Guts Club
The Rock Shop; Brooklyn, NY

[02-10-2015]

Coming from Long Island, I arrived at The Rock Shop just toward the end of Laser Background’s set, which was amusingly falsetto with an earnest twitch of reality. And as he destaged and Guts Club ascended, I ordered water, a beer, and a shot at the bar, intermittently smoking away anxiety outside, waiting for the show to start. Coming back in, the lights in the back of this (legit) venue illuminate a well-stocked audience ready to hear the bravery of The Arm Wrestling Tournament.

Behind Guts Club, as she began in (mostly, I think) order of her newest album, was a projection of an actual arm-wrestling tournament, set with tables, referees, two [people] fist-locked, and pads everywhere. Atop this image are flickering drawn hearts and other smaller boxes depicting professional wrestling and muscle competitions. Occasionally, the screen also would flash “FINISH HIM” or “FLAWLESS VICTORY.” All this, paired with her lightly strummed acoustic guitar and crackling voice; the juxtaposition levels were insane. However, this dichotomy was turned into something pleasant, as Guts Club was noticeably nervous as she cracked jokes, which made people applaud and “woo” after each song. The irony of this is people making a big deal about dreary topics, to which Guts Club would giggle at their audible admiration, then transition songs with, “This one is about Marine Biology,” or “That involved aliens.” Then, just before renaming her set the “Acoustic Cafe,” she tossed out a tooth-whitening kit, encouraging the winner to use it immediately.

I began to admire her packaged aesthetics. I don’t mean packaged in a consumerist way, but in the coalescence of lightly stroked guitar, vocals of uneasy confidence, and the humor of school-lined notebook cartoons. Her writing is akin to Xiu Xiu (in terms of heavy personalized metaphor) sung with the same dry poise of Jana Hunter, backed by the sort of humor Gnar Tapes hits on the sly.

As The Arm Wrestling Tournament release show was coming to a close, a lot of the emotions Guts Club was building up to bubbled-up inside me, and as the video behind her was coming to the final contenders, there were stagnant ties that kept going. But this is arm wrestling, so I’m standing there with this emotion of “BEAT HIM BEAT HIM!” as she sang “I wish my dad could beat everyone’s ass every year” from the track “Down in Daytona,” and my mind was just going through TONS of emotions, joyously. Typically, I’m not one to focus on lyrics unless something is repeated and twerked with digitally via sampling, OR if they sound like inside jokes and I can interpret them how I like; the latter is the case with Guts Club. Thus, this climax sent me into a head-space that was equal parts nostalgic, sad, and fearless, walking out as she said “Goodbye,” leaving a smile on my face.

• Guts Club: http://www.iamgutsclub.com

Saint Ghetto Festival: Dean Blunt, Triptykon, Ben Frost, Sudden Infant
Dampfzentrale; Bern, Switzerland

[November 20-2 2014]

In case you aren’t familiar with the Saint Ghetto festival, it’s in Bern. In case you aren’t familiar with Bern, it’s the capital of Switzerland. Privy to this revelatory information, you might not be surprised to hear that the festival in question, despite its modest size, boasts the most diverse and diverting bill you’re likely to find in any part of the French-, German-, or Italian-speaking world that’s neither France, Germany, nor Italy.

Beginning with Laetitia Sadier and Atom™ on Thursday, which I missed because I had to complete an application form to purchase some socks, it moved on to accommodate Sudden Infant, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, and Ben Frost on Friday. First on was Sudden Infant, a three-piece headquartered in Berlin that might conceivably be a distant relative of Zu, Xiu Xiu, and Throbbing Gristle. I’d never listened to them before, but given their acerbic rush of devious stop-start rhythms, pummeling bass riffs, and Joke Lanz’s bilious yet faintly comedic vocal trickery, they made me wish I got out a little more.

Their successors, Wildbirds & Peacedrums, filled their hour-long set with material taken chiefly from their new album, Rhythm. And while their minimal drums-and-voice setup can arguably be a little sparse and repetitive from time to time (at least for me), they found a healthy number of converts in the audience, who took their kinetic syncopation and Mariam Wallentin’s expressive-yet-acrobatic larynx as the perfect opportunity to flaunt their own brand of drunken acrobatics.

And fair play to the intoxicated dancers who outnumbered me, because even with Ben Frost’s savage run through A U R O R A, they managed to lurch and sway themselves from one side to another like lovesick teens. Frost, for his part, extended and intensified the über-dance sounds of his latest to “A Single Point of Blinding Light,” transforming them into torrents of unstoppable processed noise and inhuman wails of guitar. Introducing himself and his six strings with his own take on metal machine music, he then crept into an elongated version of “No Sorrowing,” teasing and stretching out every second of its bottomless imminence, which quivered, undulated, and expanded as it swallowed the crowd in its promise of who-knows-what. Similar treatments and magnifications were in store for “Sola Fide,” “Venter,” and “Nolan,” all of which unraveled and fissioned as part of a seamless, uninterrupted whole, brutalizing and mesmerizing. In the midst of this tumult, Frost stood behind his equipment in sparse, inconspicuous clothing, his bare feet and simple manner emphasizing the primordial nature of his music. And when he ended with the numinous “The Teeth Behind the Kisses,” he simply took a bow and departed, leaving us all slightly dazed, but cleansed.

Fortunately, Saturday was on hand to dirty us all over again, since the closing night of the festival heralded the aggression of Zurich’s Triptykon and the encrypted identity politics of Dean Blunt. Maybe it was just me, but I found something deliciously poetic about Dean Blunt playing immediately after a black metal band, not only because the indoor venue was swamped with long-haired, black-shirted white dudes who were going to have no interest in Blunt’s music whatsoever, but because it heightened the irony and defiance contained in the title of his new album.

With this (inadvertent?) juxtaposition in place, it was almost as if Blunt’s set had been plotted as a deliberately nonconformist answer to Triptykon’s, a refusal to play a white genre of music on an evening that — by all superficial tokens (e.g., genre tags, in the case of Triptykon, and album names, in the case of Blunt) — had been billed precisely as an evening dedicated to a white genre of music. However, to be fair to Tom Gabriel Warrior/Fischer (he of Celtic Frost fame), his band’s performance was everything their doting legions wanted, so it would be a gross misrepresentation to say that the night was about Blunt and what in all likelihood was a mere coincidence.

But sadly, I knew and know nothing about Triptykon (shameful, I know), so rather than make any ill-informed appraisals, I’m just going to skip ahead of their prog-cum-doom-cum-black metal and land right at Blunt’s feet. His set began in darkness and the sound of heavy rainfall. At the back of the stage, in its pit of shadow, a cellist and then a saxophonist could be seen with their instruments. They pulled skewed drones out of them, creating the lilting soundscape into which Blunt unceremoniously entered, in the midst of the smoke machine’s excesses. For almost 10 minutes, he walked from the rear of the stage to the front, resting before his mic only to hesitate and retreat once again into darkness. Eventually the hired hands retired to the backstage area, replaced by the Londoner’s personal “bodyguard,” who according to his recent interview with The Wire was there to ensure Blunt wasn’t the only black person in the room (although he wouldn’t have been, in this case).

After a further round of hesitations — possibly deliberations over whether we were even worth the effort — the patter of rain faded, seguing into the brooding drama of “The Pedigree.” From here, we were treated to a The Redeemer-Stone Island greatest hits compilation — “II,” “III,” “The Walls of Jericho,” “VI,” and “Demon.” And even if it’s no longer 2013 — the year in which those albums were released — the zeal surrounding the subject matter of these tracks hasn’t dimmed for Blunt. He made a point of intoning the “me” in “All she sees is me” in “II” and “So don’t you wanna be with me?” in “III” with particular venom and indignation, and as the hour progressed, his initial taciturnity morphed into a steely audacity, one that saw him intermittently resting one foot on his monitor and leaning into an audience he seemed to be judging from afar.

Less combative, however, was Joanne Robertson, whose tender singing provided a graceful and stoic counterpoint to Blunt’s slick militancy. She also was the one who whipped out the Telecaster for the folkier Black Metal numbers, forming the second of what could be regarded as the set’s three stages. “50 CENT,” “BLOW,” “100,” and “MOLLY & AQUAFINA” all benefited from a subtly explorative approach to their melodic leads, with the Fender’s drippy echo opening up a space that was more fluid in contrast to the preset recordings that’d served as the musical backdrop until then. More than that, it deepened the sense of “lost” and drifting that threads through much of Black Metal, sinking Blunt further into his exiled funk and sinking the audience further into a placid reverie.

But just as we were settling into our comfort zones, the voided blare of “X” began and the performance transitioned into its final phase. If nothing else, this segment will be remembered by the locals for the surge of wild oscillating noise that followed “X” and, more indelibly, for the strobe lights that accelerated and brightened to an unbearable pitch as this surge congealed into the obscurity of “GRADE.” Seriously, the flashing was so extreme that almost the entire crowd was compelled by their own instincts of self-preservation to spend the remainder of Blunt’s visit with their eyes closed and their heads bowed in solemn prayer, except for a few notable exceptions who took the opportunity to pretend they were at their favorite nightclub.

Maybe because the lamps producing this violent luminescence were situated at the very front of the stage, or maybe because he’d already been inured to strobing by that point in his tour, Blunt continued with his passage through “PUNK,” “HUSH,” and “MERSH,” taking advantage of our de facto blindness to observe us without being observed in return. And regardless of whether this stunt was intended as a piece of conceptual art, as a commentary (on the invisibility of subjugated and persecuted minorities?), or just as a way of giving us oglers a figurative taste of the scrutiny that often follows him around, Blunt appeared satisfied as the uppity post-dub of “MERSH” shut off. He raised his fist into the air, held it there for a second, and then withdrew backstage. He didn’t come out for an encore.

[Photos: Baron von Kissalot and Mona]

This Will Destroy You
Lincoln Hall; Chicago, IL

[10-25-2014]

This Will Destroy You are aural absolutists; “5” doesn’t exist on their sonic or emotional spectrum. They leave idling in the mids or crawling up a crescendo to their contemporaries. In a discography spanning nearly a decade, TWDY only spend time in the meadow or the maelstrom. There’s nowhere else they’d rather be live, either.

I waited seven years since first hearing Young Mountain as a freshman DJ in college to find out how this band would translate the storms they pinned down in a studio into a show. Playing at Lincoln Hall, my favorite Chicago venue, was already auspicious; the room’s acoustics are on point and its sound system is an avalanche on the audience. With the release of Another Language and the newly self-applied tag of “Doomgaze,” TWDY left the twinkle and uplift the hand-holders of the post-rock fandom are so keen on for more umbrous territory. Their new material is crushing, and they don’t let their audience up from the onslaught.

The band also notably fine-tuned their approach to structure. One of my favorite tracks on the new record, “Invitation,” spends six minutes expanding and contracting around a central drum tattoo as guitars burst and wither. I remember TWDY rarely pausing in their hour-and-a-half set, spanning four albums’ worth of material in a comprehensive set. This Will Destroy You is still a young gun in comparison to some of their peers, but I can’t think of any other band living up to their name so well.

P.S. Donovan Jones (bass) and Chris King (guitar) were super-duper nice dudes and kindly obliged me for an impromptu interview:

How long have you guys been on the road for?

Donovan Jones: This is our… fourth show?

Chris King: Yeah, fourth show.

Did you start the tour from Texas?

DJ: Yeah, we just finished a European tour before that, and we had a two-week break. It feels like the tour kind of just extended over.

Actually you’re one of the only bands I know of who has a live album recorded in Europe, in Reykjavik. What made you guys decide on Iceland?

CK: It was completely random. We played in this amazing place that was called Harpa Music Hall, and we found out afterward the sound guy multi-track-recorded the show. We heard snippets of it, and it sounded, like, pristine. It almost sounded like a studio record because people were so quiet during the show, and the acoustics in there. It sounded so good we were just like “Shit, let’s put out a live record.”

Did you find a European audience was more receptive to… I’m loathe to use the term, but post rock?

DJ: Yeah, definitely. They’re just more used to instrumental music historically, whereas Americans can have kind of a low attention span where they’re waiting like a minute-and-a-half for a chorus. If it doesn’t come, they tend to just move onto the next station or the next track.

Did any of your experiences in the last tour cycle contribute to what you brought into recording for Another Language?

CK: Yeah. I feel like the transition from Tunnel Blanket to the newer record was definitely a collective consciousness of us being on the road for so long. Just learning things about life in general, figuring it out…

DJ: Yeah.

CK: …And translating it.

DJ: Yeah I mean things were really dark for awhile. Some of the tours were pretty fucking dark. You know, moments pass and you get some sort of… perspective [on] it. I think that helped with writing the new album.

There’s a lot of dynamics in the album, from tranquil moments to enormous bursts. Did that reflect with what you guys were experiencing on the tour, in life in general?

DJ: Sure, yeah sure in some way. I don’t think it was that preconceived or pre-meditated.

CK:I think it was more of a subconscious thing. I feel like we’ve always written that way, where it’s kind of more of a feeling than a restraint or trying to fit into something. [Writing] is just feeling it out.

What’s your guys’ process in constructing a song?

CK: It really varies.

DJ: It does vary. We can start with a loop, or we can… With this album, we did a lot of writing together as a band, which was something we didn’t really do that much with Tunnel Blanket. Tunnel Blanket was tracked, each instrument, not in a live setting, at least when we were writing it. When we went into the studio with [John] Congleton [producer], it was all of us together.

Did you notice a marked in writing Another Language, being closer together, more cohesive as a unit?

DJ: I think in some ways, definitely. We had to figure out how to pull things off in real time as we were recording them.

CK: I think for some of us, it was growing musically too; having more melodic elements, figuring out formulas, things that work and don’t work. It was a process, but we feel good about it.

Yeah the album’s fantastic, thank you guys for ducking into this alley with me to talk while Santana’s blaring from that restaurant across the street.

DJ and CK: [Laugh] Thank you.

The Black Keys
Moda Center; Portland, OR

[10-31-2014]

On Halloween, The Black Keys stopped by Portland during their fall tour to play for us, and what could possibly be better than seeing The Black Keys on Halloween?! Well, for one, The Black Keys performing IN COSTUMES on Halloween! But unfortunately that didn’t happen. What did happen, however, was pretty great, anyway. They played the Moda Center, home to the Portland Trailblazers, 20,000 seats, and a really big stage. So it was nice to see that the duo added two members for the tour to round out their sound and fill up more of that expansive stage. While it’s not impossible to put on a great stage show with just two people, it’s a lot harder when one of those two is an immobile drummer and harder yet when the stage is humongous. The lighting was simple, no complex show competing for attention. Just four dudes, bringing the rock.

This Halloween, there was only one trick to go with the treat of The Black Keys; early in the show, a false curtain behind the band dropped to reveal a huge wall of lights. Not the greatest trick and not nearly as cool as it would have been to see Dan and Patrick in costumes, but when a band can put on a great show without relying on tricks, well, you can’t really complain.

Zona Tapes presents: FREEFORM
Radio Bushwick; Brooklyn, NY

[09-11-2014]

So it was September 11, 2014 and the traffic going into Brooklyn from Long Island never changes: rubbernecking is by nature or something we collect socially? But goodness, we all get to where we need to go (most days), as did I upon arriving at Radio Bushwick, and just looking at the place, I’m thinking, My boii Andre (Zona Tapes CEO and coordinator of FREEFORM) moving on UP. This place is a legit-ass venue and bar, where the tender talks about paling ‘round with Rraro, and I’m just like, “Budweiser!”

Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut was first up on a player-piano with a fellah on drums. The build-up of this set — up and down, left and right — was enormous. Shurdut scaled just about every note, flinging fingers across the bones of percussion the piano contained. The drummer (borrowed-borrowed set) played everything: all cymbals with other cymbals, feet on drums, sticks inside spilled water glasses, etc. As the set constantly sifted between climaxes and declines, the duo was one with music and unmatched cooperation of sound; picture the percussionist hunched over just about every drum, muting them with a thousand silent beats, and Jeffrey Hayden Shurdut slapping the side-wood of the piano while scraping the key cover across the top; everything. All in all it amounted to about 45 minutes of sheer improvisational bliss.

Then came a furry of spontaneous jazz via Rob Magill. The back of Radio Bushwick’s stage was blue-lit, as was the room, with swells of breath and clicks from Magill’s beard against a tenor sax. Button-upped and tucked-in, he flared out a plethora of notes, by way of core-brainstem urges, into a single mic in front of band-less musical equipment, being filmed for a documentary by Alix Spence. And it was nearly a performance piece, unintentionally so: the constant sax playing and visual destination of the curiosity. Is there ever a moment you just know? Should he play more? Of course.

Next act was Kallie Lampel, whom I’d never heard before, but gave it a whirl because anything following a saxophone that entails a fellah sitting on the floor with two or three electronics means something drastically different, and was exactly why the night worked out so well in favor of Zona Tapes Presents FREEFORM aesthetics. Employing a sampler and some various (personally unfamiliar) effect [arrangements], the New York-based Lampel went boundlessly between timbres of life-like/-recorded sounds and melted, effects-driven squelches. Between unlocks and old samples, the set was more hip-hop-based than I initially expected, but warped into what DJ DJ Tanner does with crackle vinyl samples.

Dali Vision was up next, stocked up with his table-of-shit (as Samuel Diamond once eloquently put it to me), and unfortunately, the sound was sort of off for the first five minutes, or so. Eventually, the bass evened out with the treble and a vision of adventure emerged, as Dali traversed through scape after scape of sound and collage, on a journey of paradise and existence. With the action of Nick James and the voyeurism of AceMo, Dali Vision overcame the initial hiccup of Radio Bushwick’s set-up, and became the night’s bard, telling of a land not far from the future.

As Dali Vision’s set faded, Rob Magill Trio, including Sam Blum on drums and Shaine Scarminach on guitar. Instantly, they ripped apart the Bushwick neighborhood (audibly) until midnight. With blight matched only by the JFK runway, Rob Magill Trio, lead by Magill raising and lowering his arm, began an set of symbiotic mind cooperation. It was as if improvisation was merely fitting in puzzle pieces, when those last remaining bits began to slid in so easily, yet the images don’t match, is exactly how the three fell into a parallel. At the strike of 12, the well-oiled night, organized by Zona Tapes, came to an end as Zona’s founder DJ’d, playing out as I was leaving — and into the car, highway, and home I went, seeing a beam raised, still, in the rearview mirror.

Zu / Guardian Alien
Cave12; Geneva, Switzerland

[06-27-2014]

Other than having incredible drummers, you might think there’s not much uniting Zu and Guardian Alien. One plays aggravated, hyper-surgical jazz-math rock, while the other creates fluid psychedelic universes that discard all structure. Yet even if Zu can be defined as the brutal yang to Guardian Alien’s more tranquil yin, witnessing the two groups at Geneva’s Cave12 on a humid Friday night revealed they have more in common than initially meets the ear. Namely, they know their shit when it comes to amalgamating chaos and control.

This sounds unlikely at first. Unlikely, because from the beginning Zu’s onslaughts were tightly wound and rigidly partitioned into dogmatic architectures, laid down by a tyrannical rhythm section that includes new drummer Gabe Serbian (also of The Locust, Cattle Decapitation, Holy Molar, and the recently reunited ‘supergroup’ Head Wound City).

The Italian trio’s execution (probably as good a word as any) was vastly more precise and meticulous than is proper to expect from a band dealing in such ridiculously loud volumes, with the imposing Goodnight, Civilization’s new material leaving the crowd without any room for maneuver. But even with this almost totalitarian level of accuracy and domination, it became apparent over the course of the 40-minute set their systematic aggression has one aim: the liberation of an unbound emotional response, which in my case involved going fucking mental during rampant versions of “Carbon,” “Chthonian,” and set-closer “Ostia.” This is why, throughout the relentless assaults, Luco Mai’s baritone sax flurried wildly over the mechanistic rhythms deposited by Serbian and Pupillo, in the end providing visceral evidence that wherever extreme rationalization takes hold extreme irrationality is nearby.

And it was with much the same paradoxical balance between awe-inspiring discipline and anarchic liquidity Guardian Alien took to the intimate Cave12 stage. Appearing as a three-piece of Greg Fox, Alex Drewchin, and Alex’s brother, Silas, the New Yorkers streamed through a playlist that reconciled expansive, freeform electronics with intense percussive athleticism and reworked sections of “Spiritual Emergency” and “See the World Given to A One Love Entity” into blends of metaphysical static undercut by torrential drumming.

Edges were blurred to the point of nonexistence as the crew’s gadgetry buzzed and oscillated restlessly from one plastic state into another, Fox’s long-suffering skins an aural blur of ceaseless change. As the night’s soupy rendition of “One Love Entity” burst into an all-consuming finale, and as Drewchin repeated the echoing chant of “All things one thing” with an increasing mania, the haziness of the band’s music — the lack of clear boundaries between one gurgling noise-cluster and the next or one amped paradiddle and the next — revealed itself as the perfect complement to their universalizing philosophy, denying the separateness of every musical note just as the band themselves deny the separateness of everything those notes could be said to represent.

I wasn’t the only one in awe of Fox’s drumwork, so forceful and loose, and how the threesome improvise the multifarious sounds of the universe’s necessary oneness, since the receptive Geneva crowd managed to coax the trio into performing an unplanned encore. Despite being an afterthought, this encore became a high point; not only were we treated to an unheard work that exploited a reverb’d, staccato guitar pulse to engender an eerie and unsettled atmosphere, but Fox also confirmed his subscription to his own worldview by carrying his snare into the crowd, where he and the two Drewchins became one with us all. Well, at least until we all left and went home.

[Photo: Baron von Kissalot]

The Mountain Goats
Wonder Ballroom; Portland, OR

[06-11-2014]

In the past, I’ve used this live blog to air personal grievances. Whether or not it was proper, it was nonetheless publishable. So with apologies to Merge (who got me into the show for free) and Loamlands (who seem like lovely people and who play lovely music) and The Mountain Goats (who, no offense, put on a really tepid and somewhat patronizing show last night) and the many people who were clearly enjoying themselves (I don’t begrudge you), I would like to hone my focus entirely on the strange couple who stood in front of me:

Hi, couple. It wasn’t that you pushed through the already-existing, awkwardly partitioned, and funny-smelling crowd to stand directly in front of me. I’ve dealt with that at virtually every show I’ve attended since I started going to shows. It is — and was — a minor annoyance. But your positioning didn’t help. Between my eyes and the stage, you — the two of you — took up most of my field of vision, so I had to watch you, together, foremost. Every song was interpreted through — and worse — by you. “High Hawk Season” and “Black Molly” were alright — a few small pecks, some gentle PDA. “Old College Try” was a little more risqué (mostly light groping), but manageable. But what the fuck happened during the rest of the set?

It began with heavy groping and swaying to the beat of “Twin Human Highway Flares.” It morphed into making out, in starts and stops, to the pace of “San Bernardino.” It continued through “Linda Blaire Was Born Innocent,” and coalesced during “Tallahassee,” in a bizarre blur of ugly and spit and hands. All of this, during the same “Tallahassee” that sings prayers to summon the destroying angel. Listen, I’m no prude. I understand love and its physicality. But love and exhibitionism are not the same thing; the latter is a display of insecurity, and, yeah, it’s unfair to force others to watch. In the future, and in the spirit of infamous mistakes, would you please relegate your interpretive dance to the venue’s dark corners? The rest of us really would appreciate it.

Otherwise, like I implied above, the show was alright, I guess.

Man Or Astro-Man?
Le Romandie; Lausanne, Switzerland

[06-07-2014]

I know we’re all a little jaded when it comes to reformed bands of yesteryear, and I realize it’s old hat to marvel at the necromantic power of the internet and its globalized fan bases to resuscitate underappreciated groups of past decades , but still, I’m a little nonplussed that the new Man or Astro-Man? LP didn’t receive more attention when it was released last summer.

Not only was Defcon 5…4…3…2…1 overlooked by the humble site you’re reading now (though we covered their set at Psych Fest 2013), but it was also denied the review treatment by “the essential guide to independent music,” which more or less entails that it doesn’t really exist. And this is a shame, because their first album since reuniting in 2010 is no mere nostalgic regression to the already “hyper-nostalgic” sounds of Is It … Man Or Astro-Man? and Experiment Zero. To give it my capsule review, it’s freaking ace, so it’s a good thing Tiny Mix Tapes got the chance to make amends, sending me all the way to a country none of us had ever heard of before, where I watched the quartet detonate their spaceage circus before a captive and impeccably sober audience.

Touching down to the anticipatory techno of “Defcon 4,” the Astromen said hello by immediately flinging themselves “Inside the Atom” with characteristic neglect for earthly standards of restraint. Coco the Electronic Monkey Wizard may not have beamed down with them, but the Alambamian’s didn’t want for energy or exuberance, twitching and rushing around the small Swiss stage to the point where taking a non-smeared photograph was an impossibility. With their famed banter kept to an efficient minimum, they sped from one turbo-charged, uranium-soaked bombardment to the next, their selection balanced perfectly between older and newer cuts, ranging all the way from a scalding “Invasion of the Dragonmen” to a punishingly moody “Antimatter Man.” That said, their patented crowd interaction made the occasional appearance, since after a particularly rowdy version of “Sferic Waves” Birdstuff jumped into the crowd with a mic, handed it to some bearded and dreadlocked cheesemonger, and coaxed the guy into producing an indescribably profound hum for several seconds.

Then he announced that the band were to going to play “Aunt’s Invasion” by Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet, at which point I mouthed a silent thank-you prayer to the Almighty, Steve Jobs. Without wanting to detract from the evil genius of Man Or Astro-Man?, Shadowy Men On A Shadowy Planet are so great even Rod Stewart himself could come out, play one of the Canadian trio’s numbers, and then get back to his personal mission of euthanizing music, and it would still be one of the greatest gigs ever. And if their alive and affectionate rendition wasn’t enough, MOAM? topped it off with “Man Made of CO2,” which sounded no less crazy than its recorded template and yet all the more snappy and virile.

Things only became more energetic from there, with “Defcon 5” from the newie and “Maximum Radiation Level” from Experiment Zero being two simultaneously gleeful and intense highlights. Even 20 years after their debut, Man Or Astro-Man? exist in a dimension unto themselves, apart from any single rock scene or domain that might potentially dilute the novelty and impact of their sci-fi surf rock by reproducing it ad nauseaum. Of course, it could be argued their anachronistic “goofiness” has prevented them from ever representing modern life as it unfolds for millions of people, in all its pettiness and gritty detail, but it also could be replied that it’s precisely their seeming detachment from reality that makes the whole MOAM? aesthetic so pure and potent.

Either way, Star Crunch, Birdstuff, Avona Nova, and Victor Vector never let up from start to finish, with the noisy Vaudois crowd lapping up every second of their kinetic freakshow. After Birdcrunch praised a short, dancing guy in front of me for having a well-shaped head (seriously), they rounded off their set (and the European leg of their tour) with the Venusian one-two of “Destination Venus” and “Transmissions from Venus” before a final salvo of “Special Agent Conrad Uno” saw Nova dive into the pit with her guitar, much to delight of fools with cameras and the arm-waving chap she’d accused of flashing her halfway through the performance. And like the gentle astro(wo)men they are, the four-piece capped this overspilling closer by trashing their equipment, leaving us all with stupid grins on our faces as we were transported safely back to Earth.

[Photo: Baron von Kissalot]

Setlist:

00: Defcon 4
01. Inside The Atom
02. Evil Plans of Planet Spectra
03. Anitmatter Man
04. Put Your Finger in the Socket
05. Planet Collison
06. 9 Volt
07. Sferic Waves
08. Aunt’s Invasion (Shadowy Men on a Shadowy Planet cover)
09. Man Made of CO2
10. Invasion of the Dragonmen
11. Defcon 5
12. Maximum Radiation Level
13. Escape Velocity
14. Name of Numbers
15. Televsion Fission
16. Destination Venus
17. Transmissions from Venus
18. Special Agent Conrad Uno

Sun Araw
Georgia's apartment; Chinatown, NY

[05-14-2014]

I’m sitting at work, and usually when a number I don’t have saved calls me (which, I don’t have ANY numbers saved right now ‘cause I’m fucking with an old phone), I answer with my headphones plugged in, no mic, and just let the caller talk. I hear background chatter, a hang-up, and then a text: “YO man — private Sun Araw show in Manhattan in a few minutes man, totally forgot to invite you earlier. I’m so sorry!!! It will start around 6.” It was 4:30, and I’m out on Long Island. I find a train at Mineola (around the corner) that leaves at 4:53, I duck outta work telling ‘em I forgot about a dental appointment, blast it to the bank, blast it to the train, train is late by 14 minutes, buy two Four Lokos and two Black & Mild wine’s, train comes, I drink an entire can of Four Loko as I’m standing up, and arrive in the city around 5:20.

Around this time in NYC, especially the devil’s asshole that is Penn Station, people are EVERYWHERE. So I did some pushing, which was shitty, so I’m sorry if I pushed you yesterday and you’re reading this Live Blog. Ran around outside looking for the yellow line, couldn’t find it, the line to grab a cab was stretching back INTO Penn, and I see a dude on one of them bike gondolas. I grip a ride from him, his legs are individually both larger than my torso and he tells me something about Obama being in town, and I drink the second Four Loko, am probably smashed, and my buddy calls me and says, “We’ll wait 10 more minutes. It’s on the fifth floor. Ask for Georgia.” I get off the bike around Chinatown, see Fatima Al Qadiri doing yet ANOTHER interview, and the biker charges me $100 for the ride. -_-

SMASHED on booze and JACKED adrenaline, I run up to the door, buzz it and say, “Georgia, it’s Clifford, and I’m here for the show!” Georgia is a dude, which is chill, and hugs me SUPER tite. Alex Gray and Cameron Stallones already have played “Like Wine” and are in the middle of “Right Out of Town.” There’s hardly anyone here, maybe 20 people MAYBE.

I take a spot on the floor inches away from the aura Sun Araw is pulsating. Then they get into this original jam, unrecorded, and zones become deeper than dirt. It feels like Chinatown is going to stop all at once outside and look in. To the left, Stallones is occasionally shredding the most minimal licks while keying some slippery synth sounds. On the right, Gray is fucking around on a sampler and completely going to town on them buttons — maybe it’s a drum machine – flinging out tin bongo sounds, while he also moves his finger on a laptop mouse pad as if it is a Kaossilator, and it sounds like liquid metal, or as if all the programs and software on his computer are melting together. Once they finish flaying music into next-level dimensions, I foolishly forget they are about to do a collaborative tour with Laraaji and are all in New York ‘cause they are leaving that next day for Europe, and thus the legend joins them on stage.

The three played together for about 20 minutes. Honestly, I couldn’t tell who was doing what. The only time I noticed a single person’s sound was when they were either playing a solo-ish part or when Laraaji used the electronics to his left, or chose a different way to play his zither (options: fingernails, a bow, brushes, sticks). And Laraaji was decked OUT in orange, including a fanny-pack and fisherman’s hat, which blended well under the red lights above the stage and philodendron sprouting out from corners. I didn’t even notice it getting darker, but considering it was an early show, I didn’t give a shit. Oh, I also didn’t give a shit about most anything else ‘cause it was Sun Araw with Laraaji, live and intimate.

When they finished, Stallones and Gray came over and hugged everyone still in attendance. Georgia put out a bunch of wine, of which I probably had a bottle, ‘cause after I wished them a safe trip and I left, I gave a homeless lady $10 for walking directions to Penn and she hugged me really hard, and I don’t remember finding Penn or getting on the train. I just remember not being able to get into the other train car for the bathroom and now a train in Long Island smells like cheap wine. A passenger on the train asked if I wanted gum, but I couldn’t because of my braces, and Ken thinks she was picking me up. BOTTOM LINE: Sun Araw brings the adventure, always.

Red Bull Music Academy: Robert Henke's Lumière / The Haxan Cloak (US debut)
The Brooklyn Masonic Temple; Brooklyn, NY

[05-10-2014]

I arrive with minutes to spare after bumping between Fulton and Greene for 10 minutes, stupidly having misread Google Maps. My thinking was not focused on finding the temple; I was considering the structural meaning of sound, how it is ensnared by language and such — fitting. I arrive at the temple, emerging out of a mass of classic, distinctly upper-middle class Brooklyn homes. Surrounding the temple is a large line, winding around the building. But there is a second mass — press. That was for me. I merge in, state my name — in. The temple features open hardwood floors leading to a stack of speakers and a fenced-off stage covered by a screen for projection. Hanging in the periphery, eclipsed by piercing spotlights, was the balcony, which is nearly full. I wait.

The thing about this performance is that the ideation of space, real space — so not the ideation, its point, weight in space — will be under attack. I’m excited by the possibility of being bowled over by sound, physical warpings of resonant frequencies and the congealing of sounds heard and unheard collapsing spaces within a zone. I remember the first time I heard “Taku” from Monolake’s Ghosts, the sound of a metal, spherical object hitting, bouncing, multiplying, and then dividing back into a singularity, sliding from one ear to the next.

Rising before his oddly jovial audience, Robert Henke appears docile and chipper, with a sheepish demeanor that’s infectious (isn’t it strange how shy and happy the “headier” musicians appear to be?). But despite his sheepishness, Henke requests no mobile phones be used during the performance, to which the crowd responds with strangely resounding applause. With a nod, Henke darts off the stage, appearing moments later behind a wall of projectors.

Although the press essentially calls Henke’s performance an advancement of the Pink Floyd laser-light show trope, the idea of spectacle is all but lost on me, as a single slither of light dots the massive screen. Before long, the room is submerged in dangerously low tones paired with panning drones and blistering snaps. Tumultuous, chest-shattering kicks strike and tumble half a breath behind the anchoring beat, as the two-dimensional, line-and-point-oriented lights shift into a generative and measured body of pivots and throbs.

I’ve always felt a romantic dystopianism in the sounds of dubstep, and Henke’s performance proves this to be more true than I initially thought. The fidelity-draining, form-twisting aspects of dub, applied to a firm beat pattern, is spectacular in its pinning-down of sonic qualities. Despite much of the “light show,” which was phenomenal in itself, the sound design is what strikes me the most: even as fog is expelled, bridging the lights toward an evolved three-dimensional prismatic shape, I am entranced by the uncanny valley-breaking sound objects employed by Henke.

Quickly after, The Haxan Cloak (real name Bobby Krlic) takes the stage for an intensely physical set. Through gauzes of white noise spiking suddenly into broad strokes of blatantly acoustic deconstructive scapes, my earplugs become a handy friend.

  

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