Extendo-Progressive Instrumental Things
Friday, Feb. 2
If the powers that be found out that instead of reviewing a local band at a local club, I reviewed an Olympia, Washington, band at a Los Angeles club, they'd be pretty pissed, so that will have to be our little secret. Got that, readers? It's our little secret. A secret between you and me. For your and my eyes only. I hope you feel special.
See, I never wanted to schlep my Locals Only ass up to LA, but my friend Allison, who spells it with two L's and whom I refer to as the Other Allison, simply HAD to see post-hardcore, post-punk, post-standard-song-structure band Unwound at the Troubadour because they weren't playing any Orange County shows and at the last minute, another friend flaked on her, and she begged me to go. Can I say no to someone named Allison? Can I deny a fellow Allison? Of course I can, but I was feeling charitable—and plus the Other Allison is convinced she has bad karma and brings out the worst in people because at the last few clubs she's been to, otherwise-civilized people have suddenly started beating the crap out of one another right next to her, and I thought that might be fun to watch.
But whereas the Other Allison's strange curse brings out the brute in others, I have a strange curse that brings out the social retard in others, and this night was no exception. Now tell me: If all your friends are standing somewhere, and you aren't standing with them, and you want to talk to them, wouldn't you just go stand with them? You would. But the guy in front of us—whose friends were all behind us—opted not to. Instead, when he wanted to talk to his friends, he'd just lean across us or between us. And what, you might want to know, was so important that he had to repeatedly do the awkward social hokey-pokey all around us in order to yell to his friends? He had to find out if that really was one of the girls from New Orleans Real World! It was! And was she really hitting on his friend? She was! Boy, she looks smaller in person than on TV! I know! And then he had to reach around me to pat his friend's crotch, at which point he, the crotch-patter, said loudly, "Hey, get your cock off my hand!" Then his friend—the one behind me—reached in front of me and rubbed the back of the crotch-patter's head and took his hand away real fast. Crotch-patter swiveled his head around, and there was a brief scary second when I worried he was going to think I'd caressed his head, but the fact that I was gritting my teeth and clenching my fists and trying my damnedest not to beat the crap out of him probably indicated to him that it wasn't me. See, the Other Allison does bring out the worst in people! I never want to beat people up!
I got over it, though, when Unwound went into this long-extendo-progressive-instrumental thing that lasted somewhere between 12 and 20 minutes. Drummer Sara Lund, who paradoxically looks as if she's in this stoned, half-lidded trance while playing these amazingly complicated, muscular beats, deftly ushered in all the sudden tempo shifts. The song-type thing was complicated, intricate and full of dynamics, and you just know that all three musicians had to have been concentrating really hard despite looking like they just woke up and had someplace better to be. Which is kind of how singer Justin's vocals sounded because they were really low in the mix, and sometimes he would yell and you could tell his mouth was more open than when he wasn't yelling, but it kind of all sounded the same except that it looked pretty intense and cool. The third or so time Unwound went into their long-extendo-wordless-song-type thing, I wanted to cry because I was bored and there was no wall space to lean on and the Troubadour gets really stuffy. Judging from the rapt attention, awed smiles and sudden delighted physical outbursts of the crowd, I'm sure I was the only one thinking about where I'd rather be. As far as the fans were concerned, Unwound could have played for another four hours. Which is what it felt like.
Then they did an encore. They played some of their older, more familiar material, at which point I think I did start crying, but then the crotch-patter went to get a drink and never returned, which I regarded as a small victory. (Alison M. Rosen)
The Lassie Foundation/The Electro Group/ Stairwell/Cheswick/The Frank Falupa Trio
Sunday, Feb. 4
The Frank Falupa Trio (a quartet, actually) are a solid, freeform, progressive jazz band—and a very fine one at that. They are not migraine-inducing in that Ornette Coleman way, but instead, they're melodic and spacy, sort of like Sun Ra dragged into the new century. Their sax-wielding front man (whom we assume was Frank) hit plenty of high, reedy notes and bleated these fun, atmospheric riffs atop his backing band's muscular groove. It made for some sweet experimentalism—beautiful, quiet soloing would segue into ornery, rambunctious rhythms, dreamy esoterica, sophisticated chord switches and the occasional feedback outburst. Cool stuff. There was a mildly distracting element to their art in all the pseudo-psychedelic images that flashed on a slide-projection screen tucked into a corner of the stage (nothing special—mostly obtuse visions of road signs, assorted etchings and freaky-looking people with jaded, disillusioned expressions on their mugs), as well as the random spurts of creepy, disembodied voices that leaped out of nowhere and into their mix. But all this remained (thankfully) in the background and seemed to act as a sort of security blanket, giving the band strength for maneuvering around their improvs while pointedly lacking any of the pretense or self-indulgence to which music this creative can too easily fall victim. A great band—and an unusual one, for this room—if for no other reason than the fact that they had a sax player who blew no ska.
Cheswick were a mostly enjoyable, anthemish, emo outfit who showed they knew how to navigate around a complex melody or three. These kids do like it loud, though, a bad habit that frequently buried their vocals. Emo is really getting stale these days (it's official—there are more emo bands today than there were ska bands when ska peaked, circa 1995-96), yet Cheswick seemed to be searching for a fresher approach, something more commercial-sounding, like A New Found Glory. Maybe they'll find it, too.
We last saw Stairwell almost two years ago, and a quick scan of our copious notes indicates we liked them. What the hell happened? Or maybe the better question is, What the hell were we thinking? We could live with the four guitars (including bass) this five-piece brandished, but what we weren't prepared for was the festive guitar choreography. On their first tune, the four axe-wavers were all jerking the necks of their instruments around in perfect, synchronized patterns—just like in a bad '80s metal video, only without the poodle haircuts. This was laughably cute at first, but they just kept right on doing it and looked quite serious about it, too, which turned their set into full-on standup comedy. They dug their grave even deeper when they all began bobbing their heads—with military-like precision!—along to their rather tame, emo-by-numbers tunes. Yow! Here's a band that needs to go buy a copy of The Eternally Damnable Book of Inane Rock Clichs and memorize every last freaking word. Who would have thought that people would one day want to revive Warrant's old stage show? As for their music—well, we would have liked to have paid more attention, but it was just so hard to watch them through our tightly shuttered eyes, which had swelled shut from laughing so hard.
Sacramento's Electro Group were pretty dull, a throwback to that old, tired, shoegazer stuff, with heaps of humdrum hums, droney drones and tuneless tunes that went nowhere and seemed to serve no other purpose than to induce catatonia. But we confess: we caught only the last half of their set—we spent the first half in a backroom rolling on the floor, still laughing at Stairwell!
Perhaps the Electro Group should take lessons from the Lassie Foundation, who were once like them, wallowing in shoegazer past. These days, Lassie are in a more rock & roll vein, and they're better for it. They're less dream-pop-oriented and cheerier, pulling off stunts like tossing a happy-happy vibraphone and a woo-hoo-jiggle-jiggle tambourine lust feast into their sonic cocktail—ringing it with lush, creamy orchestrations that recall something Brian Wilson used to do—and topped it off with the boyishly high falsetto of their lanky front man. Woof! (Rich Kane)
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