Friday, May 29, 2009

CHICAGO SHOW REPORT: GAS (Claudia Cassidy Theater and side room, 5/26/09)

You might've read me twittering about the "Wolfgang Voigt plays Gas" performance in Chicago this past Tuesday, May 26, but I thought I'd go ahead and explain it with more than 140 characters for those who, like Mr. Holy Mountain, are saying "I know what you mean but not exactly."

Well, it was a free performance at the Claudia Cassidy Theater, a 294-seat room in the Chicago Cultural Center, a big impressive downtown building. I've seen a few other free shows in this room over the years... some sort of Ken Vandermark big band, a Rob Mazurek big band, an Evan Parker & Joe McPhee duo, Tinariwen... all of the Claudia Cassidy shows are billed as "free show, limited seating," and every time I've been there it's been pretty full. For Tinariwen it was standing room only, and I had been one of the many people standing in the back hugging the wall. I knew I wasn't going to make it to Gas until right at the 7PM starting time because of babysitter scheduling, so I figured I'd be hugging the back wall again. No problem.

However, when I got there, the theater doors were closed and an attendant smoothly motioned me to the right with a simple "Seating is over here, thank you." This brought me into a big high-ceilinged room I'd never been in before, with stacking chairs arranged in rows in front of a jumbo TV screen with speakers on each side. The TV took up about exactly 1/6th of the wall behind it, and sat a good 30 feet in front of it. I wasn't quite sure what was going on... had the event been moved from the Claudia Cassidy to this other room for some reason? Renovation, technical problems, low turnout? Or was it going on in both rooms? Probably, but I wasn't sure... there were maybe 100 people in the room I was in... definitely a low turnout for Voigt's first ever USA performance, but still possible, I guess... the show hadn't exactly been heavily promoted, and I'd certainly been to Chicago shows where the attendance was unpredictably lower than expected. Start time was just a couple minutes away, and Voigt himself walked through the room to polite clapping. He gave a friendly wave and amiably said something to the people sitting in front that I didn't make out, and then walked through a door.

Then an announcer came over the PA and gave the usual long introduction to free shows at the Cultural Center. He didn't say anything about the show being simulcast in two rooms so I still wasn't quite sure what was going on. Now, I had already watched the YouTube above and I knew the visuals were going to be great, and I knew that Gas's music was some of my favorite chilled electronic dream fabric of the last 20 years... no problem there. But the setup just wasn't cutting it. As huge as the TV was, the room was much huger, and what's more, it had five, count 'em, FIVE windows that were a good 40 feet tall. Now these are beautiful windows -- architectural marvels, even -- but the show was starting at 7PM with sunset not until 8:15PM, so to say it wasn't quite dark enough in the room is an understatement. It wasn't loud enough either. There were huge vents blowing air that were just as loud if not louder than the quieter, beatless passages of Voigt's music. So, all the elements were there, but it was sort of like watching the whole thing on Shaquille O'Neal's entertainment center or something, from 50 feet away.

A few quick objective notes about the show: it was 90 minutes of continuous music, with several recognizable Gas classics in the mix, starting heavy on the more ambient Pop side, with the classic Zauberberg and Konigsforst beats coming in eventually, to heavy effect. No surprises really, and none necessary. The visuals, by Petra Hollenbach, were extremely psychedelic, pretty much the last word on the intricacy and patterning of the plant kingdom, lit for full-on acid nightmare fantasy enjoyment, slowly panned and rotated and sequenced in ways that reminded me of the Stargate sequence of 2001, with an overall story-arc sensibility (complete with lighting storm climax) that was like some half-remembered fairy tale with no characters.

So, all the elements were there for an intense, great performance. I knew the main theater room was windowless, with a nice regulation sized movie theater screen, low ceilings, and tight acoustics that could get plenty loud. So surely there was a packed house in there enjoying the show the way it should be, right? And sure enough, when the show ended, the huge connecting doors were opened and there they were, a full and very appreciative house of smiling, standing, and ovating minimal psychedelic techno heads. This was a relief as I'm sure the presentation was awesome in the main room. I know I should've made it a point to come a good 20 minutes early at least. My only wish as a slightly crabby subjective attendee is that the venue had either said, "The main room is full, but we have a second room over here if you'd like to stay," or just not set up the second room at all, turning away all latecomers. I mean, of course it seems like a great gesture by the promoters to set up a second room to accomodate the interested public, and I shouldn't be complaining AT ALL about a free show, duh, but the side-room setup was just not appropriate for Voigt and Hollenbach's immersive and overwhelming aesthetic. I really think it would have been better if the guy had just said, "Sorry, we're full. You slack, you lack." (I just made that up as an alternative to the snooze/lose standard, whaddayathink? You don't have to answer.)

I also think that Voigt should release this shit as GAS - THE MOVIE. Those incredible psychedelic forest visuals in a totally dark theater with a killer sound system, 90 minute running time... talk about a midnight movie classic waiting to happen!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

So I was over there at Blastwitude, about to post like 14 twitter-dee-tweets (or whatever you call 'em) in a row and drive everyone crazy, when I thought, hey, why not just post 'em all at once on the blog? So here they are. Keep checking over there for daily stuff but seriously, sometimes a 140 character limit just isn't worth trying... you'll notice I took some liberty with some of these....

DEPECHE MODE: Violator CS (MUTE) I'll admit this sounds more dated & less sci-fi hip than the average Blank Dogster, but real songwriting always wins (which comes especially clear on Side B here - "Enjoy the Silence"/"Policy of Truth"/"Blue Dress"/"Clean", damn)

THE GEORGE-EDWARDS GROUP: 38:38 LP (DRAG CITY) Lite psych private press from 1977 -- sweet sounds but not really feeling the songs

TAMARYN: Led Astray, Washed Ashore LP (TROUBLEMAN) With all the annoying 80s goth pop worship going on these days, why is this 80s goth pop worshipping record kinda knocking me out?

"Hey Man" by Spacemen 3 from Taking Drugs To Make Music To Take Drugs To -- lest we forget, not many can touch this

Interesting self-quiz: How many Wavves songs can you recall from memory right now? Me = zero.

Okay, how many Blank Dogs songs? Me = zero. (Rule: you have to have listened at least 3 separate times.)

LULACRUZA & MJ GREENMOUNTAIN: Soloina CD (UJI MUSIC) Tropicalia/electronica/psych/pop mixing lotsa South American folk instruments w/laptoppery & chanteuse to mild bland effect

TELEPHONE CALLERS s/t CS (NO LABEL) Way-long messy tape of like 40 thrashing crumbling weird punk miniatures from Ann Arbor -- shows promise, would check out a 7"

EMERALDS: What Happened? CD (NO FUN) OK record but I feel like these guys are loosening the tight grip they initially had on generating phantom reflections of bliss cathedrals & now letting in occasional mild wishy-washy 'noise' and 'drone' moves for peers

EMERALDS: Fresh Air 7" (SOUNDESIGN) No noise capitulation here, just 10 min of classic cosmic arpeggiations - nice record - $11 though?

PAPA M: Live From A Shark Cage 2LP (DRAG CITY) Ah 1999... pre-internet... post-rock... a generation discovers Fahey & minimalism... bland masterpiece

WOODS: Songs of Shame CD (SHRIMPER/WOODSIST) Judging from Z Gun #3 review of Family Creeps this band's high vocals & general beardisms are TermBro kryptonite and this one is in fact twee-er than that but I like this band, another good album

MAGIK MARKERS: Balf Quarry LP/CD (DRAG CITY) Drag City debut, another in the bold psych/garage/song style of Boss

@brianhcollins What I meant by "70s/80s stuff from Thailand" is that 70s Thai Orchestra is not from the 70s nor Thailand - there's only one Thai band not from Thailand I really like so far and it's Neung Phak

V/A: Hardcore Amerika CD ( - pretty harsh 2001 comp of lesser-known early/mid-80s hardcore, listened to 2 of the 13 bands tonight: Detention from Trenton, NJ are odd, harsh & raging but also musical, political, and even theatrical... Psycho from Boston on the other hand are more psycho, just a little too poppy and tight to be considered part of the Void strain, but they do rip, very fast & mean -- they put out their first record in '83 but are somewhat forgotten due to a) dumb lyrics, b) not being part of Boston Crew, & c) worst of all, later going death metal and doing splits with Anal Cunt and the Meat Shits.

ZOLA JESUS: New Amsterdam CDR (SACRED BONES) Have been unsure (of both artist and label) but I like this - heavy music, primal soul singing (I think I like the Tamaryn record better though)

Monday, May 11, 2009


From the excellent Vinyl Underbite blog, this is a crucial piece of music thinking that sums up so much about the shortcomings of today's 'lo-fi', 'psychedelic', seemingly 99% of new metal, anything described as 'stoner', and the list goes on:

"At some point in my salad days I figured out that just turning on distortion and volume does not alone make music 'heavy'; weight comes from the spaces between the notes, the timings, and that which cannot by automated. I think 'Syntelman's March of the Roaring Seventies' [from Dance of the Lemmings by Amon Duul II] taught me the same thing about psychedelic music. It's positively barren and sparse when compared to today's hordes of knob-turning noise kiddies, but more 10th dimensional and mindbending than most 'psychedelic' dross."

I was just majorly feeling this while listening to the Moon Blood album by Fraction. And of course there are lots of other examples. It's why a Neil Young solo acoustic ballad is heavier than every riff-challenged wash-of-sound black metal record that came out last month. Or, to include a louder example, take Dopesmoker by Sleep; sure, the amp settings are heavy, but what really makes the riffing, which is often one repeating note, ludicrously heavy is the timing of the hits....

And I think it all has something to do with these two statements which have been rolling over in my mind for awhile because of the similarities:

Q: What makes the music so hard to play?
A: If you ain't interested in it and you ain't faithful in it, you ain't hittin' on nothin'. You got to have that in here. (points to his heart) You got to be faithful and honest in music, and everybody can't play. They can do somethin', but they don't be makin' no music.

No matter how low the technical level of some of the harder music is - and many times it sure is - it is nearly impossible to play convincingly to audiences if one doesn't live, breathe, and understand it, if it isn't rooted in one's very blood. Because hard music lives so much from primitive instincts of power - from guts - it is hard for an outsider to really master it mentally and physically, no matter how talented and willing that outsider might be.

#1 is from an interview with the late Otha Turner by Adam Lore, published in 50 Miles of Elbow Room #2 (2002). The music they're talking about is fife and drum music, a disappearing regional southern style of black music. Turner is from Mississippi and if interested check out the 1998 CD Everybody Hollerin' Goat on Birdman Records.

#2 is from Ian Christe's 2003 history of heavy metal Sound of the Beast -- the speaker is Thomas G. Warrior of Celtic Frost, talking about his first band Hellhammer. If interested check out their Demon Entrails archival release.

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