New York’s Zs played last night in a little hole in the wall near what DC comically calls a Chinatown. I know of these folks from their debut album on Troubleman Unlimited (home of such pretty, happy music as The Flying Luttenbachers) and their 2005 EP on DC’s Planaria Recordings, Karate Bump. They are an aggressively ugly, wilfully repetitive, brain-achingly mathy chamber ensemble of sorts, in this instance boasting a lineup of guitar/sax/drums and one guy who alternated between guitar, bass and keyboards. I was at this show with Steve F. and another friend and wondered out loud about their setup, in which they were arranged in a square with the musicians facing inwards, such that the audience could not see all of them at a time. It soon became evident that this setup was efficacious because it allowed all four of the musicians to see each other at all times.
To make a long story short, Zs were crazy fun to watch because they were superhumanly tight. They were playing some seriously knotty compositions, rhythms shifting so fast they were practically impossible to keep up with, but somehow the band never missed a beat (literally). The drummer was the one I had the best view of, and for me he was especially fun to watch because you could tell that he was concentrating with all his might. And despite playing sick, intricate compositions, they managed to rock out in the process as well. The first song was absolutely brilliant, and Steve turned to me and said, “that must have been what it was like to see the Philip Glass Ensemble in 1970.” There was a song with vocals that I didn’t find quite so compelling — though the vocals themselves were, of course, a unison chant in some incomprehensible shifting meter — but then the last song was tremendous, sounding kind of like “Bump” off of Karate Bump, substituting the drums with hand claps and the whispering saxes with subtle guitar picking.
I should mention that Zs‘ music is eminently hatable. That is, they make almost no concessions to melody and absolutely none to consonance. If the classic minimalist composers raise your hackles a bit, these guys will make you want to kill someone. That said, while I dig their albums, I pretty much just adored them in a live setting. Getting to see them play these absurd compositions in the flesh was a real treat.
I bought their recent live release at the show and will be reviewing it shortly, so for more words about this fucking ridiculous band, stay tuned.
I should also mention one of the openers, FFFFs. This is a solo guitar/electronics project of Sean Peoples, who is a member of bands decently known in the DC underground like Hand Fed Babies and Big Cats. I saw Big Cats last year and basically they were three guitarists making a shitload of noise, so I was pleasantly surprised when, as FFFFs, Peoples instead played some pretty nice, soothing ambient stuff. Ambient music in a live setting has never really been my thing, but this was good stuff. It was a good night all around.