06 January 2010

Review: The Bad Plus on NYE (an appreciation)

It seems fitting after spending the last few weeks thinking about my favorite music of the decade that I would close out the 2000’s with The Bad Plus. Looking back, it seems obvious that The Bad Plus – Dave King on drums, Ethan Iverson on piano, and Reid Anderson on bass and general compositional superherodom – were my personal band of the decade. So, no surprise that we decided to ring in the New Year at the Village Vanguard for what – do I could correctly – would be my 20th Bad Plus show in the last 7 years.

It was cool to see a New Year’s show at a place like the Vanguard. Tickets were kind of pricey and obviously sitting crammed in a 50+ year old jazz club isn’t everyone’s idea of a NYE party. The net result was that there was no one there willy-nilly: if you were there, you wanted to be there.

Set I:
Have You Met Miss Jones (Rodgers/Hart)
Knows the Difference (Anderson)
Anthem of the Earnest (King)
Birthday Gift (Iverson)
Beryl Loves to Dance (Anderson)
Metal (Ligeti)
Giant (Anderson)
2 pm (King)
Laying A Strip For the Higher-Self State Line (King)
Silence is the Question (Anderson)

Did I say the Bad Plus were my musicians of the year? Maybe we can whittle that down even further to just Reid Anderson. When it comes to writing a song, Reid is simply Zeus slumming it down on Earth with the mortals. The first set on NYE serves as my proof. His four songs anchored a brilliant set, each one standing on its own as masterpiece and yet, taken together, serve as some highlight reel of songwriting. He works superlatively within traditional conventions on one song (Beryl), twists them on their axis on another (Knows The Difference), and then rips them apart to reveal the stunningly beautiful world inside (Giant and Silence). Such a beauty nearly drove me to tears one multiple occasions during the set. Of course, with TBP it takes (at least) three to make this magic work and they were all on point from the start. We were sitting a little bit towards King and so I felt a bit more from the drums than the bass and piano. This was OK because Dave, whose exuberance can occasionally go a bit too far, was the energetic focal point all evening long. If anyone is going to turn a jazz show into a New Year’s party, Dave King’s your man. Iverson’s “Birthday Gift” was introduced as a song both a la and dedicated to Thelonious Monk, describing him as a strong-buy-underlying influence to the Bad Plus sound. Man, did he really nail the Monk mannerisms perfectly and yet make it something genuinely Iversonian at the same time. Both sets were very light on the well-loved cover songs that have allowed the band to transcend the jazz clubs and crowd and reach a greater audience. The one cover they did play in the first set, Miss Jones, was barely so, but still highlighted their usual method of ripping a song to shreds and rebuilding it in a purely Bad Plus style. Miss Jones was treated to a wicked tempo whirlpool: at first too fast, then too slow, then just right and on and on. Wonderfully disorienting and a perfect start.

Between sets, there was some food served as advertised. Kind of bizarre to see people eating chicken wings and rice and beans in the Vanguard, a room that prides itself on not serving food on the other 364 days a year. We were plenty full from dinner.

We were informed that the 2nd set would be broadcast live on NPR (you can still stream it here).

Set II:
You Are (Anderson)
And Here We Test Your Powers of Observation (Anderson)
Bill Hickman at Home (Iverson)
Who’s He? (Iverson)
People Like You (Anderson)
Song X (Coleman)
Metal (Ligeti)
My Friend Metatron (King)
Dirty Blonde (Anderson)
Laying A Strip For the Higher Self State Line (King) >
New Year’s Countdown>
Auld Lang Syne>
Physical Cities (Anderson)
Big Eater (Anderson)
The Radio Tower Has A Beating Heart* (King)
E: Flim (Aphex Twin)
* debut

The late set was an absolute monster. Even with a couple of repeats (we were warned), the band did a great job all night of spreading the set around from all the albums and, of course, featuring new material. I can tell you right now, the best song on the next album will be “People Like You” which has the same intense soul-strip-searching quality that Giant and Silence Is the Question have and yet may be more beautiful and accessible all the same. People all around the room were shaking their heads in disbelief after that one, like me, I’m sure, contemplating not just the song and the playing, but the meaning of music itself. Yes, it’s all that.

As with any New Year’s show, the climax comes at midnight and The Bad Plus did not disappoint. Repeating Dave King’s Laying A Strip jaunt as background music – Ethan said it was a good choice because it was happy music that had a good beat to propel us into the new year – a countdown was lead, leading into a straight read of the NYE classic Auld Lang Syne. Still at their most postmodern and metamusical, the trio wasted no time flipping the slow traditional number into their most rocking, genre-defying piece, Physical Cities. As 2010 got its legs under it, I sat in amazement, wondering how one man could write all this music, all over the map, and yet all coherent and powerful and all of it amazing. Not to mention how three guys can draw from such disparate influences and tastes and generate a singular sound out of it. When I listen to the Bad Plus I hear wonderful music, but also I am made aware of what it is about music that makes me love it so much. There are few musicians who have been that to me and that is why The Bad Plus was the most important and my favorite of the last decade.

I thought for sure they were going to end after that, but their standard set closer/encore Big Eater (yet a completely different flavor of awesome from Anderson). As I often did throughout the night I looked all around the room to survey the smiles and the looks of intense joy on the faces of the people in the room. No one was thinking about getting the most of their drink minimums or being cramped in that room or the cold rain outside or even the crappy economy. And then I saw something I’d never seen before – a couple people standing near the back, actually dancing at the Village Vanguard. Awesome! But that wasn’t all, the band didn’t leave the stage after Big Eater, but instead Ethan introduced another song which he said Dave had taught them all that day. So, we were treated to a debut as well. Another great song in the making. They returned to thunderous applause to encore with Flim, perhaps my favorite Bad Plus cover, electronic de-electronified and fully Bad-Plus-ified. Glory! Ethan expertly wound the tune down into a little Auld Lang Syne jingle which was a perfect end to a wonderful New Years Eve.

No comments: