Sunday: “Anyone Seen My Brain?”: Tidy Simulacra, The Musician Qua Musician, Supplements and Abysses
Not much could be more alluring from afar than the krautrock-meets-cockrock vampage of Endless Boogie, whose entire shtick seemed akin to some of Purling Hiss’ more repetitive stuff: unforgivably trashy but selflessly drawn out over extended grooves. The stage was filled with denim and cigarettes and possibly even a glass eye; the pale, sag-faced ‘singer’ occasionally murmured what sounded like his own blitzed-out mental ticker-tape: “Has anyone seen… my things? Anyone seen… my thangs? … What’s that purple thing… over there… Anyone seen my… Brain?” Not so sure I’d buy or even steal a record of theirs, but I thought they were great. I went straight from there to an early afternoon Psychic Paramount set, expecting better-veiled burnout — I’m a huge fan of Laddio Bolocko but I feel like St. Ivany’s recorded work slid off a bit — but they played a fantastic set. St. Ivany’s lone guitar was weirdly clean and precise, and I ended up sensing their noisiness was all in the rhythmic interpretation. This came to a head in their closing song, a guitar loop that cohered into a merciless drone inside which the drums sorta sloshed around before assimilating.
Noise didn’t even enter my mind during Lee Ranaldo’s set later that evening, though I confess ‘burn-out’ might’ve. Sacrilege, I know, and maybe had I seen the “suspended guitar performance” with Leah Singer that he canceled (a quick scan suggests that this phrase was pretty unique to this one evening) I would feel differently, but he always seemed a little bit more likely than his bandmates to lobotomize SY’s contribution to music. He played mostly solo stuff, which I’d compare to J Mascis’, save that Ranaldo doesn’t effortlessly coil hope/loss into his voice like Mascis; what was once debonair-flat is now just flat. So while I could roll with his little anecdote introducing “Xtina As I Knew Her,” a recognizable meditation on home & youth & friends & time, and these themes may even be important, it was hard to feel excited about them.
Snuck in earlier in the day were a few elder statesmen of esoterica that, in particular, made Ranaldo seem like he was throwing in the towel. The jury’s still out on the overarching significance of The Magic Band’s recent performances, though on the surface this one had all the characteristics of a good simulacrum: the sound was accurate, and there’s no one more authentic to take on the part of Van Vliet himself than right-hand-man Drumbo. Besides, the question of Beefheart’s music was always one of meticulous design by way of spontaneity and vice versa: for Trout Mask Replica, Drumbo was the main transcriber of Captain Beefheart’s crooked, impulsive, maverick-irreverent pieces, so there was something appropriate about his taking this transcription to the next level here. But if something seems… amiss to you from where you’re sitting, you surely aren’t alone, and maybe that explains why even though they could’ve, they didn’t headline.
Generally I’m a little bugged that The Album Leaf have cornered a market of listeners that prefer chilling to challenge, but as a wearysome twentysomething who felt an ache in, yes, his bones, but also in his brain, I really couldn’t resist how easily their mostly instrumental, glitch-y/lounge-y “post rock” went down; there was a strange comfort in knowing that even a frenetic drumline would become longitudinal, a source of stability for any given song. In a festival that seemed dense with musicians trying to give definitive performances, there was a tacit admission in their film projections (footage of teenagers skipping stones, at one point just a shot from a car window) that they wanted to deliver in concert exactly what they’ve always delivered to any fan who likes to turn boredom into religion. I wasn’t quite in the right mindset, but they made their case directly and refreshingly, especially compared to trend-caked trio Braids, whose own glitchy, toned-down set was pretty vacuous.
I went out of my way to see TMT-loved-em-before-p4k-fuckers Thee Oh Sees and found the chameleonic group compact as hell, a knot around the drummer, and maybe understandably less prone to psychedelic wizardry and Jack Wild babytalk. But with, as we know, plenty of upended bubblegum melodies and Dwyer’s glorious freakouts with his guitar held along his collarbone, they rocked with distinction. I saw several groups — mostly garage punk, The Dirtbombs and the like — over the three days who were good enough but failed to grab my scrutiny, so I have to offer words of praise for innocuous non-garage-punkers Tall Firs and their vaguely anachronistic way of attaining focus. Saturday, dozens of what looked like newspapers titled Tall Firs Supplement suddenly appeared scattered over every clear surface at the festival. The pages were filled with, apparently, autobiographical vignettes written by the two band members, stories about hanging out with homeless eccentrics, embarassing one-night stands, and the chin-up trials of being a full-blown teenage alcoholic. I found myself immersed in the document while I had plenty else to pay attention to, then found myself looking forward to the set Sunday. I’m already a sucker for the Bedhead thing, gorgeously interlocking guitars in space and frictive vocals, but the uncommon backdrop lent it clarity amid the festival’s surfeit. They were charmingly open and even funny regarding the flat-out depressing nature of their music (“let’s go for a 10 on the ‘downer’ scale for this one”) and they varied their sound just enough to keep (relative) momentum: they brought ‘Samara’ (Lubelski? Just an educated guess) on to play some gorgeously phonographic violin, but, like some critics, I wasn’t sure the introduction of drums did much for them.
Even after Arthur’s “Where Is My Van,” I was shocked to learn after the fact that Quintron & Miss Pussycat were shuffled from Dulli’s original Saturday list. This was my second time seeing these lunatics, and in theory their set, replete with a seemingly unscripted puppet show that makes me feel both puritanically anti-psychotropic and an almost humiliating nostalgia for my awkward youth, should be fun to describe whether I liked it or not, but I derive a strange delight from recommending everyone see Quintron’s show themselves at least once in their life. Suffice to say, the music (likeable: after about 10 minutes of oscillator and possible technical issues, not actually that far off from the garbage drone of early Oneida) aside, they were this festival’s Saul of the Mole Men.
Meanwhile, I had to double- and triple-check that The Make-Up’s inclusion in the festival lineup had nothing to do with Dulli. If we’re talking about the revitalizing power of reunion, Ian Svenonius — whose recent work in Chain & The Gang has left former believers somewhere between disgust and indifference — is a prime candidate; the biggest surprise might have been that it was The Make-Up that reunited, rather than Nation Of Ulysses. (If I’m acting as if it’s entirely up to the frontman, well, I think Billy Corgan’s gotten to my head.) But I actually think The Make-Up provided the perfect intersection between time travel to When Shit Mattered, self-referential/-parodical overperformance, and especially the group’s brand of enigmatic post-punk (I had a personal bias toward picks from 1998’s Save Yourself). Svenonius himself was a spectacle that, like Dulli, knew how to put on a great show, spoken-word interludes and and all, albeit with a stapled-on sneer and moves like Jagger running from the Keystone cops. The audience didn’t seem entirely willing to keep up with his amperage, but I thought the set was killer.
Every year or so I dig out my Godspeed You Black Emperor records and re-listen, because I know they’re hugely revered in a community I sometimes say I belong to, and while I don’t think any of them are bad or even mediocre, their ‘timeless majesty’ has always been a bit lost on me: dated is a word that always leaps to mind, kinda like how I don’t really listen to much Do Make Say Think anymore. But with an intimidating juggernaut of a 2-hour slot, the I’ll Be Your Mirror 2012 headlining set was exactly what I needed to come around. For the first 20 minutes or so, they absently let their equipment drone tremolo’d atop the same shuffled playlist that preceded most shows, and the effect was of dread lurking amid the everyday, which was about where they picked up when they took the stage. Their visual display was a blur of 16mm black-and-white images, starting with a pattern that lurked somewhere between noise and information (scattered flashes of the scratched-out word HOPE reading cheesy on paper, maybe, but constituting a small miracle in the show) gradually cohering into distinct photos, video, and prophetic text over the course of the show. Even when it shifted to protest footage, it never seemed polemical or ham-fisted; ultimately, the set didn’t seem to be so much about history as our neurotic, hapless need to document it.
Amid such a huge, mostly-static group of people, violinist Sophie Trudeau stood out as the member most capable of shifting moods, and especially in any comparison to Do Make Say Think’s lilting triads or other points of reference, she defied expectations and delivered the goods: her screaming violin loops were anything but complacent, leaving me with something closer to the dizzying mental abyss left by this year’s The Seer. I had to break out of the core crowd about halfway through, but seeing the entire warehouse of Pier 36 filled with spread-eagled bodies and sound was almost as great. So see these guys if you can (and this is coming from a relative nonbeliever). Godspeed in concert may well be one of the greatest artistic experiences available for public consumption.
Demdike Stare, who command nearly as much respect at TMT as G!YBE but still seemed like a curious final set for ATP, were not there to blow minds, and the fairly small group remaining was too cooked to really care. It was a nice opportunity to zero-in on their subtle touch with percussion, how every spiraling and distant beat added something complicated to the mix as they snuck in the monolithic figures of Elemental highlights like “Kommunion” and “Mnemosyne.” Whispering frantically to one another but otherwise not moving behind their side-by-side MacBooks, the duo were generating sound but not really performing in the classical sense, which was appropriate in a venue wherein people were scattered over a huge space. It was the perfect time to think about how I’d summarize this unique-but-ordinary union of wildly disparate sounds and talents:
[Photos: Amanda Bellucco]