Though age, other projects, and lineup changes have varied the landscape ever so slightly, for the past two decades Philadelphia’s Bardo Pond have been one of the preeminent names in American psychedelic music. Officially formed in 1992, as of 2001 Bardo Pond has consisted of guitarists Mike and John Gibbons, bassist Clint Takeda, drummer Jason Kokournis, and Isobel Sollenberger on flute, violin, and voice. Their work ranges from sparse, airy drone-rock to pounding, nearly anthemic spooge, and they’ve also collaborated with a number of like-minded heads including Roy Montgomery (Hash Jar Tempo) and Fursaxa. Recently they’ve waxed recordings for Important and Fire Records, and their live presence around the Northeast remains surely in place.
In April 2003, guitarist Tom Carter (Charlambides, Spiderwebs) was visiting Philly and set up a pair of sessions with Bardo Pond. The live and studio results were captured on 4/23/03, one of the earlier releases on American rural/psych imprint Three Lobed. In fact, the label actually took off with Bardo’s music by releasing Slab in 2000 (now long out of print), so it’s fitting that a dozen years later Three Lobed has reissued 4/23/03 as a double LP with an extra track from the date, as well as another hour’s worth of live material (on an included CD) from two days later. Sometimes it’s difficult to figure out exactly where the band ends and Carter’s playing begins, and that’s certainly a fine result – one storied musician’s total integration into the environment.
As one who has only witnessed the group at their loudest and most cutting, this set is an entirely different proposition, with the three guitarists exploring sinewy interlocking textures across a bed of indeterminate hiss on the second movement, while the opener finds its legs extraordinarily quickly once Kokournis sets up a dry, fluid, and bobbing tempo. Electric violin threads through a rather elegantly layered tangle, and while the music rolls along at a fairly nodded-out pace, it’s easy to miss the level of interaction and intensity between the six musicians. Sollenberger’s reverb-drenched voice and flute wander in and out of a tense, skittering ensemble on the third piece, building organically to a series of toothy false crescendos. On the face of it, this 20-minute improvisation might not seem like something one couldn’t get elsewhere, done “right” there’s no doubt that Bardo Pond can bring it. While at first the live set might seem like more of the same – indeed, Bardo Pond often harp on related principles – patience brings realization, as even with middling fidelity and barroom noise on the central 43-minute jam, open eyes will discern a varied plain. If you’re looking for a place to test the waters, this extensive LP/CD set is a great place to start, and it consists of the band’s most engaging work.