Posts Tagged ‘The Vandermark 5’

My favorite shows of 2007

Monday, December 31st, 2007

Well, so this was my year in shows.

If you count NEARfest as two concerts (which seems fair, since it was two days and I saw five shows), then I hit my goal of seeing 52 shows in 2007. There were tons more I wanted to see, but between playing a competitive sport, spending many spring and fall weekends backpacking, and maintaining a long-distance relationship, it was particularly difficult for me to make weekend shows this year. So all in all I think I did pretty well. Here are some of the highlights — I’m just putting these in chronological order, and not necessarily limiting myself to 10 or anything like that.

  • Atomic at Twins Jazz, February 8 (blog entry) — What a great surprise! This quintet plays a very accessible brand of free jazz; it’s really fun to hear Paal Nilssen-Love in particular playing a more straight-ahead style. Twins Jazz was packed with about 80 people who gave Atomic an ecstatic reception. Fantastic, high-energy jazz, a great way to kick off the year.
  • The Vandermark 5 at Jammin’ Java, February 16, $12 (blog entry) — Actually this was along the same lines as Atomic: great, explosive energy jazz, also very accessible (I even took three friends to this show). They were a hundred times better than when I saw them in 2006; Fred Lonberg-Holm went from being an interesting addition to a core part of the group’s sound, pushing them further and further “out.” The crowd was kind of lame but the band nevertheless played two very hot sets.
  • Zs at The Hosiery, February 26, $5 (blog entry) — This show cemented Zs as one of my favorite current avant-rock groups; before, I liked them a lot, but seeing them live really made their brilliance unmistakably clear. The image of four musicians staring intently at each other and their sheet music, while cranking out some of the loudest and most intricate (yet still aggressively rocking) sound imaginable, is permanently burned into my brain.
  • Dälek at Rock and Roll Hotel, March 2, $10 (blog entry) — Speaking of loud… Dälek on record is an intense experience, but Dälek live is something else altogether. This was my second time seeing them, and if anything they were better than the first, if a little less overtly in-your-face.
  • Do Make Say Think at The Black Cat, April 1, $10 (blog entry) — The best rock show I saw all year. DMST played a transcendently beautiful set, and I don’t use those words lightly. I love their take on post-rock, which involves a cacophony of instruments making coherent noise, often with one single instrument (an acoustic guitar, or most often electric violin) rising to the surface with a gorgeous, straightforward melody. One of the most purely joyous concerts I’ve ever had the pleasure of attending.
  • Brötzmann/Pliakas/Wertmüller at The Red Room (Baltimore), April 13, $12 (blog entry) — A legendary free-jazz skronker teamed up with an extreme metal rhythm section? Yeah, this was probably the most unrelentingly intense show I’ve ever seen. Once I managed to figure out how to parse it, though, I found it enthralling, especially Wertmüller’s drumming, which alone could have given me nightmares if I’d been having a bad day.
  • The Dismemberment Plan at The Black Cat, April 28, $15 (blog entry) — DC’s biggest phenomenon since Fugazi reuniting for two shows, four years after their breakup, guaranteed a crazy event, something bigger than just a mere concert. Sure enough, this was something to behold, especially since the band was, bizarrely, at their peak, better than they ever were when they were actually together. I saw better concerts in 2007, I think, but maybe none as memorable.
  • Sleepytime Gorilla Museum at The Black Cat, June 5, $12 (blog entry) — The third time was the charm: the first two times I saw SGM I was actually kind of underwhelmed for some reason, but this time they really brought their A game. Maybe it was just my newfound familiarity with the In Glorious Times material, but it just seemed like the band had really mastered their peculiar meshing of theatricality, creepy beauty, and crushing heaviness.
  • Alarm Will Sound at the Library of Congress, October 30, free (blog entry) — A very intellectual concert that I also found quite viscerally effective, which is a good combination indeed. This 20-piece ensemble played a series of pieces chosen specifically for their rhythmic complexity, and they pulled it off with gusto. There were some avant-rock type moments here, but the real fun was seeing them play live renditions of a couple IDM songs, music that was never meant to be played by humans.
  • Om at Rock and Roll Hotel, November 13, $10 (blog entry) — I guess I must just like really, really intense concerts. This one had it all: incredible feats of tension-building, wonderfully effective individual performances, high-wire drama, and above all, a sense of spiritual searching of the sort that I like to think listeners must have experienced at late-60s Coltrane shows.

Honorable mentions go to Magma, Richard Pinhas, Wilco, Aussie Floyd, Nelly Furtado, Epica, Cowboy Junkies, and Dhafer Youssef, all really great shows but perhaps a tiny step down from the above. The most disappointing show I saw was probably John McLaughlin, but then again I think I just don’t like fusion very much, so maybe I shouldn’t have been that surprised. Isis and Mastodon were also pretty terrible, the former being particularly disappointing as I saw them put on a great show in 2006.

I’m not sure I’m going to try quite as hard to see every concert I possibly can in 2008, for financial reasons if nothing else — but 2006 and 2007 definitely have awakened a certain passion for live music in me that I don’t think is just going to go away. I’ve already started making a list of interesting 2008 shows

The Vandermark 5 are better than ever

Saturday, February 17th, 2007

The Vandermark 5 put on a hell of a show last night at Jammin’ Java in Virginia. I’m glad I got to hear the recording of their show in Montreal, because I was better prepared for what was to come: something much more “out” than even their show a year ago (when Fred Lonberg-Holm and his cello madness had already been added to the lineup). It’s clear that after a year and a half or so, Lonberg-Holm has been integrated into the group’s sound seamlessly, and his influence is felt much more now than it was a year ago. The compositions are now further afield from traditional jazz, Lonberg-Holm plays a more central role in the group’s sound, and the quintet now often breaks into mini-ensembles in a really neat way. Also, sometimes Lonberg-Holm just rocks out and plays heavy power-chord riffs that wouldn’t be out of place on a metal album.

In fact, my favorite pieces are when Lonberg-Holm does just that: Vandermark and company opened their second set with “Some, Not All” from A Discontinuous Line, which includes a headbanger’s riff in the middle section over which Dave Rempis goes absolutely nuts on alto. Powerful on the studio album, this piece is not surprisingly even better live, and Rempis’ solo and Lonberg-Holm’s riffing was a thrilling highlight of the show for me. Another highlight was the final piece of the second set, a new one called “Desireless,” a tension-and-no-release affair in which, again, Lonberg-Holm holds down the rhythm with some rock-ready riffing while Vandermark and Rempis run wild over the top. This piece had me ready to leap out of my seat, but instead of ending with a bang, the group carefully winds down towards an anticlimactic finale — the end effect of which was that, for probably half an hour after the show, I was completely wired with pent-up energy. Finally, another new piece called “Compass Shatters Magnet,” which closed the first set, went through a similar high-tension section but gave the audience the luxury of release, building from almost nothing into cathartic soloing, and then finishing up with the band pummelling the club with an anthemic, percussive melody anchored by Vandermark’s unmistakable baritone.

Much of what they played last night was new; of all the band’s previously-released stuff, only “Some, Not All,” “Reciprocal,” and “Convertible” made it to the setlist. It’s interesting to see that they are no longer playing anything written in the pre-Lonberg-Holm era, and very indicative of how the cellist has really been brought into the fold as an essential part of the group’s new sound. In fact, a great new piece was “Further From the Truth,” a ballad that featured Lonberg-Holm playing much more lyrically than usual, atop a walking bassline and a steady pulse from Tim Daisy on the drums.

In every possible way this show was superior to the one I saw these guys put on last year. More out, more adventurous, tighter, with Lonberg-Holm better integrated; and Dave Rempis was just on fire all night. Sadly, the crowd was kind of lame (though decently sizable); I wonder if this group would do better to play a little closer to DC, where there’s probably a slightly larger fan base. Jammin’ Java is half an hour away from the city, and given that I spent half an hour with a friend digging my car out from all the ice that’s been covering the area for the past few days, I imagine some people just didn’t bother to make the trek.

Great live recording of the moment: The Vandermark 5 in Montreal, February 11

Thursday, February 15th, 2007

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.

Favorite shows of 2006

Sunday, December 31st, 2006

Well, there’s one last end-of-year list that I want to do: best shows I saw this year. I made a sort of new year’s resolution at the beginning of the year to see more live music — in the past I have generally been pretty lazy and not bothered leaving the house to make it out to shows other than obvious must-sees (like Los Jaivas, or Present, etc). This year, I made a conscious effort to overcome my inertia and make the effort to get out and see/hear more. I was moderately successful; I think I saw 25 shows over the course of the year, although I might be forgetting one or two. In any case, here are some highlights, in chronological order.

  • The Vandermark 5 at Iota, February 3 (blog entry) — I never got to see this band with Jeb Bishop, which I regret, but Fred Lonberg-Holm was a revelation, a total wildcard. Super high-energy, awesomely tight, these guys played a wide-ranging set that was the first great show I saw this year.
  • The Claudia Quintet at Twins Jazz, March 14 (blog entry) — I’m not a huge fan of their studio albums, but live, they were a joy to watch; John Hollenbeck’s busy drumming style was a treat and Matt Moran on vibes was a whirling dervish. But the star of the show for me was Chris Speed, who blew up with one absolutely thrilling tenor sax solo and a lot of other highlights.
  • Stórsveit Nix Noltes at The Black Cat, March 21 (blog entry) — This one was a total surprise; I went to this show for the headliners, Animal Collective, but these guys stole the show. A nine-piece band from Iceland playing rocked-up Eastern European folk music? Sounds right up my alley, and it was. High energy and big fun.
  • Isis, Dälek & Zombi at The Black Cat, April 30 (blog entry) — The rare bill where I know and like all three of the bands, and none of them disappointed. I was too tired and it was too loud for me to enjoy this show to its fullest, but all three of the bands put on a great show. It may have been Dälek who left the biggest impression on me, with his militant stage presence and aggressive wall-of-sound production.
  • Satoko Fujii/Natsuki Tamura at George Washington University, May 23 (blog entry) — Transparent Productions brought these Japanese avant-jazz masters to DC to play in front of an audience of maybe 15, and they did not disappoint. Probably my favorite show all year. Very challenging; the two of them played for an hour straight with no breaks, and it was hard to tell what was improvised and what was composed. As much classical influence as jazz, and Fujii had a way of keeping me mesmerized that I won’t soon forget.
  • Berne/Carroll/Formanek/Rainey at An Die Musik Live, July 29 — For some reason I never wrote about this show, which is weird because Berne is probably my #1 favorite current jazz artist, and Rainey just might be my alltime favorite drummer. For the first of the two sets I was seated front row right in front of Rainey, and I barely noticed anything but his playing, he was so good. He used a very basic drum kit but eked a huge variety of sounds from it, using all kinds of techniques. The second set I actually enjoyed even more; they played more stuff I recognized, like a couple tunes from Feign, and seemed a little tighter. Great stuff, hope I get to see Berne again sometime in 2007.
  • Nels Cline/Glenn Kotche at The Black Cat, September 20 (blog entry) — Another nice surprise; I came for Cline but I might have actually liked Kotche more. Cline was in full-bore noise mode, wringing loud squalls of feedback from his effects-laden guitar; he was fun to watch but a little hard to listen to. Kotche was equally inventive but more accessible; the idea of a solo percussion set had me a little apprehensive, but his stuff was melodic and fun. The two of them played together to close out their set, and that was my favorite part of the show. A memorable performance from two great improvisors.
  • Yo La Tengo at the 9:30 Club, September 26 (blog entry) — Man, another pleasant surprise. I guess I kind of knew what to expect here, but I didn’t think they were going to completely blow my head off. Ira Kaplan’s guitar freakouts were delicious, noisy and cacophonous but somehow still melodious, if barely. I’m indifferent towards a lot of this band’s poppier moments (though a lot of them are still very good), but when they “shut up and play their guitars” it’s a wondrous experience.
  • Massive Attack at the 9:30 Club, September 28 (blog entry) — Completely different from any other show I saw this year, these guys brought their full complement of guest vocalists and instrumentalists. I lost count of how many sharply-dressed British folks (pretty much equal proportion of males and females) were sauntering about on stage, backed by the most involved lightshow I’ve ever seen at the 9:30 Club. Their trademark trippy beats and sultry vocals made for quite a sensual concert experience, but that didn’t stop them from also rocking out when they wanted to.
  • Wilco at the 9:30 Club, October 19 (blog entry) — This couldn’t possibly live up to the amazing show I saw them put on last year at the same place, but taken on its own, it was still damn good. Some of the new pieces were a nice surprise; hearing Cline and Tweedy do a melodic classic-rock dual-guitar jam was a surreal highlight. Last year’s show was for the ages; this one was merely great.
  • Maja Ratkje & POING at the National Museum of Women in the Arts, December 17 (blog entry) — Like the Fujii/Tamura show, this one was demanding, required all my attention, and left me tired at the end. It was also a fabulous performance. I saw some pretty out-there avant shows this year (a noisy improv set from Denman Maroney, Jack Wright and Reuben Radding tops the list), but this one was easily the best of them. There was a real method to this madness, and I found it quite compelling. A great way to end the year.

On the opposite end of things, probably the most disappointing show I saw this year was in late January, when Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores were supposed to play at the Warehouse Nextdoor, but never showed up. I contented myself with Make a Rising, a Philly band who had gotten good reviews on the avant-progressive list and elsewhere, but they just seemed like a really, really amateurish chamber-rock band to me. Oh well.

The show I am most bummed I missed? By a long shot, Joanna Newsom, who played at the Black Cat in November. I had fallen in love with her new album Ys, but did not think the show would sell out. I mean, she has an immediately hatable voice and she’s pretty obscure. I didn’t expect her to blow up in popularity with Ys (the damn thing is five epic-length songs fergodsakes), but she did. She sold out pretty much all her shows, including the one in DC. Dammit.

Here’s hoping 2007 is as good a year as 2006 was for live music in DC. As Steve Feigenbaum said over at ProgressiveEars, I am endlessly thankful that I live in a place that offers so much great music. Now if only some of those damned New York avant-jazz musicians would journey down here every once in a while…

The Vandermark 5 @ Iota

Saturday, February 4th, 2006

I saw The Vandermark 5 tonight at the Iota Club in Arlington, VA. Wow, what a show. Those guys were intense and tight. I went with a friend of mine who is a sometime jazz pianist but not much of a fan of the more avant kind of stuff. He seemed to like the show though, especially the couple ballads that they played, and was impressed with the arrangements. I found Fred Lonberg-Holm’s contributions pretty fascinating. His cello playing was quite a distinctive shift, to be sure, from Jeb Bishop’s trombone — he was kind of a musical chameleon, at times doubling the bass or playing the rhythm, at others taking a solo spot, at still others just kind of filling the spaces with an edgy, noisy swirl of bowed, blurry notes. I think his presence gives the quintet a bit more of an “out” feel than they used to have. He was certainly a beast, playing ferociously throughout, but he did occasionally play it straight and melodic, during which times his contributions were beautiful and lyrical. Certainly one heck of a diverse player.

I was surprised at Tim Daisy’s work on the drums — he played straighter than I expected most of the time, to the point that when he locked into a groove, a more jazz-inclined listener might find him a bit stiff. My more rock-oriented background had less of a problem, but I didn’t expect to be nodding my head and tapping my foot quite as much as I was!

Also interesting, I talked briefly with Vandermark and asked him what was up with Spaceways Inc.; apparently that group has some trouble being active given the busy schedule of drummer Hamid Drake, so Vandermark is starting another group. I forget the name of this group and the lineup, but it includes two electric basses and Vandermark said that if I liked Radiale (which I do, very much so), I’d probably like this one — lots of funk in the jazz. Or something like that. Apparently they’ll be recording in the spring. Looking forward to that, for sure.

Upcoming concerts in the DC area

Thursday, January 26th, 2006

Here’s a look at some of the interesting shows coming up in the DC area in the next few months. This post is as much for me as for anyone else, though folks in the area may find something they like. Note that I’ve omitted some obvious prog-centric shows, like Rick Wakeman, The Carl Palmer Band, Niacin, Mahavishnu Project, Spock’s Beard, etc., since I’m not personally interested in them.

  • Alec K. Redfearn and the Eyesores at The Warehouse Nextdoor, January 27 — Hey, that’s tomorrow. I missed these guys the last time they were in DC, and still haven’t heard their album on Cuneiform, but I may well check them out in this venue anyway. Weirdly, this show is listed at the Warehouse website but not the Warehouse Nextdoor site, so I’ll have to call to confirm that it’s actually happening…
  • The Vandermark 5 at Iota, February 3 — Nice; I didn’t even know these guys were on tour. One of my favorite contemporary avant-jazz ensembles. I’m seriously thinking about plonking down the cash for their 12-CD live box set; maybe I should actually go see them live before I make that call!
  • Low at The Black Cat, February 4 — I haven’t heard any of these guys’ recent output, but I like what I do have (namely The Curtain Hits the Cast) and for $13, I might check out their live show.
  • Nile at Jaxx, February 8 — They’re touring in support of Annihilation of the Wicked, one of metal fans’ highlights of 2005. I haven’t quite gotten into that record as much as many others, but maybe I’ll make it out to Springfield for this show to see what I’m missing.
  • Formanek/Berne Quartet at An Die Musik (Baltimore), February 11 — Ever since I first got into saxophonist Tim Berne, I’ve been waiting for him to play a live date somewhere near me, with any one of his numerous bands. He plays incessantly, but generally only in the New York area. This is my first chance to see him (and with Tom Rainey, perhaps my favorite current jazz drummer)!
  • The Wu-Tang Clan at The 9:30 Club, February 13 — I’d be interested in seeing these hip-hop godfathers, even if I find live hip-hop more miss than hit, but tickets are $50. No thanks. I’m not really surprised that they already sold out one set even at those prices, though.
  • Flogging Molly at The 9:30 Club, February 22 — I used to be a big fan of these guys, but I’ve kind of tired of their Celtic-punk gimmick. I might go anyway, except for the fact that I just bought tickets for a vacation to Ecuador leaving on the 22nd. Next time, maybe.
  • Belle & Sebastian at The 9:30 Club, March 5 & 6 — Both shows already sold out; wow. I saw these guys a couple years ago and it was a lot of fun, even if their live sound is pretty much exactly the same as their studio sound.
  • Charming Hostess at Busboys & Poets, March 7 — The a cappella trio version of the band is going strong: three women singing Jewish and other folk-influenced stuff, with a unique feminist/leftish/something sort of bent. I’ll definitely be at this show; cool venue too.
  • Mogwai at Sonar (Baltimore), March 7 — I wish they were coming closer to DC, and I wish they didn’t conflict with Charming Hostess. This being a weeknight I’ll probably opt for the closer show; maybe they’ll schedule a date closer to DC as the time nears. Sure hope so; when I saw them at the 9:30 a couple years ago, they were awesome.
  • Orthrelm at Talking Head (Baltimore), March 16 — Given that OV is possibly my favorite record of 2005, and I can’t imagine how it could possibly be pulled off live, seeing Orthrelm is a must for me. But since they’re from DC, surely they’ll be playing closer than this sometime in the near future. Might wait til then.
  • Grey Eye Glances at Jammin’ Java, March 18 — They rarely seem to play outside of New England, so I’m pretty excited that these folk-rockers will be coming down to Virginia again. I saw them in Boston, though sans Brett Kull (Echolyn, who along with Ray Weston has been an integral part of the band for a while now), and they were great. I’m there.
  • The Gathering at Jaxx, March 19 — If I have it in me to trek out to suburban NOVA two nights in a row, this should be a fun show; melodic goth-metal band that I’ve reliably enjoyed since their mid-90s output. Apparently one of only 6 shows they’re playing in the U.S.
  • Animal Collective at The Black Cat, March 21 — This avant-folk band has been getting rave reviews from people I respect, but I haven’t heard any of their stuff yet. If they’re as good as everyone says though, I’ll be at this show.
  • Cyro Baptista at Lisner Auditorium, March 25 — I’ve only heard Baptista in the context of John Zorn-related projects (like Electric Masada, where he is a beast). Here he’s performing with his Beat the Donkey band, which the Lisner website describes as “hilarious fusion overload” with “all the impact of a Brazilian carnival.” How can I miss that?
  • Green Carnation at Jaxx, March 29 — Well, I think these guys have been pretty lame since Light of Day, Day of Darkness, but they’re the kind of band that I bet would be pretty fun to see live. Might make it out to this one.
  • Isis, Dälek and Zombi at The Black Cat, April 30 — WOW what a lineup! The band that released my favorite album of 2004, Panopticon; one of the most forward-looking, avant-garde hip-hop groups there is, who have collaborated with Faust in the past; and a group I haven’t heard yet that is most often compared to Goblin. This is easily the most-anticipated show on my list here. Can’t wait!

Also, Mono and Pelican are touring this summer along with who knows who else. Looks like this could be a strong year for live music. I think I may make more of an effort to go to shows than I have in the past, if I can afford to do so (and if I can convince some friends to join me for some of these).

Sometimes Pitchfork sucks

Thursday, December 29th, 2005

Stupid Useless Gimmick Reviews, Exhibit A.

I really like this album, by the way (Simpatico by The Vandermark 5 for those of you not interested enough to follow the link). “STHLM,” dedicated to Mats Gustafsson, is one of my favorite pieces by this prolific group. A barn-burner.