(All photos courtesy of Fo-OTW, Greg Aiello (i.e. they're good for a change))
19 October 2007
When it all clicks, it is glorious -- for any group of musicians in any setting. But different bands click together in different ways; more generally the way 4 musicians players snap into place somehow sounds different than the way a trio does. It's all a mysterious chemistry, but each number of musicians -- solo, duo, trio on up have their own magic to them.
Friday night I was able to see this fundamental science at work with two different bands on two different stages. On a night when the city was aflame with more bands than days in the year from every corner of the planet, it was a handful of NYC regulars and friends who did done it more nasty. On top of that, the music and the musicians were a perfect complement to Tuesday's outing -- criss-cross contamination with lowest common denominators and minimal degrees of separation.
Sex Mob @ The Stone
First up it was Sex Mob -- Steven Bernstein, Tony Scherr, Briggan Krauss, w/ G. Calvin Weston on drums -- at John Zorn's magical musical closet, the Stone. I got there just a smidge before start time and the room was packed and warm. Yes, the room is a closet pinched in at the corner of 2nd St and Avenue C -- if it was 80 blocks northward, it would be packed with Manolo Blahniks and evening gowns for the days of the week, but in its deep East River-hugging location
it's packed with music... really fucking good music, without shelving, hangers or other neatly laid out organization whatsoever.
Bernstein + 3 = 4 and these guys clicked like any amazing foursome can. They were a breathing living definition of Quartet with a capital "Q" -- rock quartet, jazz quartet, barbershop quartet, they seemed to embody it all There were solos, for sure, but mostly they just were. Wow! That's all I can say. In an hour plus of playing there was just one short pause, otherwise everything was a continuous flow of music, wrapping, weaving, wending; a long, perfectly paced anecdote of slide trumpet, saxophone, bass and drums. The songs were segued together in expert fashion with Bernstein acting as director -- Robert Altman conducting the opening scene to "The Player" -- no cuts, just one long, incredibly entertaining take. The resulting music was a multi-dimensional, extra-galactic Spirograph that looped around and about in fantastic fashion. At times they dipped low, starting off in slow solo fashion before they added and built and added and built into something wickedly climactic. Then out of the burning rubble a new form would take place and they're be on to something different.
The room was perfect for the set. It contained the energy, focused it. I was actually sitting against a wall next to and parallel to the performance area and basically faced away from the band into the crowd. It didn't matter, the music traveled in all directions and bounced back off the walls and ceiling. It is sparsely decorated, but appropriately so. There is a smell in there -- the smell of an old college apartment passed down from roommate to roommate, so that a certain stench of partying and sloth sinks deep into the walls. It is the slightly unpleasant tang that accompanies being lived in -- not just lived in, but lived in to the highest level of sensual enjoyment. That is what The Stone is. Pure.
Sex Mob patched together a terrific set, originals from across their repertoire as well as the awesome covers that they've got pegged so nicely: Prince's "Little Nikki" was really, really awesome: an excellent balance of recognizable "they're nailing this song" qualities to the way-out there stretched "wow, they're really slaughtering this song" wizardry. A little James Bond action in there as well made the set complete. After calling out all the bass players I love last week, it was good to see Tony Scherr (Jenny Scheinman's longtime bandmate) get next level with his upright. That's some nutty range he's got, hitting a whole host of emotions and energy levels from quiet groaning to bumpity-bumpity basstronica licks. Krauss and Bernstein took turns being Jekyll and Hyde, playing like two hemispheres of the same brain throughout the set. And what can you say about Weston without using the word "sick!" He was only semi-literate in the Sex Mob catalog and yet was never anything but right on it.
I knew the show would be great, the players on top of the material, the energy in the room inspiring, but I wasn't prepared for the way it all just clicked like that. There are great foursomes out there, they get together and make nice geometry -- rectangles, trapezoids, the occasional rhombus... but it's a rare treat to get the perfect square and that's what Sex Mob had going on Friday night. Damn!
Marco Benevento & Friends @ Joe's Pub
It was one of those bang, bang, bang nights, so we went last note of Sex Mob > brief but significant "holy shit" glances at each other > cab > Joe's Pub > order drink > Marco Benevento. We all know that Marco can snap into place with Sir Joe, they are the twosome by which I judge all others... heck, they are "The Duo" and those two would win any musical three-legged race they entered. But, again, the way two guys fit together is different than the way three do and lately Marco has been showing his kinky side favoring the threesome to all else.
The drummer seems to be the rotating spot right now -- he's played gigs with Matt Chamberlain and Mike Dillon and Friday night he was joined by The Slip's Andrew Barr -- but the bass playing duties have thankfully belonged to one guy -- Reed Mathis. Mathis is so good and so central to what's going on with this music that calling this trio "Marco Benevento and Friends" or anything else is starting to shade toward insulting. But that's just the fine print here, the big bold letters on this outfit are "Holy shit!" Four guys make music their way, two guys theirs, but this is how I like my trios, thank you!
And it is much different to watch Marco play in a trio. He lays back and let's the music come to him. Yeah, his name's on the bill, but he's more about the places where he's not taking charge than anything. His main focus is on the piano, but he's got just enough electricity -- literally and figuratively -- to take things intergalactic. The playing was great all around, these fellas know what they're going, but I found myself astounded with Marco's compositions and arrangements all set long. Frankly, it's a dead-heat between Benevento and Reid Anderson for composer numero uno de OTW... I'd love to see those two get together in a room with a sheaf of blank sheet music.
These songs are just flat out fantastic and now that they've been toured around a bit with he and Reed being truly intimate with the pieces and each other, they're taking on a life of their own. They reach all axes of the musical spectrum -- quiet, gorgeous fugue-like epics, deeply funky, hard-to-sit-still ragers and all points in between, around and beyond. I loved "The Real Morning Party" which is ultragroovy; terribly simple and addictive and yet plenty of room for open-ended gooey goodness. The covers and the arrangement and playing thereof were definite highlights: My Morning Jacket's "Golden" was a surprise (I hadn't realized this had hitchhiked its way into the repertoire) and was unbleepingbelievably good; the Zombies "She's Not There" was even more perfectly rendered than it was last time I saw it at the Tap Bar (and that blew me away); and the Bond-theme "Nobody Does It Better" was a nice complement to the Sex Mob soundtrack bit.
The originals mostly came off of the Live at Tonic release. It's funny to think that almost all the versions on that CD set were the first or second time those songs were played... and they are all incredibly good, sometimes impossibly so. So you can only imagine what kind of world we're living in when they actually have a time to ferment and age...the flavors mix together and that certain reaction takes place to the point where they are literally intoxicating. Then you have three guys clicking together in next-level fashion and you've got yourself quite a gig. Quite a gig. Not to say anything lesser about Chamberlain or Dillon, who both did it quite well, but I was very impressed with Barr's role in this version of the trio. Maybe it's because Andrew and Reed both play in trios for their day jobs -- trios that can get that interlocking-horns-tight thing going on -- that these three played so damn good together. Maybe it was the full-fledged grand piano and the late night vibe and the cozy-luxury confines of Joe's Pub that brought out the meat. Whatever it was, it was something special.
Band of Horses/The Maccabees @ Blender Theater
That should have been the end of the night -- the Benevento show didn't start until midnightish -- but as I'm making way to the train station, I realized that it was going to take a miracle to get make the train. So, since it was "on the way" and even more so since it was free, I decided to see if I could get in to the CMJ show at the Blender Theater at Gramercy (n.b. if the name of your venue has more than 3 words in it and/or one prepositional phrase in it, then you should know that I hate the name of your venue) featuring indie buzz band Band of Horses.
They waved me right in without a problem since the room was probably half full. The band on stage when I got there was The Maccabees who are from London and had that crooked teeth/awesome cockney vibe going on that worked in the loud, rangy, 2am rock and roll fashion that I'm occasionally warm to. One thing I did realize quickly was that there really were a lot of out-of-towners out and about, CMJ-style. They had a much different feel than your typical NYU-brand homegrown hipster, and also they were raging and dancing like I haven't seen in a while. Maybe it was just the Maccabees, but I was impressed for that hour. Maccabees were decent, but didn't do much to distinguish themselves into the gotta see/gotta buy/gotta download category. Still, I'd recommend 'em.
It got a bit more crowded for Band of Horses. Before they started there was a strange video game promo on the screen complete with some dude coming out in costume... that definitely made me feel old, but I did dig it when the girl next to me started booing loudly and drunkenly and flipped the whole proceeding the bird. Fight da man! While waiting I realized that I was going to have my 2nd train dilemma of the night -- by the time they took the stage, there wasn't much time before I'd have to leave for the next train. I decided to let the music decide.
I've got some BoH on the ole iTunes, but haven't felt it's pull in a strong way yet. Still, some folks seem to dig 'em and place them up there with MMJ, so I was interested. About 30 seconds into their first song it was quite obvious that they are strongly reminiscent of My Morning Jacket, even down to the lead singer's vocals being eerily Jim James-like. Lots of guitars, loud, raging rock and roll, it all adds up to being the poor man's MMJ. As far these things go, there are a lot of worse bands to be the poor man's version of. Falling short of that lofty aspiration still leaves plenty of room for high energy rocking out which is pretty much what they provided. The room was a bundle of good vibes -- all the kids addled from a weeklong music binge, beers and crazy alcoholic energy drinks they were giving away at the show still found enough oomph to let the Band of Horses get them going. This is where a more grumpy old man would go off on the kids today, but I didn't see much to offend me Friday night and hopefully didn't stick out as the fat married guy who should be getting home to give his kids breakfast. The only oddity with the crowd at the Blender Theater at Gramercy was that I overheard not one but two different and distinct sets of people discussing how facial hair was coming back into style again (The Band of Horses dude (i.e. Jim James-lite) had a substantial, if not wholly unattractive, beard going) which I found to be both bizarre but slightly comforting... ahead of the curve again, Neddy!
I decided that I was enjoying it but not enough to forgo the time in between 2:51am and 4:13 am so I made my way Penn Station-ward... then I realized that I probably was too wishy washy upon leaving and didn't give myself enough time to get to the station. Oh well, back into the Blender Theater at Gramercy! Good thing, too, cause not only were things tightening up on stage, but when I settled into my spot I saw someone I recognized. That's right, it was Josh Hartnett standing katty corner to yours truly at 3am getting groped by only-at-3am-and-several-cocktails brand co-eds.
And how did I know it was Mr. Hartnett? Well, let's rewind to earlier in the morning, or the previous morning at that point... actually about 24 hours earlier to the hour. Having my strange brand of insomnia rear it's head I was up at about 4am without a chance of going to sleep so I headed downstairs to watch some TV and either catch up on the DVR backlog or fall asleep on the couch. When I turned the television on, it was on FOX owing to the fact that the previous evening I had checked the baseball score before heading up to bed for what would eventually be a short lived sojourn. Anyhoo, this insipid little program "Fox and Friends" or something is on and the insipid bimbo and mimbo are interviewing Hartnett. That's right, you knew it was all coming together like that, didn't you? And what, might you ask, were these three powerhouses of culture and politics talking about at that early hour? Don't ask me why, but they were discussing facial hair, which I hear is making a comeback, although Herr Hartnett has little-to-none. I shit you not.
All kind of perfect -- not as perfect as watching 3 musicians play like Benevento/Mathis/Barr or 4 play like Bernstein/Krauss/Weston/Scherr, but perfect nonetheless.