Squarepusher live in NYC next month?!?

This is a longshot for me, but it may be one of those deals where you buy tickets first and ask questions later.  So, it’s Webster Hall on Thursday, March 15.  Yes, I’ve gotten to see Squarepusher twice, and that’s pretty special for me, blah blah blah, but this is a special artist with unique skills and a very bad attitude.  I mean, he’s not even on Twitter.  What the fuck, right?  So every opportunity in this country is to be treasured and seized upon.

There is so much I want to say about the @KakiKing show at World Cafe Live last night

694 3 I became acquainted with this artist by means of a Synthopia post that featured Ms. King trying out the new Moog guitar.  I was impressed with the instrument and the artist’s unique approach – fingerpicking, percussive hits and ethereal phrasing and composition.  A little research revealed that Ms. King had a prior YouTube hit with “Playing With Pink Noise“.  This showed off her Michael Hedges-esque chops.  Having seen Hedges open up for Leo Kottke in the late 80’s and being rather surprised at his unorthodox approach, I found Pink Noise to be nothing too special.

But then I got to know King’s then (and still) current release, Junior.  This features electric compositions and full band treatment for King’s unique talents.  It’s a stupendous record and the first track even features audio samples from The Prisoner television series.  If you want to get me weak in the knees real fast, that’s a good strategy.

So, I was thrilled to have an opportunity to finally see Ms. King in concert last night at the World Cafe Live.  The opening act was Joe Robinson, who, at the tender age of 18, has achieved a prodigious mastery of the 6-string acoustic guitar.  Again, we were treated to a lot of the classic Michael Hedges approach.  This was a bit incongruous, since Robinson was merely six years of age when Hedges died in a car accident.  And, of course, Mr. Robinson was not even alive when I saw Hedges open for Kottke.  While Robinson’s haircut and tender good looks can’t help but make one think of Justin Bieber, his utter domination of his instrument was extraordinary to watch, but also off-putting.  So much of it was saying “look at mee!!  Look at all the amazing things I can do on guitar!”  The effect was generally intolerable.

Which brings us to the evening’s feature presentation.  I noted with disappointment that Ms. King would not be accompanied by a band for this concert.  After the grating annoyance of the opening act, I steeled myself for an additional let-down.  Fortunately, I could not have been more wrong.

What followed was one of the most introspective and heartfelt performances this side of a Frippertronics exhibition.  King, despite her monumental talent and commitment to her craft, did not echo her opening act’s bombastic dominion.  In fact, the only similarity between the two was that they both played a stringed, acoustic instrument.

By contrast, King interacted with her numerous guitars, seeming to search and find her compositions lurking within.  I was reminded (I swear to god) of the incomplete sculptures of Michelangelo, beautiful human forms emerging from jagged marble.  She sang only two songs for the entire performance and focused the remainder the evening on her searching and delicate compositions.  This is not an experience that could be approximated with a bootleg or a live album.  It was absolutely essential to be in the performance space to hear every scrape of the strings and to see the artist move silently into the trance of the moment.  King channeled her audience’s excitement and attentiveness into a very raw energy that was focused completely on her interaction with the instrument.  There was no dancing about, no clever asides or quotes contained within the music (an appalling strategy employed by too many virtuosos, including the opening act and, sadly, Mr. Hedges himself).

I felt honored to be part of King’s process last night.  In addition to her beloved Ovation Adamas, she showcased a variety of bizarre variations, including a miniature 12-string, a dobro/banjo combination, a harp guitar for her version of Hedges “Because It’s There” and a 7-string nylon with fanned frets, among others.  Between songs King claimed to be still familiarizing herself with the techniques required to manage these musical monstrosities.

So there we all were, in one space of quite contemplation and musical ecstasy where, as Fripp likes to say, the music begins to play the musician and life becomes most real.  It was an enormously effective and moving experience for me.

Got lucky! Saw Crowded House in Atlantic City

Atlantic City is quite close to my home, but my only business there is at the Courthouse.  I have no interest in gambling, and there are few rock and roll shows there that I absolutely must see.  But, one of the great benefits of life with my beautiful wife has been the way in which she has educated about music, music I would never have learned about on my own.

Neil Finn and Crowded House very much fit into this category.  Ironically, before I ever met Emily, I knew that Crowded House was something to learn more about, as it had been praised by no less than Tony Banks as one of his favorite bands in the 90’s.  It’s not hard to understand why.  Crowded House and its diminutive frontman are proof that you can have catchy, “pop” music that is intelligent, features heartfelt lyrics, and is underscored by superb musicianship.  Emily and I have been to numerous of these concerts (Neil Finn solo and Crowded House), and it’s a musical product which does not cease to delight.  So, last Saturday we met Em’s sister in the cesspool by the sea, and enjoyed a wonderful show.  Here are the pictures, and for you hard-core types (I know you’re out there) the setlist.

Mean to Me
Saturday Sun
Private Universe
Fall At Your Feet
Don’t Stop Now
Nails in My Feet
Not the Girl You Think You Are
Whispers & Moans
Twice if You’re Lucky
Now We’re Getting Somewhere
Don’t Dream Its Over
She Called Up
Archer’s Arrow
World Where You Live
She Goes On
Weather With You
Its Only Natural
You Are the One
Time Immemorial
Falling Dove
Better Be Home Soon

If you’re keeping track, that’s about two and a half hours of music.

Nearfest 2010 – just a lil taste

If you know me, you know that Gabriel-era Genesis is sort of where it all begins.  I’m not old enough to have seen the classic line-up, but when I finally discovered the genius of that quintet, well, that pretty much changed everything forever.  I’ve gone deep with Genesis, seeing the trio when possible, collecting every manner of album, bootleg and video, and going to see the amazing Musical Box tribute show countless times.

And my Prog Rock education and appreciation has just gone on and on.  I have recently opened my mind to extraordinary groups from Brazil, Sweden, Poland and other points across the globe.  I have gotten to know bands old and new, finding music that is uplifting, challenging and extraordinary.  So much of what I love about all the music I have discovered is that it relates back to that wondrous moment when Messrs. Banks, Collins, Gabriel, Hackett, and Rutherford brought forth the beauty of The Musical Box, Foxtrot, Selling England By The Pound and The Lamb Lies Down On Broadway.  It was no coincidence that those selections had such a profound impact on me.

So, among the first-generation proggers, I’ve been pretty lucky to see the reunions and comebacks of Yes, King Crimson, ELP and even Genesis.  But Hackett, long exiled from the group he helped make famous, does more to keep that original spirit of innovation and irreverence alive than all the rest.  When I found that his only area performance would be at Nearfest 2010, I pounced on the opportunity and grabbed very good seats.

I had long known of Nearfest, but never mustered the strength or inclination to spend the better part of an entire weekend in nearby Bethlehem, PA watching a lot of prog with which I was wholly unfamiliar.  Thanks to the miracle of social networking, I got more info and encouragement than ever to make Nearfest happen this year, but in the end, I only sprung for Friday night, electing to, once again, pass on the vast majority of music and fellowship that makes up the weekend.

I would have let the whole thing pass me by (again), had it not been for the encouragement of my spiritual music guide, my teacher, my long-lost big brother: Cousin Steve.  He played a rather large role in the whole Genesis thing taking shape for me, and though we’ve seen Hackett before, he was not about to let this opportunity pass.  Thanks to Steve (who had never been either), I got my first taste of Nearfest.  And now, a few days later, I am comfortable in the firm belief that it will not be my last.

Lehigh University is a beautiful setting and the Zoellner Arts Center is the Perfect theater.  We arrived in plenty of time to see Riverside (a phenomenal Polish band I have followed for a few years, but never seen live), but I locked my keys in the trunk just as we were heading over to the theater.  The Lehigh security department was understanding, kind and efficient in helping me put that brain cramp in the rearview mirror and Steve and I took our seats in the fifth row center after only missing a couple songs.

Riverside was tremendous.  They lean more toward the prog-metal end of the spectrum, with a dash of Porcupine Tree thrown in for good measure.  But after seeing Dream Theater last summer, I really appreciated Riverside’s more deliberate approach.  The emphasis was less on individual pyrotechnics and more on creating a dramatic musical experience.  I was thrilled.

We then got a nice long break to kibbitz with our fellow proggers.  Serge Morissette (artistic director of The Musical Box) was present and in good spirits until he saw my Transatlantic shirt.  He missed the gig in his home town of Montreal on account of being in Europe during the eruption of a certain Icelandic volcano.  He was delighted, however to chat us up about his groups latest doings (their version of The Lamb may be coming back!) and we even shared a few laughs about Mr. Hackett’s personal difficulties.  Serge said that Hackett’s (now) ex-wife would now be changing her name from Kim Poor to Kim Rich.

Serge’s good nature and attitude was emblematic of every soul we encountered on Friday night.  Everyone was happy and willing to share a story as we bonded over this music we share and love.  I finally understand why people have been telling me to just do it.

So after this lovely experience in this beautiful place, Steve and I walked back into the theater to see Hackett – the original, the real thing.  And, of course, he did not disappoint.  It was a full set, with such surprises as Carpet Crawlers, Slogans, and Ace of Wands thrown in to the crowd’s delight.

So I’ve had my taste of Nearfest.  I get it.  Next year, even if I have to go solo, I’ll be there.  And I’ll look forward to seeing all those beautiful folks who come from far and wide to enjoy the greatest music ever composed.

Seven hours later and I’m bailing out for a break.

Em and I are sitting in the bus, waiting to head down Canal to the CBD, where we are staying. Em prefers to call it the BFD, not for ‘business and financial district’ but more out of deference to Joe Biden.

Now we take a quick rest before boarding the ferry to gig with Hirsh on the West Bank.

It was an amazing day with monstrous performances. And the rain held off. More reports will be coming shortly.

Transatlantic concert at TLA a week from tomorrow!!

Roine Stolt

Ready for a total PROG-stravaganza with cousin Steve, Dr. Dave and new friend Dara.  We’re going to ge there early and get right up front.  We’re getting a bit old for the standing-all-show deal, but, thankfully, there is no opening act and this is a special show in that it represents the mightiest prog-rock super-group in the land.  Roine is a legend, the godfather of swedish prog.  Neal Morse is the happy warrior, a missionary of prog and evangelical Christianity!  Michael Portnoy is, as of this date, the greatest rock drummer out there.  When he plays with his band (Dream Theater), the kit is the size of a small school bus.  Who knows what he’s bringing to the TLA next week?  And finally, Pete Trewavas, he is the glue that brings order to the ferocity of the others’ passion.

Transatlantic will, presumably., be performing their entire new album The Whirlwind as well as some of their back catalog and a couple covers.

It’s gonna be a great night.  Here’s a sample of the new record:

p.s. I’m pleased to say, after the chaos of my recent relocation, I have finally found our tickets, so we are ready to go!

Here we go again with “tribute” band madness

After seeing Montreal’s The Musical Box perform three different recreations of classic Genesis concerts (at over two dozen separate events), I am still overwhelmed by the sheer weirdness of it all.  How can you spend so much time in a role without starting to lose the line between where the individual begins and the role ends?

There can be no doubt that the music is other-worldly.  Without any doubt, these are musicians of the highest calibre, but there is always something more there, something on which I can not put my finger.  The music is too good to be just the reading of someone else’s staff notation.  Let us forget about the costumes and wigs for just a minute and look only to the music.

I have, for example heard the incomparable Neal Morse play the opening chords of ‘Watcher of The Skies’ and noted that, despite the utter lack of improvisation contained in that musical passage, his version was not as dramatic.  And this is an artist (Morse) whose prog credentials are above and beyond any reproach.  He is a modern master.

But when you hear David Myers (who?) play the same passage, there is a calm immediacy that transfers all of the power and majesty of the original directly to the listener.  Is it that he is not Neal Morse?  Is it that Myers has all of the authentic and original equipment?  Is that David Myers is wearing a wig?

Of course, none of this matters when Sebastian, who, in his attempt to recall the prominent and unique role played by Michael Rutherford in this quintet, and wears no costume whatsoever, leans into the fuzz bass and the Moog Taurus pedals and I feel my internal organs being rearranged.  At that point, I don’t give a flying fuck who is playing the music.

But, as it was in 1998 when I first experienced the monster in The Musical Box, the experience remains bizarre.  Greg Bendian has taken over the drums and is absolutely giddy to be living out his boyhood fantasy of being Bill Bruford.  Bendian is highly accomplished and has firmly established credentials with his ‘Mahavishnu Project’ which, as one would surmise, re-creates the music of Mahavishnu Orchestra.  That is/was Bendian’s project – he had control (probably did more work) and gets a lot of the credit for tremendous success, notoriety and several albums.  Not only does TMB NOT have albums, but Bendian has to give up a few choice drum parts because, in the original performance, Bruford did not play those parts – Phil did.

So Bendian has to give up featured drum parts in ‘Cinema Show’ and ‘Robbery Assault & Battery’ where Phil wanted to be showcased.  But the ‘singer’ Phil can’t play drums as well as the real Phil.  Which means that, during the evening’s performance, the role of Phil Collins is played by two men – Denis Gagne on vocal and percussion and Marc LaFlamme on drum kit.  Marc does an amazing job and a large portion of the audience doesn’t even know he is the person playing.

So, after all this time, the performance of these talented musicians continues to fascinate, delight and confuse me.  But with players this talented and a score this well-executed, all you need is a program of some of the finest music ever composed.  Fortunately, Genesis has taken care of that for us.

(The camera phone doesn’t do great, but here’s what I got, picture-wise)