As I was purchasing my ticket to this show at Knoxville’s Valarium, the dude behind the counter at the record store mentioned to me, “Hey, you know Ween is sober now, right?” Given Ween’s reputation as a hard partying act, one which I have seen barely able to finish a set coherently at times, this was a bit startling to me.
“Sober?” I asked, “Like, completely?”
“Yeah. They don’t even drink anymore because they think it will lead back to worse things.” Interesting, and what was not to believe? Though I have probably seen Ween play live more than any other band out there (except maybe Wilco, who might be equal in this regards), it had been some time. Since before La Cucaracha was released actually. I had no idea what was up with them these days.
I bought the ticket, went to the show, and quickly noticed a few differences from the last time I had seen them. For starters, Gene Ween is kind of looking like Daniel Johnston these days. Also, they’re stage show has become filled with lots of fog accompanied by an expensive and powerful light show. Lastly, they have stepped their musical performance up to a level far beyond that which I have ever seen them at before. This was easily, the best all around Ween show I had ever seen.
It’s not that they did anything especially novel or different than any other Ween show. It was simply that they played really well. They also played really long, topping out at almost three hours with no set breaks. As always, they hit on many favorites as they crossed this expansive amount of time, pulling songs from each of their albums but The Pod. This night, there seemed to be a particular propensity toward Chocolate and Cheese and The Mollusk. Of particular note was a rather booming version of “Ocean Man” on which Gene played a mandolin. They also finally delivered a “Roses Are Free” that worked as a worthy visitation to the studio version, whereas usually this song falls flat live when compared to the one found on Chocolate and Cheese. (Phish’s recorded live cover of the track may have set the bar high for Ween, ironically enough. At this show, they certainly cleared it by miles.)
As mentioned, they came this time with a ton of fog and lights. Their liberal use of both made for an incredibly surreal visual experience. The downside is that the haze often obscured Claude Coleman on the backline, which is unfortunate since his powerhouse drumming is something to see. The trade off, though, was a very good light operator who was obviously familiar with the material. Hence, his contribution to the show was also something to see, indeed.
When all was said and done, Aaron Freeman (Gene Ween) hit the road immediately. I was, however, permitted to go back stage to attempt to interview Mickey Melchiondo (Dean Ween) for this blog. I figured, after such an intense show, three simple, irreverent questions wouldn’t be too intrusive. Perhaps I could make three question interviews a regular staple of this site. I sat down catercorner to him, introduced myself again (it was the second time I had met him, actually), explained the deal, then fired the questions:
1. What are you listening to currently?
2. What is the one influence you’d like to keep away from your son?
3. What are you going to be for Halloween?
He looked at me blankly as I rattled them all off at once. Then he broke eye contact, shuffled his head around and mumbled something like, “I don’t know…whaaa mmuuhh hhnnnn.” The girl to his left answered two of the questions for him. According to her (though I question the authenticity of these answers) he was going to be a banana for Halloween and he was listening to…Belinda Carlisle? Yeah. I don’t know.
I tried to thank him for an excellent show, letting him know I had seen many and this was the best. A slightly disturbed look came across his face as he mumbled something else through more slurred and discombobulated speech.
“Well whether or not it felt to you like you did a good job,” I consoled, “from the objective viewpoint of an audience member, it was fantastic.” It still didn’t seem to register with him. Just more incoherency.
The announcement then came that the bus was rolling out and it was time to go. I exited without any of my interview questions really formally answered (though maybe he is being a banana for Halloween and maybe I misheard Belinda Carlisle). However, I did have a larger, more pressing question answered for me and I didn’t have to say a thing.
Is Ween sober these days? Absolutely not.
Here is some video from the show:
Spinal Meningitis (Got Me Down)
As far as multi-act live shows go, it’s rare that one comes along that is definitively awesome from beginning to end. Sometimes the acts may all be quality, but the in-between time breaks the flow of the evening. Sometimes the headliner is all that’s worth giving one’s time to. Sometimes it turns out to be the same case for the supporting acts. Sometimes, it doesn’t even feel like a show, so much as just some stuff going on. Audience can play a part, too. Sometimes a lack of audience enthusiasm can wreck the energy of the thing. And yet sometimes too much enthusiasm can distract from the thing on the stage. I’m so very glad to acknowledge that not one of these circumstances played out as such the other night at Knoxville’s Club Catalyst.
Everything kicked off a little after 10PM with local DJ, Modifi. I have followed Modifi for several years now. At least since his humble beginnings in garage rock bands around town. I’ve watched him evolve from a decent guitarist into an incredibly skillful turner of the turntables. (You can download one of his earlier releases, as DJ Simon Belmont, here.) On this evening, he had at his disposal two said turntables, a laptop and the necessary mixer. Perhaps he was harboring more on that table, as he’s been known to use an MPC and other goodies from time to time. I couldn’t elevate my perspective enough to tell for certain. Whatever he had, though, he used it well.
Without veering hard into pop territory, Modifi kept the music moving as any good DJ should. There was a touch of M.I.A. and T.I. here and there, but never as a standalone. The more modern servings were cushioned all around by Modifi’s own signature beats, as well as elements of classics and obscurities alike. As his set went on, it became difficult to discern what was coming from where anyway.
After a relatively swift and smooth transition, Kid Koala took the stage. His set up was mostly minimal. Three turntables and a mixer. No computer. No beat machines. Not even headphones. There was, however, a video projector displaying his set up (and all that he did with it) on a large screen above his head. This allowed for a more defined audience focus on his ability, pure and simple, and not just the music, itself. We were not in a position to merely dance, but to admire and be awed.
His set moved primarily between rock, hip hop and jazz. Meshing it all together, he did some tricky maneuvers. There was the usual exchanging of records and sliding of faders one would expect. Also, though, there were drops and juggles that could only be executed by a man who knows his music very very well. When I say, “knows his music,” I am not intending to pay respects solely to a knowledge of songs. Sure, he has good taste, but he literally knows his music. He knows not only what is tonal with what, but specifically where on his records those tones occur, bouncing the needle appropriately.
Among the more memorably novel aspects of his set were an ode to Louis Armstrong, an onstage remix of the White Stripes and the spacey, ambiance drenched work over of “Moon River,” dedicated to his mother. There was also the matter of a girl named Dawn. Dawn was celebrating her birthday at the show by heckling Kid Koala. Apparently she was expecting something more pop and less “turntable crap,” and so the Kid bantered with her from the stage. This lead to her taking to the stage, barely saving herself from a potentially nasty fall, and actually turning off one of the turntables by accident. The crowd booed her, but Koala was endlessly diplomatic and gentlemanly toward the southern, drunken birthday girl. By the end of the set, she was dancing her ass off like everyone else, even returning to the stage again to prove it.
The aforementioned “Moon River” closed the set out. After another brief, seemingly seamless intermission, Telepath took to the stage. Their equipment (guitars, drums and electronics) had already been set up on the stage, allowing them to dive right in. Their music complimented Modifi and Kid Koala well, as did their fairly decent light show. Where Kid Koala’s act was very forward and driving, Telepath worked it down into something that sat back and grooved. The dancing bodies continued to dance, but now without having to think or focus as much. It all drifted into the realms of a casual love in.
There’s not much to say about Telepath aside from the fact that it’s great music (and their guitarist has crazy Eraserhead hair). I hesitate to label them as a “jam band” though they obviously do jam around in their songs. If they are of such a classification, though, they are of a new school. This is not the sleeper shit popularized by the Grateful Dead and driven into the ground by Widespread Panic. No. This is tolerable. This is good because it’s really good…not because you are on drugs. (Though I couldn’t imagine the drugs not helping, I guess.)
Walking away from that show, I felt as though I was leaving some big shit event. It felt like something people attended with absolutely no doubt about its freshness. Call it an energy in the air. Call it an exceeded expectation, or a perfect surprise for some, perhaps. Whatever it was, it all equated out to a perfect storm of entertainment and a truly stellar evening for all involved. Even Dawn.
Kid Koala’s Ode to Louis Armstrong:
Kid Koala’s interaction with Dawn, the drunk heckler:
Hip hop shows, perhaps more so than other music performances, are very hit or miss. A group can either dress it up, like Outkast, or dumb it down, like Grand Buffet. The best of these offer something more than a dude and his homeys rattling off karaoke. Live instruments are always a plus. A good DJ who knows what he’s doing can win me over. Sometimes all you need are twenty or more people on stage, falling over each other or humping or whatever. There are a million ways to go on the stage. Prior to his performance, I was hoping hard that Busdriver (real name Regan John Farquhar) would not be lazily rhyming over an iPod hooked into a d/i box.
And thankfully, he didn’t.
What he did do, was take the stage at the Pilot Light rather unexpectedly, during the time that most of us thought was going to be an intermission between Abstract Rude and himself. There was hardly anyone in the room. I even thought to myself from outside, “Why the hell would the DJ be playing Busdriver if the guy’s taking the stage in a few minutes?” Ah, but there he was, crowned with Christmas lights and doing what he does. As the people outside slowly realized the show was moving on without them, they gathered round and the intensity of it all increased.
Verbally, he is pretty amazing. Far beyond all the autotuned garbage on the radio, Busdriver’s voice is distinct and his skill is often quick and always precise. Backing up that voice was a thunderous onslaught of beats and samples, which he controlled, in part, by himself. He also had a guy, apparently named Matt, at the back of the stage, working what looked like an MPC and occasional guitar. Matt seemed uncomfortable, at first, but eventually was right there with it. I can’t say he seemed to miss a beat, regardless.
One of the beautiful aspects of this set was the truly punk rock ethic to it. As Matt beat his pads, Busdriver pressed buttons and twisted knobs, throwing the whole thing into a frequent and intentional disarray. The cacophony of noise never failed to segue nicely into bouncy and epic beats, evening everything out and working the room into a frenzy.
My only complaint of the evening was the song, “Avantcore,” which I had no idea was so popular around here. It began with some strange disjunctive omission of notes here and there, which seemed interesting at first. The problem is that it never really got going. It seemed to drag on much slower than I’ve ever heard on disc. I’m not sure if this was an intentional choice by the artist, but it was iffy on the stage. Thankfully, the energy of all else made well up for this single snafu of the evening.
This tour is to promote Busdriver’s new record, Jhelli Beam. Hopefully I’ll get a review of it in soon enough.
Here is the video for “Me Time,” the first single from Jhelli Beam:
Here are the rest of his tourdates, in case you want to catch him near you (and you should):
SEP 23 – BIRMINGHAM, AL @ BOTTLETREE
SEP 24 – BATON ROUGE, LA @ CHELSEAS
SEP 25 – DALLAS, TX @ THE CAVERN
SEP 26 – AUSTIN, TX @ RED 7
SEP 27 – HOUSTON, TX @ WALTERS ON WASHINGTON
SEP 28 – SAN ANTONIO, TX @ ROCK BOTTOM
SEP 30 – EL PASO, TX @ BLACK MARKET
OCT 01 – TEMPE, AZ @ CLUB RED
Lastly, here are some MP3’s:
In the not too distant past, I reviewed Dying in Fast Forward, the new album from Senryu. Well, the other night, I had the pleasure of attending its release show at the Pilot Light in Knoxville. The night opened with Katie and The Bass Drums. It’s actually just one dude, and his incredibly humorous musical musings, which were usually relating to sex. Arrison Kirby played next. One patron of the evening described his electro/guitar music as “tropical disco,” though I can’t say I agree with this label. Finally, the boys we were all there to see, Senryu, took the stage. The crowd closed in.
Senryu entered the stage, donning a strange assortment of costumes and accessories. White lights shining up from their feet gave a bright, ethereal feel to the stage arrangement. Then, from the beginning to the end, they exploded. Granted, I’ve seen Senryu several times and would, frankly, expect nothing less from them. This time, however, the explosion was so well calculated that I swear there was an IED specialist on hand to see it through. (But maybe that was just Wayne Bedsoe.)
Most of the material performed was from the new release, as well as Pssst and The Guilty Party Rages On, the two full lengths that preceded it. Yet, it seemed there was something intrinsically different going on behind it all. Their upbeat, indie pop was certainly in tact. Surrounding and weaving within it, however, were moments of what sounded like prog rock. There also was epic abstraction in spots, slipping and sliding around the stage, but never cutting its umbilical cord from motherdrummer, Steven Rodgers.
Rodgers’ drumming is something that deserves a special mention here. Always precise and forward anyway, this evening left me in particular awe of his abilities. It wasn’t just that he could keep a beat, but that he could fire off a machine gun into that aforementioned explosion. So quick and direct, it boggled my mind at how he could fit so many nuances into any single moment.
Amidst and despite all of this, Senryu remains a strange paradox. They are a nationally touring band, who can certainly bring it with the best of them. Frontman, Wil Wright, is an incredibly gifted song writer and musician who is incredibly dedicated to his craft. There are few musical units out there who can touch this level of showmanship and ability. And yet, Senryu has still but only chipped away a relatively small bit of that proverbial glass ceiling, even though they hail from the same town as Bonnaroo creator, AC Entertainment. Don’t get me wrong. I’m sure they are quite capable of making their own way to where they ultimately need to be. Damn, though. If Ashley Capps, or some other industry mogul, would just spare a little bit of their own precious firepower for these kids, Senryu’s awesome explosion could just maybe evolve into total rapture.
Do yourself a favor and download Senryu’s entire catalog by clicking here.
The new album by Senryu is technically not going to be released until the night of their show on September 18th in Knoxville, TN. You know what, though? I already have a copy, suckers. So let’s get to it…
My first impression of this disc is that it’s coming from some place very minimalist. Yet it seems to carry a rather varied array of musical moments, just not at the same time. In any case, it’s certainly the most abstract and experimental Senryu disc to date. The space between the sounds is of particular importance here. While they started moving into that area with their last release, The Guilty Party Rages On, the notion of space becomes fully realized with Dying in Fast Forward. While I am certain the band (or at least frontman, Wil Wright) was aware of this dynamic shift, I must also credit the engineers, Mike Agentis and Aaron Thompson, for their keen sense of production. It is, indeed, not just the sounds, themselves, but the sound of the sounds.
Without being a full on emulation, the whole disc smacks particularly of Modest Mouse, with some of Montreal caulked in around the perimeter. Don’t get me wrong. It is intrinsically Senryu, which is its own very distinct thing. There is homage throughout, though, intentional or not, popping up and subsiding again. This is particularly documented in the single, “Shiver and Shine,” as well as “Jericho Ruins Everything.”
The closing track, “Simulacra,” begins as a Thom Yorke inspired electro-beat song before expanding into something lighter and dirtier. You really feel it, then suddenly it is gone. Gone with it is the entire disc. Clocking in at fourteen minutes, there is the inevitable desire for more. Especially with such an abrupt, yet elevated, end. The whole things works so well as a whole that, since you can’t have anymore, the natural response seems to be to just hit play again.
It’s certainly not a superficial listen. There is a lot going on, however subtly applied. Perhaps that is the gimmick of the whole thing. It takes multiple listens to really map it out in one’s head. It’s not catchy sing-along pop. It’s art. And if there is a structure underneath it all, it’s either meticulously dictated from phrase to phrase, or it’s haphazardly flung on to the canvass. If nothing else, the ambiguity of the process makes this a deep and interesting listen.
If you’re in the Knoxville, TN area on September 18th, come check out the release show…
So the other night I decided to hit up a benefit show at The Pilot Light in Knoxville’s Old City. It was to support the Knox Girls Rock Camp, which I think teaches young ladies to play instruments and be happy or something. There were about ten or so bands playing, including Milo, Flak Jaket and others. It was all mostly attention holding, if not pretty damn good at times. Then, around 11:30 maybe, it became transcendental.
It was at this time that the local five piece, Chore Boys, took the stage. I had heard about them for a little while now, but never got the blessed opportunity to witness it in person until the night in question. My expectations were superseded.
Chore Boys maintain a chaotic flamboyance, similar to of Montreal, alongside a brash, old school punk rock ethic somewhere in the area of Dead Kennedys. It’s was difficult to pin down who the hell is doing what as they all moved aimlessly about each other like larger than life cartoons. Primary vocalist, Jared Stoneberg, alternating between a bullhorn and the microphone, flailed around between the audience and the stage, appearing incoherently determined amidst strobe lights and flying beer cans.
Everything about Chore Boys is raucous, down and dirty. Oddly, however, only the most prudent prude would be put off by them. It’s something akin to watching bloody, newborn rats blindly scramble over each other in a nest…with music.
Though it does them no justice, whatsoever, check out a video from one of their past performances below.