by Daniel DiMaggio

Vibracathedral Orchestra/Sunroof!/Sapat/the SB/DJs Tony Rettman and Brian Turner – Free 103.9 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Saturday, September 13.
I got there kind of late and then stood outside for the rest of the SB’s set, though it sounded fine from down the stairs. Echoey drones with some knocking around sounded like, I dunno. Pretty good. Who knows. I was too busy getting off on the considerable celeb presence of the event. As soon as I get there there’s Blastitude’s own Tony Rettman talking to Pete Nolan of Shackamaxon and the Magic Markers, and then a guy from Sunburned Hand of The Man comes up and then people from that band the Believers that I think I read about. It was insane. And they were all complaining about the Wire “New Weird America” article. Haha, whatever suckas. In good time I peaced upstairs to see the second band of the night. They were called Sapat, a very large (10 or so) ensemble featuring the aforementioned Pete Nolan on skins. Certainly a free jazzier unit than any that followed, or actually somewhat reminiscent of the jazz derivations of certain recent No-Neck side bands, Izititiz and stuff like that. Most novel was how when the horns and strings head mass would pick up, Nolan and the other drummer guy would slide in there with some untutored rocky drumming styles that sometimes set up rhythm frameworks and always insured that you would not get this outfit mixed up with other free-jizz groups. (Sorry, but I always try to get some jokes in somewhere. I came up with the idea of calling something “the Shape Of Jizz To Cum” years ago, and then I read that Chuck Eddy book and he used it already. Hey! How do you like that. Not to mention how Byron Coley always talks about “jizz-trails” and everything, which I frankly find distasteful.) So yeah, Sapat. The aforementioned increase in jazz stylings could’ve been largely because of the great trumpeter Roy Campell playing with them (he’s not part of the band, I found out later he just showed up and sat in). But then again, the older saxist had knee-high sox and khaki shorts, as well as male-pattern baldness, all of which bespoke a degree of jazz professionalism. And the younger one had a sorta faggy New England jazz college look, pony tail and Hawaiian shirt. And there was this girl on the violin. So… it was pretty cool. Nice short set too.
      More waiting around (of course) and next up the first heavily anticipated act o’ the night, Sunroof, tonight just Matthew Bower on the guitar and effex. Eh. This was ok. I was expecting better cause of the awesomeness of the LP I’ve heard from him (Reborn Jets In Rainbow Water or something). That shit was great as it was very live sounding and organic atmospheric droning and tinkling bells and all that on one side and then on the other there are some more straight up guit-drones but nice and rough sounding with differing degrees of acoustic and electric materials. Tonight’s set though, Bower just manipulated his heavily distorted guitar, looping and such. Fast strumming got some good more familiar droning textures, but all in all a little too effex-pedal oriented for my tastes. Given Bower’s scrawniness of build and length of set, I began to harbor fantasies of somebody, not me necessarily, but somebody, fighting with him and throwing him off the stage. But afterwards I eavesdropped on a convo twixt Bower and the girl from the Double Leopards and all hostility melted away as I fell (secondhand) under his almost elfin British charm. Oh and I think they were smoking some drugs too.
      The headliners’ set was probably the best of the night. By now people probably know that Neil Campbell is not on tour with VCO, instead choosing to stay home with the baby. Booo. So the group sound was maybe a bit thinner than usual in a sense. Not as much heavy string drones, I think, if Neil plays the violin. Hell, I won’t pretend to know what he plays, so never mind. In any case, this edition of the group sounded to have a lot more percussion based stuff going on, in addition to strings and some tasty sax. The set chugged along nicely, with approximately two peaks, and a somewhat uncharacteristic psych-guitar duel at the end. Then at the very end they did this group participation clapping thing to close out the piece. Some joker who I think was in NNCK or something (well, he had a beard) had been trying to get something like this started the whole set long in fact, clapping to the beat when an especially rhythm-heavy segment would set in, as if to make good-natured fun of Vibracathedral’s occasionally somewhat rockist tendencies. I usually don’t do that clapping in time shit, but VCO, y’know, I cut em some slack.

VIBRACATHEDRAL ORCHESTRA: Apparently they actually look just like this in person.

Princeton University Composers' Colloquium. Well now Larry Dolman (the editor) has proposed that I do a New York version of the Chicago show report and write reviews of NYC area shows. Little does he know that I actually live in NJ and funds don’t permit getting out there that often. Scoring the monthly train ticket from the ‘rents on my mom’s off days from work “just ain’t working the way the manual paints it”, as Aesop Rock would say. So, money concerns are gonna dictate that I start covering events a little closer to home, if you know what I mean. And to start this doubtlessly uneventful trend off, we have one of the least exciting non-happenings around, the first Princeton University Composers' Colloquium of the year! Granted, it did feature Frederic Rzewski, who is kind of famous. And it did in fact exceed my expectations in the eventfulness department, as you’ll see as you read on…
     (Beeeep. Turn the page.)
     First, a little background: 1. Frederic Rzewski is best known, in my mind, for co-founding early electronics/improv group Musica Electronica Viva, whose elephantine noise freakouts have been getting some nifty reissue jobs lately (mostly from Get Back!, like everything else ever). He then went on to gain respect as a composer of 20th century avant-garde piano music. There was a big Wire article about him saying that all his peices are awesome, but it’s just like solo piano music, how cool can it be? Not very, right? 2. The Composers’ Colloquium is this thing at P-ton where respected composers come and lecture about their work to a small classroom of reverent music grad-students and faculty and me sometimes. Hors d’oeuvres often include cheese, crackers, grapes, and strawberries. No cheese at this one, and the strawberry I ate was mad overripe, though this was made up for by some pineapple chunks and garlic bagel chips of a sort. 3. Not to get too self-indulgent, but some personal context: Right before this happened I had to sit through a Russian literature seminar which, as to be expected was long as hell (three hours!) and boring. Thus I wasn’t too into the prospect of having to sit still for another couple of hours listening to people talk about shit and play piano. My expectations were further lowered by the fact that the only other one of these things that I’ve attended consisted of a decrepit and excruciatingly slow-spoken Robert Ashley expounding on his “television operas.” (Worst. Music. Ever.) But I went anyway and boy was I entertained.
      The presentation started with the first and only actual musical performance of the afternoon. Rzewski played this piece, the gist of which was him intoning “stop……..the war…..stop…..the……war” et al, in between lengthy atonal piano passages. Besides being stupid and gay, it wasn’t half bad, even featuring some piano top percussion that showed off FR’s skillful hitting techniques. This piece is apparently number 61 in a large suite of 64 “short” pieces called The Road. Yeah, good luck with that.
      As impressive as this was (i.e. marginally), the best was yet to come, and subsequently came, during the discussion component of the presentation. The room was opened up for questions, and you could tell right off the bat that there was gonna be trouble as a lady asked Rzewski a general question, something about “can you speak on the use of text in your work”, and he was all, “I can’t answer that, ask a specific question.” What an ass. So then the grad-students begin to rack their brains for appropriate questions. I could see it on their painstakingly goateed faces, as they grasped and reached for words that could maybe help them nudge one or two low level rungs up the disgusting careerist ladder that they are here to work, stupid fucking, nah ladies, I’m just playing, you know I love you. So anyway, more easily answerable questions were posed and given mostly tedious answers, except for one variation on the old “what’s your composing process,” to which Rzewski started out “first, I smoke a joint… anything… make sure the kids have already gone to school.” I don’t think anyone else found this funny, but I was laughing. And finally, at least final in that it was the last thing I paid attention to, there was the hilarity-filled (hilarious, they call it) intellectual sparring match between FR and Paul Lansky – Paul Lansky being an esteemed composer in the Princeton music department. They get into this convo about how Rzewski would feel about people misinterpreting the anti-war message of the piece, or what message he’s trying to convey in the first place. Some thought clashes were clearly taking place, and when Rzewski responded, Lansky says, re: his response, “Oh, that’s an evasive answer.” Oh shit! No he didn’t! Tension was at a high, but Lansky tactfully eased things up with some smiling, some good humor, whatever. There was more talking after this, but it was mad boring so I stopped paying attention. Oh yeah, and I should say that throughout the talk, the whole room grew more at ease and were able to laugh healthily together at the humor of the situation, music faculty, students, and all, even that guy I always see around who I hate cause he is weird and looks like Tim Curry. Even him. So in conclusion, I would say that you had to be there.

FREDERIC RZEWSKI: Look for the High Times cover story, coming soon!

Espers/GHQ/6 Organs Of Admittance/DJ Tony Rettman – Free 103.9 in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Tuesday, September 30.
Not as many famous people at this one. There were some. Doing top 5/10 lists eh? Well, how about the top 5 most annoying people that were there:
1. David Keenan
2. David Keenan
3. David Keenan
4. Heather Leigh Murray
5. and I was gonna have John Moloney as number five, but then I realized that he really didn’t do anything objectionable at this show, save a possibly lewd insinuation that I didn’t really understand during the 6 Organs set. I just sort of imagine not liking him because of some interview comments that I have seen in print. But he actually seems like a decent guy. Moloney, I am willing to bury the hatchet if you are too. Whaddya say?
      But yeah, that’s right, Keenan, the famous Wire writer, was in attendance. Now understand, I’m not one of your regular Wire-bashers. In fact I have a subscription and always enjoy the way the magazine’s egghead writing stylings are often tempered with wry British humor. A seldom noticed fact, but there’s some funny stuff in the Wire. Can’t think of any examples now, but I’ll get back to you. Keenan though, first off he was Scottish. Lame. He was short, running around, shaking hands, quite eager to please. Also, he was trying to sing along during the 6 Organs set, and then in between songs would whoop and holler in appreciation, to a quite unnecessary degree. To Ben Chasny, I would suggest that he play Keenan a selection off of Big Pun’s sophomore album Yeeeah Baby. You know, the one that goes “Get off my dick, my dick, my dick….” etc.
      Then again, might what I saw that night of Keenan’s persona be more palatable were I to think of him as resembling a leprechaun, or the Scottish equivalent? As you saw by way of my assessment of M. Bower in the first episode, I do like the idea of Europeans resembling fairy folk. The little people. Who can say? One treads a thin line when dealing with this sorta thing.
      About Ms. Leigh Murray: I had heard that the people from Charalambides were all quiet and weird and reticent. Such was not the case with HLM, who went around hugging people and shit, and shouting out the names of the bands when they finished playing like, “yeah GHQ!”. She was in fact perky, almost to the point of being annoying. Well, just kidding… about the almost part!
      The music though. Espers are Philladelphia singer/
songwriter Greg Weeks’ large group bid for acid/psych/folk respect. Actually, I know nothing of his motives, but that’s what they sound like to me. Really pretty good, working in the classicist mode of British Isles-inflected psych-folk. Weeks and some lady switched off and harmonized on the vocals, there was some acoustic guitar, some percussion, and special guests: another lady on cello and the aforementioned Heather Leigh on pedal steel (she was pretty good at that, no argument there). Perhaps the core group should have rehearsed more, as they were pretty loose. And also there were some sound system problems rendering Weeks’ vox almost inaudible at points, and some noticeable tuning issues. It may sound nitpicky, but if you’re going to play melodic folk-style music, you should probably make sure you are in perfect tune beforehand. But it was still good, my pick hit of the set being their version of a Michael Hurley song that I may or may not have recognized.
GHQ seem to be a newish combo, a “supergroup” of sorts made up of Marcia Bassett of the Double Leopards, Patrick Best of Pelt, and two of the folks from Tower Recordings. Their shit was pretty nice, if overlong. Like, they played 3 lengthy pieces, when I would think one or maybe two is sufficient for a set in an event like this. Their sounds were also folk-informed (I suppose describing something here as “folk” isn’t all that informative at this point), but without vocals, so down the song levels and up the drone. Meaning that there was a near constant tonal center around which Marcia and Tower Recordings 2 exercised scalar improvisations of an almost raga-like, or at least Basho-like, nature. If I wanted to complain, and I obviously do, I would say that such a thing isn’t really that hard to get going if you play guitar, just establish the drone and play major scale melodies on top in octaves and such. There I go, sounding like guitar-packing jazz camp 7th graders dissing punk rock, but it’s the honest truth. In any case, a more unusual propulsive rhythmic element was introduced by Tower Recordings 1 playing the tambourine or egg-shakers or something. I couldn’t see as my view of him was sort of blocked. There were mad heads in attendance… literally! And also it was rather novel the way that Pelt extracted sound by blowing on his guitar strings for pretty much the duration of the set.
      This evening, as apparently is the usual, Ben Chasny performed as 6 Organs Of Admittance sans any accompaniment, just voice and amplified acoustic guitar. I’d seen him do the same before, in the basement studio of WPRB, and that time I fell asleep in the recording room (he was good, but I was tired), so I can attest to the difference that the setting makes. It was a lot better in a bigger room where he could stomp his feet and where his amp sound was able to fill up space lovely. Chasny’s records are fairly great, and pretty much all the hype you hear about him is justified. This evening he chose an impressive program of songs drawn from different releases and segued together in various combos, and, most importantly, delivered with electrifying spirit conviction that had everyone silent and wanting encores. Songs heavy on the moaning vocal style and Eastern guitar flourishes – and no matter what your opinion is on any pretty much subjective shamanistic qualities that Chasny may possess, you’ve gotta agree that he’s at least technically fantastic at the guitar. Really makes it sing, as it were.
      Near the end of his performance, an interesting sonic and musical event took place, which I would like to speak on. Since his amp was turned up pretty high and thus overdriven, throughout the set there were little feedback flares which Chasny, like a true professional, didn’t fight against but instead attempted to integrate into his performance. Such a flare occurred either in the actual last song, or the last song before the encore, I don’t remember, but in any case there was feedback that stuck around this time, turning into a veritable drone. It just so happened that this feedback drone was a minor third above the root tonal center of the song, which, like all or most of Chasny’s songs, was in a minor key. Coincidentally, the unintentional introduction of the drone coincided with the end of said song, where Chasny decided to sing a cappella, stopping the guitar playing, while continuing the lyrics and melody and maintaining the same key. Now, at this point, Chasny was presented with a variety of options, and subsequently acted in a way that I believe represented his only less than admirable choice of the night. The feedback drone being a minor third above the root of the song therefore represented the relative major to the song’s minor, while the melody that Chasny was singing at the time more or less outlined the root minor triad of the song, and thus the drone note was the third of said triad. First, Chasny could have simply transposed the melody up a minor third, so that the feedback drone would have represented the root of the song after the key change. For example, if the song was initially in F sharp minor, this transposition would have brought it to A minor. Another option would be to take advantage of the minor third relationship between the two notes, the original root and the newly introduced drone, by changing the melody so that its connection to the relative major was emphasized, and it’s tonal center possibly effectively relocated to the relative major. For example, if the song was initially in F sharp minor, this change would bring it to A major. What Chasny ultimately did, however, did not necessarily evidence as much consideration as either of the two aforementioned choices would have. In the end, he chose to essentially ignore the drone, not in general, as he noticeably incorporated its purely sonic qualities into the flow of his performance, but in a harmonic sense, as the relative major relationship between the tonal center and the drone seemed to have no input into Chasny’s subsequent course of action. Therefore, while the feedback drone indisputably added an interesting dimension to the textural properties of the last part of the song, there were several somewhat awkward moments of harmonic uncertainty whenever the note of the vocal melody would coincide with that of the drone, i.e. whenever Chasny sang the minor third as relating to the original key of the song. Nonetheless, and this minor quibble aside, the entire performance was both musically impressive and succeeded in bringing all present into an incredible trance atmosphere, one that they were presumably brought out of upon hearing Keenan’s embarrassing exclamations of Euro-enthusiasm. Someone just wrote a whole review without a single gay joke. Fuck yeah yo!

SIX ORGANS OF ADMITTANCE: I don't see no elves.

No Neck Blues Band/Trad Gras och Stenar/Endless Boogie/Bridget St. John/The Suntanama/Izititiz/
Mountains Of Mattalama.
Man, there were like no famous people at this one. There was Jim O’Rourke, but seriously, look up “dime a dozen” in the dictionary and you’ll see Jim O’Rourke sightings. But it was alright, more than made up for by the actual music in this case. This whole thing was presented, as I saw it, as a No Neck Blues Band and related groups extravaganza, sort of in celebration to welcome somewhat kindred spirits Trad Gras och Stenar from across the pond and several different decades. So it took place in the Hint House in Harlem, where apparently some No Neck people live. It was the first time I’d been there and it was pretty nice. A huge loft space with plenty of chairs and couches and carpets for lounging, and I think some paintings and stuff. In the bathroom, I looked in the medicine cabinet to see if No Neck kept like crazy drugs there or something, but no dice, nothing but shaving accessories.
      Anyway, the first band was Mountains Of Mattalama, who were playing as I entered. At first I thought their name was Mountains Of Manalapan, as in the town in New Jersey, which would’ve been awesome, but as was I found their relatively straight guitar and organ psych soloing stylings underwhelming. Not that bad, just like, whatever. Next, we had (my) Sound@One favorites Izititiz, who are more traditionally free-jazz sounding than any of the other groups to spin off the NNCK axis, which is why I like them so much. Tonight, like on record, they were not necessarily led, but fronted by actual free jazz musician Raz Moshe on the saxophone. Their performance was pretty great, largely because, intentional or not, it totally played up the trash-like and ramshackle elements of free jazz. I don’t mean this in a negative sense, just the way in which free jazz or improv can sometimes sound all like falling apart and crazy, like it is being played on big pieces of metal. If you ever, like me, have a problem with your free jazz being good but too smooth, you will never have such a problem with Izititiz, or at least not with this particular performance – their LP is somewhat smoother, relatively speaking of course, as it is still largely wild and crazy blaring. But there were parts of this set in which said saxist was standing in the middle and the other guys were moving around him that sounded like solo free horn blowing through a hail of bicycle spokes, so = awesome.
      Suntanama were a change of pace, of course, as they have actual songs. I always like them more in theory than on record, where I think they would be real cool if they didn’t have a terrible singer. Like it’s interesting how the guitar tonalities most usually heard in No Neck/improvised settings can also be employed to make country rock music indebted to records I have never heard, or maybe in passing at most, but I find the vox to be strained and grating. Live, shit began to make sense: I began to see Catfish or whatever they call him as having more of an early Jagger/Van Morrison thing going, as opposed to just a bad singing thing. He was also drunk and entertaining, which helped, and the songs themselves have a wonderful rootsy lilt to many of them (woah…gay). Maybe I was just in a good mood. In any case, more thumbs up for Suntanama, though 2nd guitarist John Allen was absent, making my live Suntanama experience incomplete. Thanx a lot, ass.
      Next we had an unannounced surprise performance by Bridget St. John, who I guess is like an English 60s folksinger lady. She was pretty good. Her style was like, when singer ladies have children and then later they write songs while they have kids and some of the songs are about the kids, like playing on the beach sometimes. Oh, and also the songs had political themes, so she was able to pull sort of a “prophet of destruction” stance, with her wavery voice and crazy hair, so that was pretty cool. The only thing I didn’t like was her clothes and aforementioned hairstyle, which brought to mind when you see 80s pictures of 60s female singers like Grace Slick, where they don’t look too good. Ms. St. John was wearing like a business lady pants-suit or something. Actually, to be honest this whole show was like a month ago so I don’t really remember specifics too well, but I think that’s what it was. The penultimate act were Endless Boogie, who are a psych-collector hobby band and make no bones about being otherwise. Their set was just one song, “Rattlesnake Shake”, apparently a Fleetwood Mac cover (hell if I know), stretched upwards of 30 minutes. For real, it really was an endless boogie, played by faces that I expect to recognize at this year’s WFMU Record Fair. And the arms and legs attached to said faces.
      So it was at this point the whole thing began to seem sort of like a parade of novelties, like a variety show of sorts, and I started second guessing my making the trek up here. But the headliners (turned out it was a collabo between NNCK and TGoS) made everything aight by putting on a performance that was full of joyous fucking around and enough collective greatness to make me retract any lukewarm stance re: No Neck that might have developed from the records by them that I have, which are pretty ok but not awesome. This was awesome, encompassing the organic clattering improv and heavy beat psych jamming that is each group’s respective hallmark, as well as all points in between. My favorite moment was when Keith Connolly and the asian lady were throwing cymbals and shit on each other (each other as in the other cymbals, not Keith and the lady) and making a racket as one of the Trad Gras guys walked around the room with a giant drum making big thumping sounds on the floor, and all other members did other rad stuff that I don’t remember. There was lots of instrument switching, and, like I said, fucking around, which I saw just as the groups adding levity to the serious space-leveling action that they were causing to go down. True, the whole thing was pretty long; they could have easily cut it off before the drum solo, but any several minute stretch from the performance heard independently would no doubt impress. Keith Connolly also started doing stuff to I think make fun of how long the set was going on for, like putting on various hats and walking around, and standing on a big drum, and then throwing a basketball around. I’d say the first half hour was pure greatness, and the next forty minutes were just really good. Whatevs, good times either way.

ENDLESS BOOGIE: When I type "Endless Boogie" into Google Image Search, this picture comes up. Is it them??