Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Gig: Mountains / Matthew "Doc" Dunn / Ayal Senior's Spacechurch

Mountains / Matthew "Doc" Dunn / Ayal Senior's Spacechurch

The Music Gallery. Tuesday, April 28, 2009.

I like pretty much everything about the Music Gallery1: the calming, stately setting inside St. George the Martyr church, the well-constructed bills, attentive audiences. I generally go to shows there that are at the "pop" end of their spectrum, but I always appreciate the thought and work that they put into what they do, and the sense that the shows they put on are going to push my boundaries a little. So I had this show as a "maybe" in my calendar based on the blurb they'd sent out, and feeling in the right mood at the end of the work day, decided to hit it. An auspicious choice.

Ayal Senior’s Spacechurch turned out to be a solo project, with our Mr. Senior sitting down on the stage, his gear spread out around him, as if playing for himself in his basement. As the day's fading light trickled in through the windows, he began to play — his first, longer piece on keybs and electronics, arpeggiated bursts looped and treated and layered onto each other. It sounded fine, and was generally interesting, though at some points it sounded like we were inside the head of someone with constantly shifting and emerging ideas, and sometimes they lurched from one to another without a smooth transition. A second piece on guitar was less successful, sounding a bit more like naive pedal knob twiddling. But the twenty-minute performance was a good table-setter.

Matthew "Doc" Dunn had a set of similar length that left me wanting more. Taking a moment to put on a straw hat before beginning, Dunn played pedal steel and was accompanied by John Adjemian (formerly of Jon-Rae & The River) with his trusty analog synth on his lap, as well as James Anderson with a table full of gear and tape loops. Dunn's licks were stretched and mutated like so much aural taffy into elongated ambient strands. The trio played well off each other, and the whole of the performance felt organic, each musical idea melting gracefully into the next. Although the pedal steel can create a wide variety of sounds, it is probably always going to recall country music to some extent, so that may explain why the best tag I could but on these sweeping, majestic sounds would be "Cosmic American Music". If Gram Parsons fell into a monolith somewhere out by Jupiter, this is almost certainly what he'd be hearing.

Listen to an excerpt from this set here.

Coming into the show, I didn't know much about Mountains — just a couple descriptors ("ambient" "Thrill Jockey") that were enough to make me curious. The duo, each with a MacBook, set up on the stage and each employed a variety of instruments: guitar, melodica, harmonium, shakers, voice, and on and on. Starting with a long build with both musicians gently tapping their guitar strings, Brendon Anderegg and Koen Holtkamp slowly layered and developed their sound. I'm unsure to what extent the performance was "improvised", but each seemed to have a well-prepared plan as to what elements were to be added in. The result was forty minutes of slow, textured builds, broken, more or less, into three movements. "Enoesque" is a fairly obvious label, but it captures the sound and the feeling of leashed indeterminacy that Mountains brought to the table. Not a particularly striking performance at a visual level, but excellent to just lean back and soak in the slowly-developing sounds. The last segment utilized wordless vocals looped into an etherial choir — an old trick, but excellent when as well deployed as it was here.

I definitely left this show feeling better than I did when I arrived, and departed with Mountains' latest disc — as well as a tour-only CD — feeling at peace with the world.

Listen to a selection from this set here.

1 Exception: I don't love the churchy pews. Is the christian god so dull (or mean) that his followers have to sit so uncomfortably while they worship?

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