Friday, August 27, 2010

Gig: Pocahaunted

Wavelength 504, Night 2 (feat. Pocahaunted / Doldrums / The Deeep / Wet Nurse)

The Music Gallery Courtyard. Thursday, June 10, 2010.

A pleasant June evening for the second of a set of four shows in the Music Gallery's lovely courtyard. Co-presented with Wavelength, this night promised an out-of-town headliner supported by three relatively new local acts, each playing a short set. Good crowd out for this, young-ish, and skewing more artsy than rocky, with folks settling down on the lawn for the first couple sets.1

The evening began with a four-song set from Wet Nurse. The gauzy scarf draped over the microphones was an apt metaphor for the veil of obliqueness projected by the band. Perhaps as part of that, there isn't a lot of information about the duo online2 but a bit of looking around indicates that the players are Rebecca Fin Simonetti (who seems to be involved with several semi-amorphous musical projects, on top of being a noted visual artist3) and Alexandra Mackenzie (also of Romo Roto, and a visual artist as well).

Those familiar with Romo Roto would recognize the sort of pummelling thrust Mackenzie brings to the music from her stand-up kit, but Simonetti tugged that in a different direction with her roaring, reverb-y guitar. Both added their shouting/howling voices, and there were some noisy backing loops, too — one track had discordant ringing bells underneath everything. Definitely an experimental/noise sound that appeals to the weird rock crowd with a penchant for uneasy listening. I dug it for its vitality, but it's not sort of thing I'd go out of my way for too often. Thankfully, there were enough flashes of tunefulness to keep me mostly on side.

Listen to a song from this set here.

Next up, in front of a macramé-styled sculpture, was The Deeep,4 a collaboration between Isla Craig (vox, twisting knobs) and Wolfgang Nessel (electronics). The set had the work-in-progress feel of a band still refining their tricks, but also as if they were tiptoeing further along a ledge just to discover how far they could go.

A rub-a-dub bassline filled the air as Nessel fiddled with his gear, and then the first song started with a speed-adjusted loop as Craig sang heavily-reverbed wordless phrases. As a spastic thwipping noise fuzzed in the background, Craig created loops of backing vocals. Not much to grab on here hook-wise, but obviously that's not the kind of excursion that this pair want to take you on.

The second song hit the mark more firmly. With a steady beat provided by a sample from Neil Young's under-appreciated "Mideast Vacation"5 Craig had something to hook her pipes to, providing a lovely vocal, again with a cloud of looped backing voices beneath her. At one point, she paused mid-vocal to say "have some fruit," and, indeed, she passed down a bowl of strawberries that made their way through the crowd. The third and final song took a tinny half-bar drum loop and an alternating two-note synth part for the bassline, all slowed down enough to provide a sense of languid ambiance.

All three of the songs were around the seven-minute mark, each of them a little excursion more innerested in exploring the sonic, er, depths than in providing any kind of concise pop buzz. The music essentially used the tools of dub reggae to create something decidedly un-reggae like. With an experimental edge, the music sometimes exhibited an uneasy formlessness, although some queasy uncertainty might well be the point here. At a couple points it was too amorphous for easily likability, especially in the first selection, but otherwise, this had a worthy sense of torpid drift, similar perhaps to a river of mud slowly crushing a forest.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Perhaps to keep one step ahead of those already jaded enough to think that a cassette-only release is no longer an event, Doldrums were playing this gig as a celebration of their first release: a VHS mixtape. Or maybe it's not just an empty celebration of an obsolete format — not only are they obviously fond of analog fuzz, it was clear that the visual part of the package is important to Airick Woodhead and his bandmates, as they delayed their set a bit trying to get a recalcitrant digital projector up and running.6 Rolling with the punch, they gave up and focused on their spazzy/psychedelic experimental pop music. Most of the crowd were still seated on the grass as Woodhead, standing at a table full of gear, let out alternating bursts of Jay-Z and buzzes to get people up on their feet.

I had seen Woodhead perform on his own in a more freak-folk kind of set earlier this year, but here, backed by members of The Miles and Heartbeat Hotel, the music was pretty much at the other end of the spectrum. The set started with a minute-long intro of looped vocals before the band kicked in, throbbing dual drums and more manipulated layers of vocals. The second song had a bit more of a melodic throughline, but the band wasn't going to let it go just at that, keeping things quaveringly off-centre. All of the songs sort of brushed up against pop structure, but were then twisted around with electronic manipulations and drums. This was another quick set, four songs/seventeen minutes, interrupted by Bill Cosby doing an anti-drug PSA. Homespun weirdness carried through by the band's artful enthusiasm, it'll be interesting to see where the band goes with this.

Listen to a track from this set here.

Closing out the evening were L.A. tribal-drone specialists Pocahaunted. The band — who have just recently announced their dissolution — have a complicated discography, full of limited-edition cassettes and singles. Here, however, they were mostly playing material from their recent album Make it Real. That focus possibly follows from the fact that the band went through some personnel changes and stylistic adjustments after the departure of co-founder Bethany Cosentino, now making waves with her band Best Coast.

There were a few moments where the music came across like a slowed-down version of The Slits, given the overlapping vocals and dubby sensibility. There was also a hippie-ish undertow throughout — you can fish around for whatever kind of "experimental" comparisons you want, but this is also a band that is descended from the musical excursions (though not so much the lyrical concerns) of The Doors. Starting slowly, the band built up in intensity, establishing the template on "Threshold", which then picked up a notch on "You Do Voo Doo" — mildly-drone-y psychedelic keybs from Leyna Tilbor decorated the collective, often wordless vox led by founder Amanda Brown, who ranged out into the crowd on the lawn as far as her microphone cord would let her. "You Do Voo Doo" was voodoo-y in a way that cocaine-era Miles Davis would understand, with bassist Diva Dompe hitting a Michael Henderson-esque repetitive groove.

Drummer Ged Gengras, meanwhile — the bumper sticker on the kick drum reading "ZZ TOP FOR PRESIDENT" — got shirtless in a hurry, perhaps a sign that the band were feeling comfortable in these surroundings. With General Chaos' visuals smoothing out the masonry's corners above them, it felt like a fitting environment — Brown commenting that this was the most beautiful venue of their tour. Vaguely space-y, mildly psychedelic jam-rock being popular with the youth of today, the crowd was all over this stuff. The band hit its sprawling peak on the final two songs "U.F.O." and "Save Yrself (It's Nice)", each of which stretched out to the eight-minute-ish mark. Both of these pushed the tensions of their songs to the limits — or, perhaps to those less into it, got caught up in some musical navel-gazing. I wouldn't go that far — by and large it had a good balance of being static enough to be pleasantly hypnotic while bring groovy enough to stay interesting.

Listen to a track from this set here.

A well-constructed night of facepaint and wilful artsiness and enjoyable times under the open sky.

1 There's often a slight moment of cognitive dissonance on looking around at Music Galley shows and remembering, "oh yeah, this is a church!" Which felt all the moreso with people relaxing on the lawn with their beers. It's also mildly strange that a church courtyard is the site of one of the relatively few gigs where people could smoke freely — which was fairly unpleasant given how it's sort of a confined space. Isn't it time that we moved ahead and banned all smoking at any sort of concert, whether inside or out?

2 As far as I can tell, for example, there are a couple other groups called Wet Nurse on myspace, but not this one.

3 Her solo show WHEN I GO DEAF showed at The Music Gallery earlier this year.

4 Although at this show the band was billed as "The Deep", they are, in fact, properly known as [sic]-inducing "The Deeep". I am assuming that the extra "e" is for extra deepness. They also don't seem to have much of a web presence on their own behalf, but the curious can find some audio here.

5 Those innerested in the idea of using Neil Young as the source material for sample-based musics should look here.

6 You can check the whole thing out on youtube.

1 comment:

  1. Rob Ford's Logical ConclusionAugust 27, 2010 at 4:38 PM

    Smoking should be banned everywhere, all the time.