02 April 2007

Photos & Review: Do Make Say Think|The Berg Sans Nipple|Elliott Brood

Bowery Ballroom, 29 March 2007

When New York City is your live music home base there are always going to be conflicts, decisions to be made. Until cloning technology makes some strides, you can only be in one place at a time. Throw in the growing-older aspects of work, family and physical exhaustion and you're quickly in take-what-you-can-get territory. By the same token, the other side of the coin is very attractive -- if you want to see a band, and they tour at all, there is little doubt they'll be coming to NYC at some point. All this is to say that I've REALLY wanted to see Do Make Say Think for a while now and in a week filled with top notch live music out the proverbial ying yang, there was no doubt that I was getting my ass to Bowery Ballroom to check these guys out.

As has been the case, lately, the opening acts were equally as intriguing. I walked into the Ballroom as Elliott Brood was already in full swing. The crowd at this point was smallish, but I could tell by the way that they were huddled enthusiastically around the stage that I should sidle... and so I sidled. I would describe these guys as cosmic rockabilly. The instrumentation was, right-to-left: drums, banjo/guitar, guitar. It's amazing how you could take 100 trios of guitar/banjo/drums and get 100 completely different sounds out of them. This is true in all instances, of course, take any instruments and repeat. The possibilities are endless. Are you influenced by your influences' influences or do you stop at one degree?

The mix of sound here was some sort of mash-up of every stage of Neil Young's back catalog. Quiet, soulful songsmithing made way for raunchy Crazy Horse soundscapes. The guitarist stage-left sat down and, although was playing a standard plugged-in acoustic guitar got some serious volume and sound out of his rig. It was hard to see what he was plugged in through, but there was a whole lot of something going on over there effects-wise. It wasn't until after the set that I saw that he also had some bass pedals -- which did explain where the bass notes were coming from, but still much to be answered. He was the one-man Crazy Horse. The banjo player/guitar player/ukulele player had an incredibly raspy voice and a frenetic pacing to everything he did. His banjo playing was reminiscent of the Codetalkers, four-string fast-paced wildness. I really liked Elliott Brood. Their whole sound was sort of like this: boom chukka boom chukka boom chukka... they made me dance. They might have been from Canada, or at least close, because they talked about the bridge between Detroit and Windsor. There's something going on in Canada. When we figure out what it is, we need to work on importing some of it here. [OTW note: quick Google check confirms: Canadian] See further: Do Make Say Think (below)

Next up was The Berg Sans Nipple, who may have been French Canadian, but I'm pretty sure they were just French. Let's call them the French Duo. You know the Duo, right? Well, I'm obsessed with them on all fronts and will try to minimize the references thereto in this review, but it's going to be inevitable.

Like Russo & Benevento, these guys (while having an infinitely better name, btw) are a drummer and keyboard player and play instrumental music and do a lot of digital sampling therein. But there are way more differences than similarities between the pair of duos. Musically, I'd pin BSN as a mix of the instrumental triangle of Duo/Sound Tribe Sector 9/Drums and Tuba, which puts them strongly in a jammy milieu -- surprising because I've never heard a whiff of them before. After seeing them on Thursday, I'd say this is a shame -- memo to Bonnaroo: book these guys for a late night slot somewhere, you will not be sorry. Keyboards and drums, yes, but also steel drums and hooters and trumpets and screaming and shouting -- all this sound squeezed through a conduit of 1's and 0's and coming out as a freaky, funky mishmash that's got a good beat and makes the kids smile.
The audience, which was almost to capacity by this point, was obviously gaga over these guys and rightly so. There was little there that wasn't to love. On one hand, there wasn't much there there -- the musicianship was sort of B-, the songs were more like notions of a dance riff and yet, the energy and creativity seemed to fill in the gaps more than adequately.

I meant to buy their CD on the way out, but that was before...

Do Make Say Think totally rearranged my reality, making me forget what was life was like beforehand. Truly next level. The word is: transcendental. They transcended. People will introduce DMST as some sort of Broken Social Scene side-project, but that's not an accurate representation. They're more like the second cousin of BSS. BSS is a collective and the Venn diagram of their existence involves the overlap and inclusion a lot of bands, one of which is Do Make Say Think from whom they borrow a couple members and most certainly borrow a lot of musical ideas. Any time you hear the Broken Social Scene and think: "wow that is so amazingly orchestral for pop music", they've copped that from DMST. I've got a couple of their albums and have had their most recent one (reviewed here) in heavy drool-inducing rotation since it arrived. My hope would have been that they could reproduce their studio magic, the majesty of their compositions and the energy of their instrumentation in a live setting. If they just did that -- note for note -- I would have been more than impressed.

But it was much more than that. If anything, the album sell their talents short. Their set Thursday night at the Bowery Ballroom was some weird lobotomizing experience. A disorienting brain re-arranger. It was like going to an amusement park blindfolded and being lead around by some crazy prankster. One minute your seated comfortably on the merry go round: horizontal circles, peaceful, pure, perfect... the next moment, without warning, without the chance to brace yourself, you're on the roller coaster: up, up, up, up... DOOOOOOOWN!!! Mental whiplash for which you haven't a chance to prepare yourself for.

The band was six members strong with two drummers: the esoteric, instrumental Canadian Allman Brothers. A female violin player stood sandwiched between two guitar players and a bassist, although sometimes the guitar player was a bassist or the other one was a keyboardist or there were actually two bass players (double bass = BAD ASS!). Stage left was a trumpet player and a sax player who sometimes played another little set of keys and sometimes did nothing. There was also a dude tucked way in the back who just kind of added more drumming.... mmmm... more drums. Is that more than six? It was a large six. The players and their instruments were sort of incidental. For that matter, so were the songs. It was like a symphony with movements and a level of storytelling that you usually have to dig for in instrumental music. They didn't do a lot of dynamic rocking out or preening or really much of anything, they just played and played and blew my fricking mind.

Somehow these guys are all rhythm and all melody all the time. Crazy polyrhythms attack from all angles constantly -- listening to the music you would think there is no possible way that anyone could dance to it and yet, you find yourself moving constantly. It's not dance music and yet you can't not dance to it. That pretty much sums up the weird conflicts deeply inherent in Do Make Say Think. You have that jarring, unbraceable, surreal trip to the carnival effect as described above which just kind of sounds horrible and yet it's undeniably addicting. The first 40 minutes of their set flew by like no 40 minutes I've ever experience. I'm not even sure if it seemed really long or really short, but it was not typical. I looked at my watch, trying to catch my breath and my bearings and was just, well confused. Songs take forever to build up from absolutely nothing and then it seems like they still should slow down and take their time. You try to zone in on one musician -- that guy on the guitar, or the drummer on the right and you don't think anything special is going on and then it sort of sinks in and you're blown away. Again and again and again. There is a perfect mix of hifalutin, cerebral, intricate, reedy composition with heavy, pulsing rhythm and out-and-out guitar shredding. Not so much schizophrenia -- maybe nuttier and maybe not.

Wow, I'm doing a horrible job describing this music. I thought I knew what I was going to say and now that I'm thinking back on it a fews later my mind is mush. Did the show even happen at all? I do know that it was probably my first 16+ show in quite a while. And yet I didn't feel really old and the crowd and their energy was impressive in how they were impressed. Then you realize that Do Make Say Think may seem like one of those bands you have to "get," whose meaning might escape you, their musical poetry deep and confounding. But really that's not the case at all: great music transcends, and Do Make Say Think was transcendent.

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