Sunday, October 16, 2011

Live Review: Sightings/Doomsday Student/Child Abuse/Mangulator 10/13/11

For the sake of full disclosure: I am in one of the bands I'm going to be reviewing. Also, I know pretty much everybody in all of the other bands on a personal level. Does this skew my ability to create an "objective" review? Of course.

However, does this discredit my words? I doubt it. The reason why I happen to know the people in the bands which played on this particular night is because their bands are good. As often happens, I saw the bands first and then I made their acquaintances later. When I see groups I like, I cannot help but to get personally involved with them. I would be a fool not to. Good music is hard to find, and more often than not the quality of one's music directly reflects upon the nature of one's personality.

Just because I am friendly with someone does not mean I like or endorse their band. Quite the opposite: I am not easily impressed and I don't need to suck up to anybody for any reason. There are plenty of friends' bands I neither like or will promote, just as I'm sure I have many friends who would rather eat cat turds than hear mine. I really gain nothing personally by writing a positive review of this event. There is no payola involved and no one here will become an instant star from this piddly review. The event is over and I'm sure this particular mixture of bands may never grace the same stage again. This piece is purely for the sake of documentation and I hope the reader is imparted with a flavor of the entire context surrounding it. Like it, or lump it as you wish, but here it comes.

This show took place in the bowels of the Cake Shop, in Manhattan . . .


Mangulator is a group which formed a few months ago under fairly spontaneous circumstances. Keith Abrams, who drums for PAK (feat. Ron Anderson) and Kayo Dot, wanted to try some improvising  at a very low-key event with myself on bass and Andrew Hock (also of the metal band Castevet) on guitar. Basically we just met up, plugged in and played. Although Andrew smoked his amp after five minutes and had to finish out the set on a very puny substitution, I could tell there was immediate musical chemistry. So, tonight when we opened this bill, we finally got to play a proper set with working equipment at the necessary stun volume. As opposed to self-analyzing what we did, I will simply post the unedited live recording and let you decide. The three of us share a taste for hard-edged prog, free improvisation and death metal chops. Our music reflects these influences very clearly. I am optimistic about the future of this project.

Mangulator live 11.13.10

Following Mangulator was the first New York performance in 11 months by Child Abuse. Longtime keyboardist and singer Luke Calzonetti left the band a while back and after a long search he was replaced by Eric Lau. The trio opened with a brand new piece and proceeded to barrel through some of their more familiar, gnarly chestnuts with trademark gusto. To those unfamiliar with Child Abuse's music, it is extremely vigorous, dissonant and mathematical. There's a tendency towards repetitive, off-kilter riffs made even more obscure by Oran Canfield's elaborate drumming, which tends to skillfully obliterate any obvious barlines the bass and keyboards happen to erect. Bassist Tim Dahl's use of heavy fuzz, ring modulation and looping pushes his instrument's straight out front and his presence and attack are extremely aggressive. It's obvious that the new line-up is finally getting back into the swing of things and they're doing a good job tackling this difficult music.


It's impossible to talk about Doomsday Student without mentioning Arab On Radar. Let's just get that out of the way. The new band is, essentially, three-quarters of AOR with the addition of Chinese Stars' guitarist Paul Vieira. Unfortunately the recent Arab On Radar reunion was not meant to last, but this new group will satisfy much of what fans of the old band are looking for. Let's make one thing clear though: Doomsday Student is NOT Arab On Radar. Of course these guys are drawing on what they know, but they are clearly  moving in a new direction. Doomsday Student's music is very bludgeoning, repetitive and full of needling, bizarre guitar and histrionic vocals, but it is also more stucturally symmetrical in nature than AOR and it is less brazenly shambolic in execution. All I know is that these guys are loud, powerful and put on a good show. Fans of high-energy, explosive music need to take not of this band and check them out.

Closing out this bill was an intense, inspired performance by NYC veterans Sightings. I have seen the band on numerous occasions and they were particularly on fire tonight. One of the things I enjoy about a Sightings show is that I can rarely identify any of the material. Ha ha ha. Because of this, each one of their shows are like a new experience and can be taken at face-value. Sightings material is very organized and cultivated though. They formulate intricate blocks of activity wherein separate loops of guitar, bass and drum material overlap and interact with alien logic, before suddenly snapping into some other equally weird construction. Ultimately, this modus operandi is a shrewd deconstruction of the traditional verse-chorus formula of rock music, and Sightings, at their core, remain a rock band, albeit an extremely hallucinogenic and futuristic one. Obviously there is a certain amount of improvisation inside each composition, but in the larger sense they appear to be governed by highly formalized sets of rules or behaviors, as if each instrument is speaking its own complex language in a martian war summit. Mark Morgan's guitar tone is extremely distinctive characterized by a DMT-like sheen of multiple, short duration digital delays and multiple stages of tonal degradation though fuzz and distortion. He often constructs long loops of material and lets them repeat while moving over to the microphone in order to issue cryptic vocal eruptions. All the while, the rhythm section continues to dodge and parry through the sonic obstacle course. The drums serve an equal, semi-melodic purpose in Sightings, moving away from the role of accompaniment. John Lockie utilizes an ingeniously lo-tech potpourri of Simmons electronic drum pads, contact mics, makeshift electro-acoustic percussion and traditional drum kit to create this unsettling rhythmic undercurrent. Bassist Richard Hoffman opts for less effects or gadgets - manning only a single Rat distortion pedal in his setup - but glues together the frantic activity of the others with groaning, creaking repetitions made from unexpected register leaps and intervallic skips. Sightings apocalyptic primitivism always evokes for me a high-degree extrapolation of the pioneering work by another NYC band from a bygone era, Mars. Unfortunately, Mars ceased operation suddenly at the end of 1978, on the cusp of its most radical work (documented on their chillingly macabre 1979 Lust/Unlust Records EP, and soon to be further exposed on a duo of vintage live LPs to be issued soon on Ecstatic Peace!) and we will never know what they might have morphed into, so, luckily we do have a contemporary band like Sightings, defying all sane musical logic and daring to destroy everything to re-order it all into a better, more modern artistic reflection of the coming end-times.

- Weasel Walter, 10.17.11

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