Ty Segall / Night Beats
Waldorf Hotel; Vancouver, Canada
The Waldorf Hotel is one of the most storied buildings in Vancouver. Built in 1947, the Waldorf was designed by Mercer & Mercer Architects in an Art Moderne style. However, one fateful trip to Honolulu in 1953 changed everything. It was then and there that owner Bob Mills purchased eight original black velvet paintings by Edgar Leeteg.
An unusual character, father of American velvet painting and longtime sufferer of elephantiasis and venereal disease, Leeteg famously said, “My paintings belong in a gin mill, not a museum.” Indeed, that’s the kind of place where most of his paintings ended up, particularly his more risque works. Inspired by Polynesian culture, swept up in the exotica movement, Mills committed the Waldorf to Tiki, creating a Tiki lounge with bamboo paneling, thatched walls, fake palm trees, native drum bar stools, a ceiling painted like the night sky, and careful placing of four Leeteg paintings. The basement restaurant was decorated to suit, and the Waldorf quickly became one of the hottest joints in Vancouver.
Unfortunately, the rock ‘n’ roll phenomenon destroyed exotica in the early 60s, and the Waldorf began a slow decline that would last almost 40 years. Then, in 2010, an unlikely collaboration between musician Thomas Anselmi (Slow, Copyright), restaurateur Ernesto Gomez (Nuba), and architect Scott Cohen (Gastropod, Les Faux Bourgeois) secured a lease with the space, and re-envisioned it as hospitality/entertainment complex. After a three-month renovation, their dream came to fruition.
The renovation established new locations for the noted Lebanese restaurant Nuba and the Barbarella hair salon, and restored the Tiki bar to its former glory, complete with vintage JBL Lansing Hartfields speakers and a sizable vinyl collection. The former basement restaurant was converted to a cabaret for live music. Almost overnight, the Waldorf had once again become a cultural hub, attracting scenesters city wide to its obscure location in the no man’s land between the downtrodden downtown East side and the hippy haven of Commercial Drive, a clash of former opulence and present decay that, ironically, is perfect for seeing a sweaty rock ‘n’ roll show.
On the fateful evening of 12/12/12, Seattle’s Night Beats would take the stage first. Although lead guitarist/vocalist Lee Blackwell looked a bit like a younger, thinner John Belushi, he couldn’t sing as well as the Blues Brother by a country mile. Oddly enough, Blackwell played with the long end of his uncut string laying over the first five frets of his guitar, which seemed telling of their aesthetic. Although they had decent energy, hard-selling flashy, incomprehensible blues-garage riffs, they were a generally sloppy bunch. The hi-hat in drummer James Traeger’s kit fell apart during one track, but he kept tapping the pedal anyway for the rest of the song (likely in an effort to keep his timing), but the rhythm section often came off muddy anyway. To their credit, Night Beats tightened up as they went along, and their style was reasonably well-informed. They could use more practice, though, and they might want to consider warming up beforehand, so they can get some of the roughness out of the way before being put to the test.
Suffice to say, Ty Segall was the reason the Waldorf sold out this evening. Having sold out the same venue in May of the same year, his return to the city and venue had been highly publicized.
Segall would quickly prove the hype substantiated, launching into “Thank God for Sinners” (the opening track from his most recent album Twins), which instantly whipped the crowd into a fevered mosh that nearly devolved into ruthlessness. For some reason, one guy thought it was a good idea to mosh with a lit stick of incense. Seemingly drinkable beers were emptied willy-nilly, as a steady flow of people surged over the crowd, narrowly missing the low lighting of the cabaret. One plucky girl tried surfing, and in the course of her adventure, two different guys belly flopped on her head (she would try again in the encore). Three guys tried to crowd surf at once, nearly taking out half of the pit as they collapsed. Fifteen minutes into their set, in the middle of “My Head Explodes” from Goodbye Bread, a would-be stage diver knocked over Segall’s mic.
Following the mic incident, Segall was compelled to ask the crowd to take it easy. He implored, “Everybody be careful, please. Someone is bleeding already. Please, be careful. She’s okay, but think about it.” The rowdiness couldn’t be capped, though, and the band went with it. Guitarist Charles Moothart put on a party hat someone threw onstage, and later Segall fashioned a red shirt which was flung near him around his head like a bandana, saying it smelled “so fucking good” as he did so.
With longtime Segall collaborator Mikal Cronin turned away at the Canadian border again (the same thing had happened in May), Moothart ended up playing bass for most of the show. There were a couple moments when that didn’t work out. Moothart couldn’t quite get the bass line for “Tell Me What’s Inside Your Heart” and “Wave Goodbye” from Slaughterhouse, and had to switch for Segall’s lead guitar. Yet, these moments helped bring Segall’s raw talent into greater relief. Moothart is certainly no slouch on guitar, but when Segall plays, there is something intangible, something extra behind it all. Segall has that spark in his play that so few musicians work hard enough to achieve these days. It’s clear from Segall’s Popeye-thick arms that he works hard at what he does.
Granted, Segall doesn’t have the most beautiful voice, but it suits his style. It’s more about the raw passion and ecstatic execution than creating something traditionally beautiful. This notion was clearly demonstrated by the trio’s encore performance of “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath, done fast and loose as Segall played his guitar behind his head for the last half of the track. Indeed, Ty Segall may be one of the world’s last great rock ‘n’ roll performers.
Electric Brixton; London, England
A lot can be said for onstage charisma, for embracing an ability to charm and dazzle while swigging from frost-coated vodka bottles, leaping about a platform in red bother boots and tearing off one’s clothing before screaming fans. Such reckless and winsome shenanigans were unexpected from George Lewis Jr. at Twin Shadow’s unpredictable gig in Brixton the other night, but that’s what we got, and it was an absolute treat.
Though there exists an interesting middle ground between the new-wave pop dirge of Forget and the metal-tinted hyper-glam of Confess, the detached tendencies of both albums were somehow merged together in the flesh. There was enough energy in the room to make a solo enactment of “The One” a menacing highlight, as the frontman stood center stage and belted out the chorus while thrusting confident fingers across the bridge of his guitar, creating a mood somewhere in the region of a devoted Julee Cruise performance at The Roadhouse.
The former venue of Love Muscle, balcony access, excellent lighting, and an uncompromising setlist made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Despite being dominated by new material, where “Golden Light,” “You Can Call Me On,” and “Five Seconds” were all played in the first half, the band still managed to find room for a sensational rendition of “At My Heels” and a guitar-heavy version of “Castles In The Snow” before finishing their encore with the debut album’s title track. George Lewis Jr. was in top-form throughout, a fireball of magnetism from start to finish that was wholly complemented by a band that stuck with him, giving tracks like “Run My Heart” that extra kick they so seriously needed for a live audience.
Patrick Higgins + Joshua Modney + Alex Parrelli
Scanning the stage area at Zebulon from left to right: Adam Downey flashing me a peace sign while freshing the DJ booth above Paul Shaffer chilling with an espresso (legit), and Matthew Wertheimer extending the front row presence to the bar area.
Diving right into it, the set started out with a piece entitled “Wind Tunnel,” played on violin by Josh Modney, and manipulated via electronics by Patrick Higgins. The sound was like a heavy breeze of electronic incantation bringing life to a digital sculpture trying to reach impossible physical presentation. Josh was feeling reality and Patrick was morphing it. This transitioned into STEREO, based around Patrick’s visionary new double-cassette. Josh continued on violin, setting a tightly stable backdrop of sound, as Patrick lightly stuttered guitar and Alex Perrelli focused on tap-dancing drums. Through fervorous bursts, Alex pushed boundaries of beats and feelings, developing a world that questions beginning and end. Patrick, on the other hand, excelled in his master craftsmanship on guitar, but further presented his abilities with live electronics and effects using pedals and a laptop. Both fells treating the piece with delicate improvisational, yet distinct emotion.
As the set came to a very careful closure, Alex snared eye-blinking pops, Josh winded his violin with long strokes, and Patrick conducted the searing electronic sound into a faded mute. Thanks for the ride, fellahs!
Dean Blunt's "White Flight"
OHWOW Gallery; Los Angeles, CA
The OHWOW gallery space was quite large, perhaps the length of a basketball court, although maybe a little smaller. The walls and floors were white. I arrived at the very beginning of Dean Blunt’s first American gallery performance, “White Flight,” not long after Blunt (Hype Williams) had finished setting up the space. At least, I believe he set up the space; there is photographic evidence on Twitter suggesting as much. Anyway, why I note that is because, when I arrived, the table, which was immediately to the right upon entering, was piled with alcohol (Cîroc) and fruit juice and those red and white plastic cups. (There were also two potted, fake plants at the foot of the table). At the center of the gallery space was a table, piled on and surrounded by In-N-Out burgers and fries. There must have been a couple hundred dollars worth of fast food on/around the table. No one really touched it until the hour-and-a-half mark, but some people sporadically took fries off the table throughout the night. Unsurprisingly, the alcohol was gone within the first 20 minutes.
Scattered all around the floor were dark red balloons (#99luftballons). Throughout the night, balloons were popped and kicked and thrown around without any apparent reason, but balloon interaction was, overall, pretty infrequent.
Furthermore, three shirtless black men who weren’t allowed to speak spent the night flexing, posing, and photobombing — I kid you not — almost every attempted photo I witnessed.
There was also loud, commercial rap music playing throughout the entire event. Occasionally people danced, but mostly they didn’t.
There was a rather large, semi-thuggish white guy walking around. He was there alone (I talked with him after the show, and he said, “Yeah, I was supposed to come with a friend, but he had to babysit…,” and then evaded every subsequent question that I asked). Throughout the night, he walked around yelling “psyche!” at the black men, throwing money on the ground, and then intimidating the guy who picked up (stole?) the money. (After the show, in a moment of dubious clarity, he asked me if I had seen who “did it.” I had. I had seen everything that happened that night.)
I’m genuinely uncertain as to whether or not this guy was a part of the show. I saw the black men getting paid at the end of the event, but this guy was never paid. I find it curious that the most intimidating person, the one who tried to establish any control over the seemingly aimless happening, was a large and semi-thuggish white guy.
I guess in a performance like this you can’t control everything that happens. For the most part, people came in, drank, looked at the food, stood around, talked with their friends, and then left. I stood against the wall, watching, the entire time. One person asked me what was going on, while another even asked me if I was Dean Blunt. I didn’t drink or eat, and I spent most of the time watching the schmoozing that happens at these kind of things, judging peoples’ fashion sensibilities (sorry), smiling at people who looked at/photographed me, and texting my girlfriend, in real time, everything I was seeing. But, eventually, something always happens. Toward the end of the night, the thuggish white guy came up and asked me if I wanted to use the balloons as a bed. My girlfriend had just told me to do something weird, so I said, reluctantly, “sure?” I walked over to the corner where he had gathered all the remaining balloons. A couple guys followed us. He told me to lie down, so I lied down in the pool of dark red balloons. Someone took pictures of me lying there, and when I stood up, I instinctively bowed. At that point, the event was basically over.
I wonder: did I enjoy “White Flight?” Was that even the point? The truth is that I stuck around for all of it, so in some respect, yes, I did. It was clear early on that Dean Blunt would not be playing music, and that what I saw was what I was going to get. It was also clear that it was, in some respect, a social experiment, and the conclusions were pretty predictable. I got some self-satisfaction as I was able to determine what would happen, and when. I enjoyed the questions that I asked myself while I was there, alone in the gallery, watching. But something hit me as I was standing outside, after the event had finished and as I was driving home. A few blocks away, and an hour later, James Ferraro and Dean Blunt would be playing actual music together at the Soho House in West Hollywood (which is, for all intents and purposes, a country club for monied, “creative” elites). The title of their Soho piece was “Watch the Throne,” while the title of the OHWOW Gallery performance was “White Flight.” On the one hand, a thousand-dollar show in luxury, and on the other, a free gallery show with shitty hip-hop, fast food, and relatively cheap alcohol. The distinction seemed too obvious. And what had initially felt like a potentially interesting, if somewhat obvious, social experiment/performance piece became a reminder that most of us didn’t have access to the real show, and that we likely never would.
[Photo: Barron Machat]
Ether Festival 2012
The South Bank Centre; London, England
Fear had seemingly gripped the lads sitting behind us as the lights went out. Their in-group chortling a thinly veiled cry for comfort as the suspense grew, Ralph Cumbers and Nick Edwards stood in front of their equipment, and amplifiers began to hum. How loud was this thing going to be? With their visuals a subtle flickering of rainbow tench scales, a thick black lugworm draped across, thumping pulsations were pelted through shambolic noise improv and contorted trombone sequences. With darker hints of breakbeat and dubstep gorged from out of nowhere, EkoClef proved to be the perfect opening act, a not-so-quiet lull before the tech surge set to follow.
Raime opened with a mutating polonium grid that entrapped its audience, earth-shaking bass pulsations carried exquisite visuals as they morphed into some rough of a leather jacket, its bearer quaking in mid seizure while this pulverizing headline set literally ravaged the Purcell Room. The performers remained anonymous, cloaked in darkness that surrounded their gear as silhouettes bobbed ruggedly to throbbing industrial techno, every beat a tectonic juggernaut. I was on the edge of my seat, eyes glued to the screen, ears trying to make sense of what was happening. The experience was utterly thrilling.
The Queen Elizabeth Hall Front Room was just outside, surrounded by a loop of tables, facilities, and bars. Airhead was in the cutting throes of his DJ set and a jostling crowd began to steadily amass in front of him. We danced, partly as a consequence of McAndrew’s tracklist, partly to recover from what Raime had done to our nervous systems. Mount Kimbie were soon to follow; lights cracked and strobes burst as the pair attempted a suspense build-up, which broke out into the ever-popular “Carbonated.” The remainder of their show was solid, but incomparable to that of the Purcell experience, for something extraordinary was witnessed on the South Bank that night.
Thee Oh Sees / Sic Alps
Rickshaw Theatre; Vancouver, Canada
Located at the infamous intersection of Main and Hastings, the Rickshaw is not a place for the faint of heart. The venue was built in 1971 as an Asian movie theater, a flagship piece of the once-great Shaw Brothers cinema empire, but it closed down in the mid-80s as the wave of North American interest in kung-fu movies broke and rolled back. It sat empty for 20 years or so, until someone tore out half of the seats, spray-painted most of it black, and reopened it as a concert hall. It’s an unimaginably dirty venue, chock full of character, with great sight-lines and a decent soundsystem. As such, it bares all the hallmarks of a classic rock ‘n’ roll space.
Sic Alps and Thee Oh Sees made the perfect double bill to see at the Rickshaw Theatre. They’re both California bands with psychedelic and garage leanings, both touring in support of fantastic new albums (an eponymous Sic Alps album [sold at the show for only $5 on tape] and Thee Oh Sees’ Putrifiers II), and both have the ability to lull you into a haze and blow you away with a paisley grenade. Yet, their performances brought something a little different to the table this evening.
While scenes from the 1978 classic kung-fu revenge flick The 36th Chamber of Shaolin played on the dual screens that bookend either side of the dimly lit stage, Sic Alps was the first band to step out of the darkness. Their set wasn’t perfect, as co-founding lead guitarist Mike Donovan’s vocals weren’t particularly strong considering how high in the mix they were placed, and lady luck snapped the strap on his acoustic, forcing him to uncomfortably coddle his guitar for “Love Is Strange” (one of the oldest and goldest songs in their set). Commendably, they built up the energy and intensity as they moved along, incorporating more noise by the last few tracks and bringing the mosh pit up to a simmer with their apt cover of “The Seeker” by The Who. After his set, Donovan was surprised with a couple of candles in a cupcake, and the crowd, learning that they were celebrating his 41st birthday, joined in singing “Happy Birthday” to him.
Thee Oh Sees turned up the heat immediately upon gracing the stage. Beer cans started to fly by their first note, and the mosh pit spanned from one speaker stack to the other, a bustling activity that would retain its vigor for the set’s duration. With a smiling Mike Shoun on a minimal six-piece drum kit, perpetual head-bobbing machine Petey Dammit on guitar, and the underrated Brigid Dawson solidifying the group’s vocals while adding tambourine and Nord Electro keyboard, founding guitarist John Dwyer led his crew through a barrage of brisk, reverb- and delay-laden fuzz jams that were seemingly on the brink of unruliness yet fluidly disciplined. His vocals awash in effects, Dwyer moved from falsetto to absurd growl to carnival barker, ever supported and occasionally carried by Dawson, as he alternately gripped a clear acrylic Electrical Guitar Company DS and a green-and-black Burns Double Six 12-string guitar high on his chest, his dark, cut-off shorts adding a hint of Angus Young to his swagger.
The unforgiving concrete space reverberated the energy of the room as much as it reverberated their art-punk noise, largely benefiting both. By the end of their set, the B.O. of the Rickshaw crowd had reached a stench of Romney tax return proportions. Everyone in the place was either wiping sweat from their brow or reveling in their own filth. It’s freeing to see bands that can take you to that place of transcendence, where individual comfort becomes secondary to the experience of a happening.