Finally: it was nice to get an opportunity to chat with various members of the aforementioned bands — Nils from SGM, Chuck and Jesse from Time of Orchids, and Udi from Present. All stand-up folks it seems, even as they play music that’s mean as hell!