The above is a clip from a DVD I grabbed from Dimeadozen a couple days ago, filmed at Zu’s release show for their new album Carboniferous. It’s representative of the quality of the DVD - excellent audience recording, steady camera, pretty good sound. About an hour long, which, like any of Zu’s actual albums, teeters right on the edge of being too exhausting to get through in one sitting. This band is a rhythm-and-noise monster, with few melodies to divert attention from the pummeling beats and the unfathomable sounds that Luca Mai (bari sax) and Massimo Pupillo (bass) manage to squeeze out of their instruments.
Maybe it’s just the camera angle, but Mai in particular is a looming beast, shrieking, squawking and skronking his way through the Carboniferous songs in a way that’s just mesmerizing. I love how he beats on his sax when he’s not playing - the sound on this recording isn’t quite good enough for me to tell if it’s actually to add another percussive layer to the sound, or if he’s just in a performative trance, tapping out the rhythm absent-mindedly as he waits his turn to tear shit up.
…where I was expecting something related to indie rock, I ended up watching a virtuoso harpist and band play a unique blend of folk music, classical sophistication and modern song stylings. Vocally she reminds me quite a bit of a nascent Alanis Morrisette although a Morrisette infected by some old Appalachian folk singer. It’s clear she’s a prodigy and while I was warned about her voice, which must have spawned from the fact she hadn’t started singing until recently, I found her style to be warm and intimate. Her harp playing is another matter, it at least seems masterful, an adjective I’m hesitant to use being that I can count the harpists I know on one hand. But this is skill, just watching her two hands, as independent as a good drummer’s, play counter melodies and rhythms, often changing or doubling tempos within an overall 4 beat itself, was mesmerizing. It’s kind of baffling she has the popularity she does, although her combination of accessible songcraft with virtuoso musicianship is a rare one.
Yes: the joy of this video is getting to see Newsom play harp. Wow. Oh hey, and the torrent is still (barely) alive at Dimeadozen, amazingly enough. Go fetch if you’re a fan, you won’t regret it.
EDIT: Please click through to the comments for a direct download of the video. Thanks to Will Davis!
The live recording of the moment is a particularly interesting one for me, a wonderful recording of a DC-area band called Twin Earth playing at The Red and the Black. These guys play a kind of sludgy, heavy instrumental psych-rock that sounds like it draws influences from the likes of Acid Mothers Temple, Sonic Youth, chunks of Black Sabbath, and so on. This is a pretty good recording, and the material is fairly interesting if a little too straightforward at times. Twin Earth have no releases as yet, but there’s a few cuts from the aforementioned live recording up at their MySpace page. The dude who recorded the show and put it up on Dimeadozen also recorded the Sleepytime Gorilla Museum show last Friday — a great recording of a great show. In any case, if he is to be believed (he includes with all his torrents very, very extensive show notes and entertaining ramblings), there are a bunch of underground DC bands in this sort of jammy, heavy neo-psych style that sound very interesting — the best-known of these probably being Dead Meadow, whose discography I’m beginning to explore. Maybe I’ll have to stop ignoring the local music scene as I’ve been doing for so long.
A while back I mentioned I might try to do a “live recording of the week” sort of thing here, because I keep accumulating live shows from Dimeadozen but never get around to actually listening to half of them. There’s been a particularly fruitful run of stuff on Dime lately, including some cool Fred Frith/Bob Ostertag duos and a ridiculous flood of Magma torrents with several DVDs of classic-period material (a totally awesome 1977 concert featuring “De Futura” and “MDK” is tops on my list right now).
But what I want to highlight is something I got a little while back, and something considerably newer and cheesier. Within Temptation’s new album came out in Europe this weekend (and yes, I am fan enough to order the import version because the US release doesn’t happen until July; and yes, I feel slightly silly for admitting this), and I was watching a couple short DVDs I have of their live shows. There’s a neat one broadcast on Rockpalast from January 10, 2004, a little show at the Dutch Eurosonic Festival. The stage is absurdly Gothic, the kind of thing that’s probably all over Europe but that you’d never find anywhere in the USA. The performance is fun; Sharon den Adel does her goofy undulating/dancing, wears a really low-cut flowing dress (I don’t understand how she manages to move in it without some dramatic, er, wardrobe malfunctions), and sings beautifully — you know, pretty standard for these guys. She also goes up to an audience balcony to sing part of “Mother Earth,” giving us some pretty hilarious footage of a couple fans clapping sort of to the beat, really awkwardly, and just generally “doing the standing still” as Travis Morrison would say. But the really neat bit is a cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill,” which somehow absolutely rocks. Pretty cool, I wonder if this is on any of their official live releases? I don’t have any of those… yet.
In an attempt to get myself to actually listen to the myriad live recordings I have (mostly downloaded from Dimeadozen over the past couple years), I am thinking about doing something like highlighting a “live recording of the week” in this space. Of course, I talk about doing things like this all the time and I always flake out sooner or later (generally sooner), so I’m not going to make any promises.
In any case, the live recording I’ve been listening to a lot in the past couple days is a hot-off-the-tape torrent from Dime, an audience recording (mics on stage so it sounds great) of The Vandermark 5 in Montreal last Sunday, February 11, at La Sala Rossa. I’m going to see these guys tomorrow, and this recording is making me more and more excited about that. They certainly seem a little more avant-garde than when I saw them last February; that must be Lonberg-Holm’s influence. Speaking of Lonberg-Holm, his playing on this recording is positively metallic at times, sounding a lot like the pseudo-electric-guitar “rock cello” present in bands like Alamaailman Vasarat or Far Corner. And Vandermark himself sticks mostly to baritone and spends a lot of time holding down the rhythm. So this is definitely aggressive, rhythmic stuff — I dig it. I’ll hold off on saying much more until after I get to see them for myself, but this recording is up on Dime right now and if you’re a fan, I highly recommend grabbing it. My only quibble is that the cello seems a bit under-represented in the sound, but complaining about the sound quality is hardly fair since for an audience recording this one is practically pristine.
I’m not generally a huge fan of music DVDs. Over the years I’ve developed a certain way of listening to music that allows me to multitask while still listening fairly actively. This is good and bad, because while it means I can listen to a LOT of music, it also means that the amount of time I spend doing nothing but listening to music has decreased — at some point I would like to go back to doing what I did at one point, dedicating an hour every night to doing nothing but close listening. But back to the DVDs thing: I can’t multitask when watching a music DVD (or any music with a video element). Sadly, this has become a pretty strong disincentive. That said, I’ve watched a few music films lately that completely engrossed me.
A while back I got the new Magma DVD, Epok II, with performances of Wurdah Ïtah, MDK and “De Futura” from Üdü Wüdü. A few nights ago I finally got around to watching part of it — just the Wurdah Ïtah performance. It was excellent — not jaw-dropping, but perhaps the rest of the film will floor me. I really loved the Trilogie DVD from a few years ago (wow, was it really over five years ago when that came out?), so I have high hopes for these new Epok DVDs. Still have not gotten my hands on the first one though, which I need to do as it sounds like folks generally are thinking the first is better than the second.
Yesterday I got the Los JaivasAlturas de Macchu Picchu DVD, in which they “perform” the entirety of their most famous album at Macchu Picchu itself. The scare quotes are there because this is so obviously faked: the musicians are shown in various settings in Macchu Picchu playing sans any amplification or microphones, so clearly there’s some serious dubbing going on. I have not A/B’ed the DVD with the actual album, but I think (and I could very much be wrong) that it’s not a direct transfer of the album songs onto the DVD. There are some parts which sound slightly different to me, although this is very minor — it is likely a remix rather than a completely different performance.
As befits a DVD produced by the Peruvian government in 1981, the overall look of this DVD is very 80s; a bit fuzzy and definitely a little cheesy by today’s standards, but there are still some breathtaking moments. Also nice are the little bits interspersed between songs where the viewer is given some basic history of Pablo Neruda and Macchu Picchu. All this stuff is in Spanish of course, but reasonably accurate English subtitles are available, and in a nice touch, the song lyrics are also subtitled as they are sung. I didn’t watch too many of the extras last night, but it didn’t look like there are any subtitles for those.
The whole DVD feels like something a lazy teacher would show his students in order to take a day off from working. I’m not sure it’s worth the $25 or so that it seems to be going for from most places, but I’m glad I got to see it regardless.
Finally, and best of all, I downloaded from Dimeadozen a 90-minute amateur video of Joanna Newsom’s performance in Philadelphia this past November. This was a seated show and the camera must have been tripod-mounted as the view is very stable (though the panning is clearly amateurish). More importantly, the sound quality is fantastic and so is the performance. It’s a real treat to see Newsom sitting behind her harp with a mike pressed close in, and watching her fingers fly while her voice works overtime. I feel that on her albums, The Milk-Eyed Mender especially, some of her beautiful harp playing gets trampled by her rather attention-grabbing vocals. Actually seeing her play the harp remedies that to a certain extent, and she is quite a fabulous harpist. She is also, in this show, charmingly genuine, mouthing “wow” at the adoration of the crowd and giggling through her vocals during the encore when the audience cheers wildly at the beginning of a familiar song. Like Ys, this video brought a smile to my face and I watched the whole thing straight through with no lapse in attention. Many, many thanks to the taper and seeder; this is one of the best things I’ve downloaded from Dime in a long time.
Having moved about six weeks ago (locally in Washington, DC), I only just — two days ago — got a broadband connection set up at my new house. And I’m relieved to have it again, not so I can check e-mail or the weather or the news or music sites, no… but so I can get back to my Dimeadozen addiction. For those of you who haven’t gotten with the program, Dimeadozen (hereafter just “Dime”) is a carefully-controlled bittorrent site on which users post live recordings — but any hint of any commercially-released material, or material from bands who publicly condemn live recordings, is immediately removed, so theoretically it’s all legit. Further, only lossless formats are allowed (ie mostly FLAC files — MP3s are allowed only if there is no lossless original recording).
In just a couple months on Dime, I’ve discovered recordings of bands I honestly never expected to ever, ever hear live recordings of. To wit: Art Bears, Weidorje, Aksak Maboul, Happy Family, Shub Niggurath, Änglagård, even some zeuhl band so obscure no one has ever heard of them (and they never released any recordings), Evohé. It’s amazing how these unlikely, decades-old recordings of unbelievably obscure bands come out of the woodwork. There have also been plenty of recent recordings of equally-obscure modern prog bands, including a bunch from NEARfest 2005, as well as from various avant-rock festivals in Europe.
Probably my favorite finds, though, are a couple of immaculate soundboard recordings of Belgian avant-jazzers Aka Moon with guests: one from 1997 with African percussionist Doudou N’diaye Rose (who also collaborated, decades earlier, with Toubabou), and one from 2002 with a turntablist who just rips. Great stuff!
In fact there’s so much great music to be found on Dime that I have been having a hard time balancing my listening between new CDs and new live recordings. I’ve never been a huge fan of live recordings simply because there’s so much music out there to discover that I always kind of thought it a waste of time to listen to 20 different versions of the same songs; but when you get recordings of such obscure bands who are supposedly great live, it’s tough to resist. And I’m not regretting my time spent with most of this stuff!