World Financial Center, 17 July 2007
After two weeks at work where it seemed like everything was conspiring against me, it was nice to have a night like I did on Tuesday: a tailor-made two-step that seemed served up especially for me. I thought I'd be able to duck out of my workday a little earlier than I did, but even there, those rascally music gods were messing with me. The drive, parking and quick train ride to the World Financial Center got me there such that my last footstep into the plaza happened just as the clock struck 7pm... Mr. Marc Ribot was announced and not a moment too soon, he was entertaining a pretty full house. Free Marc Ribot = FREEBO!
I've always maintained that to truly appreciate Marc Ribot is to know his entire repetoire: from his side gigs supporting guys like Tom Waits, to his more up-front role in the vast Zorn catalog to his own wealth of projects. To me, it's like there's just one Marc Ribot gig that started whenever it was that he started playing and is still going on -- each night on stage is just the most recent advancement of the overall oeuvre. As such, there are two levels to appreciate his genius: the immediate music at hand -- the notes and tone and vibe of the here and now -- and that same music of the moment as considered in the context of everything else. Hard to explain, but an example: you appreciate the ultra-wicked rock/funk of Ceramic Dog a little bit differently if you've seen Marc pop balloons between his legs at a Book of Heads gig; the whacked out inversion of Spiritual Unity takes on a different heft when you consider that this is the same guy that both out-grooved MMW on many occasions and can bring you to the verge of tears with the beauty of his solo acoustic playing. All that is a longwinded way to say that the free show Tuesday night was the perfect format to get the most Ribotflavin for your buck.
The show was set up in 3 stages: a few tunes solo acoustic, a set of Spiritual Unity and a set of Ceramic Dog. Marc wasted no time getting deep into it, making wily work of his guitar with a nice level of volume and energy to fill the post-work crowd. The playing was loose and jangly -- this was not precise Marc Ribot, but rather high-octane soulful Marc Ribot; playing and singing from deep in his heart.
This is as good a place as any to point out the inherent yet unspoken irony of the gig from a philosophical point of view. Marc Ribot plays World Financial Center. The guys enjoying their beers along the sidewalk cafes on either side of the performance area may very well be the same folks waiting to move into the condo that shoved Tonic out of town. Ribot's recent rants (you go Marc!) concerning the state of the downtown/NYC music scene border on the Communist at times and yet here he is playing in the heart of capitalism, with the security guards flashing signs of the new American fascism with their "you can't take no pictures here, this ain't a public place" bullshit. Certainly we would be entertained by some soapbox special, a little to-the-man sticking?
None of that. Nothing explicit at least. Marc's big "fuck you" came in the form of the Spiritual Unity set that segued very nicely as his band hopped on stage and eked their way into the mix during his last solo number. They proceeded to play a strong 45 minutes of what I like to call musical babble. It reminded me strongly of the Cecil Taylor set I caught earlier this year and not surprisingly, Henry Grimes was the bass player for both bands. Grimes is one of these old timers that seems way out there -- just one groovy looking cat with sparkly stickers on his instrument which is a cosmic shade of seafoam green (somewhat matching his headband). The entirety of the set seemed dominated by his playing -- an amelodic low end that meanders in some indeterminate Brownian motion and yet hypnotizes and overwhelms. Ribot has the ability to swallow other musicians with his playing but he's just as comfortable letting his guitar get swallowed by others. In Spiritual Unity, the latter is the case with Grimes and Roy Campbell on trumpet taking the reins much of the way... insofar as there are reins to take and a direction to go in. The music was like the result of taking the music you'd like to listen to and turning it inside out and maybe flopping it upside down as well. Not really the kind of relaxing, easygoing atmosphere that most of your early-evening free shows provide. And really, I can only enjoy it so much in such a setting. The real enjoyment for me comes from that context, the framing of the overall Ribot experience which got a mini-showing at the WFC, sandwiching this set between the lovely, ultra-accessible acoustic hit and the delicious Ceramic Dog.
After a short break (though man, it would have been cool if they did another band segue!), the last act took the stage. Ceramic Dog has Ribot joined by Shahzad Ismaily on bass and mini moog and Ches Smith on drums in one of those atypically typical guitar/bass/drums arrangements. The first thing that struck me with these guys was the pure joy the two rhythm guys were taking in playing this music with Marc. This energy permeates the music and brings the whole thing to that special place. Just like Spiritual Unity seemed not to be united at all, but rather a loose federation of notes and ideas, Ceramic Dog was not some fragile little trinket on a mantelpiece somewhere out of reach. Each piece had a deep, seat-shifting groove that all three locked into in equal amounts leading to ultimate listenability and maximum enjoyment. It took long enough to get there, but at long last we got heavy doses of true-to-form Marc Ribot shredding. Just next-level stuff that was brilliant in the moment and even more soul-satisfying when taken in full context of the evening or that overarching everlasting Ribot moment.
Bowery Ballroom (4), 17 July 2007
It was an easy hop onto the J-Train from the WFC and I was on my way to the Bowery Ballroom. It is rare that the J comes into my life, but I was thankful for its ability to plant me directly in front of the club with due dilligence. The J strikes me as one of those shared experiences that brings some subtle joys to those who use it regularly -- like a shared secret in which impromptu communities pop up around. Like those musicians that get under your skin quick and easy and yet don't seem to gain that mass appeal that you know deep down they deserve. This will most likely not be a problem with St. Vincent. Sure, I've spent my share of 1's and 0's on this site singing her praises, all but buying you tickets and arranging for your transportation to the gig and yet I'm not sure I convinced a single soul to check her out Tuesday night (speak up if you were there!). My powers of persuasion seem to be slipping, but that don't make me any less sure of myself.
Nor should it... don't expect my bordering-on-obsession to subside any time soon especially after finally getting the new debut St. Vincent album and catching this show at the Bowery. Good grief dear readers! Ms. Annie Clark as got it. Let's review here (February opening for Midlake), and here (April opening for John Vanderslice) where I fell hard and then even harder for the brilliance that is St. Vincent. Those gigs seemed from another world and another time but as new and fresh as anything I've caught wind of in a long while. A true testament to the concept of the opening act. Those were solo gigs which was part of the charm for sure... Tuesday was a headlining full-band event. Would it make a difference? Solo, Annie's music is pure beauty; with a full band, it's even more beautiful. Solo, it's got awesome rageability; with a band it rages even harder. Solo, she is quirky, funky, off-kilter and brimming with the poise and confidence of a seasoned rock star; with the full band she will eat you for lunch between two slices of seedless rye.
The band has a drummer and bass player backing up as well as a violin dude adding flourish and a little extra oomph. Does it need extra oomph? I would have said no, but having seen and heard the result, I'm all for it. The music was almost entirely from the album, Marry Me, and after two gigs I was plenty familiar with almost all of it, but of course, everything takes on a new life in this new context. I knew it was going to be a special set from the get-go, but when the sweet and sour "Now. Now." flipped into a blazing short noise jam that would have made Marc Ribot proud, I really lost all sight of where the ceiling might be. The band was four strong, but there was so much more going on in there. Annie is a veteran of the Polyphonic Spree as well as a former Sufjan Stevens band member and she's taken a lot of the best of those two bigger-is-better enterprises and made her own brand of, in my opinion, tastier symphony. Somewhere in the background she's got special effects support laying down samples and programmed drum sequences and a whole slew of other goodies that fit in perfectly. It almost reminded me of the way Benevento/Russo have taken their sound to new height along the technological axis. Annie seemed genuinely overwhelmed at her newfound prospects. The room was pretty full, more than I might have guessed and the crowd was enthusiastic almost to a fault. There was just a touch too much banter coming from the audience, particularly the upstairs tables. Stuff ot the cornball "I love you!" screams to the annoyanth degree. But really, who can blame 'em, I love you too, St. Vincent! She remarked at how blown away she was that she had an album out that you could go buy and she expressed her feelings in such a way that made you realize just how mind-blowing that could be. One minute you're struggling to find your sound, the next people are downloading your music from iTunes and snapping photograph after photograph of you from the side of the stage of one of the bitchingest clubs in the world.
In light of all that, she kicked some serious booty. I can honestly say I loved every minute of it. The band behind her was able but not overwhelming. They brought out the richness of the songs, those wonderful songs, without shadowing what makes Annie Clark St. Vincent. She is the queen of "ba da dee dums" if ever there was one and a songbird in every sense of the word. And yet, that petite little songstress can really shred on the guitar when she wants to. I'd love to see that confidence evolve into some wing-stretching somewhere down the road. As it stands, there are several numbers where the band seems to carve out a little space. Not anything extended or what I'd come close to calling jamming per se, but just sticking their elbows out a little and making some room for a moment or two: that rage-out in "Now Now," the dreamy coda to "Lips Are Read," etc.
This is good music at its most pure. Love songs, perfectly conceived and executed; synergy between a beautiful voice and the right touch of guitar; wit in melody. But most of all it makes me happy. Go see St. Vincent.
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18 July 2007