Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Live Review #2: Satanized/Extra Life/Little Women/White Suns 10/30/11

For the sake of full disclosure: I like all the bands in this review. I have worked with some of the members in a creative capacity and many of them are personal friends of mine. I like White Suns' music so much that I released their album on my label. 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 at Public Assembly, in Brooklyn . . .


Kevin Barry - White Suns
Rick Visser - White Suns
My single favorite New York band has been White Suns for quite a while now. The last time I saw them (a month-and-change ago) they were at the top of their game, annihilating the audience while opening a bill featuring Deerhoof and Mick Barr at the Music Hall of Williamsburg (incidentally, next door to this very venue). The band sounded tight, virulent and mighty through the great p.a. at the Music Hall and the crowd reaction was good, especially considering that the average Deerhoof fan doesn't seem to be generally inclined towards any music weirder than Deerhoof themselves! Tonight White Suns appeared in their  typical mode: set up on the floor, sans p.a. reinforcement except for vocals and kick drum. Drummer Dana Matthiessen and guitarist Rick Visser augment their main axes via makeshift tables brimming with cheap mixing boards and cruddy effects pedals. Rick, in particular, tends to morph the natural sound of his guitar beyond recognition by filtering, ring modulation, delay and sundry preparations like metal sheets and drum sticks. Dana brings additional electroacoustic colors to the gestalt utilizing microphones and contact mics to allow for a more orchestral tonal shaping of his drum and cymbal tones. White Suns use of electronics is not slick; there's a dirty, organic feel to it all which relates more to the grimy roots of noise, rather than the prevalent Kaoss Pad and identikit laptop software/plugin abuse saturating the music scene these days. Singer and guitar player Kevin Barry opts for a more stripped down configuation, depending more on deliberate harmonic dissonance and pure emotional ire to deliver his message.
Dana Matthiessen - White Suns
The group deploys structure in a tightly controlled, abstract manner which creates both drama and systems of tension-and-release which allow them to rope in the variegated blocks of dense aural horror the three conjure from their respective posts. This is a band which succeeds at deftly deconstructing rock forms while still ROCKING - and that is a great thing. What they do solidly builds on innovations from the past, but dares to head fearlessly towards the apocalypse. Despite some major technical setbacks (with so much near-decrepit equipment being constantly abused in the name of sonic devastation, these things are inevitable) the band soldiered through their brief set. Having been in their situation many times, I can relate to the frustrating feeling that seconds of dead air are lasting for hours, but when this happens, one just has to press on, as White Suns did. They had the good sense to end with a bang and not a whimper, slamming through one final brutal hardcore number before making way for the other acts.

Litte Women do some serious male bonding: left to right: Jason Nazary,
Travis LaPlante, Andrew Smiley. not shown: Darius Jones
Little Women weren't on the scene for the first half of 2011, as they were hard at work concocting the epic long-form piece they've been performing since they re-emerged at The Stone in Manhattan in June. I have seen them play this work four times now and to be frank, they blew me away with it once (at Death By Audio in September) and the other three left me a bit cold. In the past, a typical Little Women performance was a general orgy of intensity and dissonance issued from dual saxophones, guitar and drums; the new Little Women concept is much is much more sensitive, open and tonally consonant, while retaining the insectoid agitation and commitment to extreme articulation and phrasing the players all affect. People expecting the brazen harshness of their vintage approach may be disappointed in the new modus operandi, but it is undeniably a progression. This is a bonafide unit, and obviously the four musicians are all squarely on a very specific page together. These days, it's quite uncommon to feel this kind of absolute unity from a band, so in this regard Little Women are definitely a unique proposition.

There's an ominous air of ritual as group began this evening with no fanfare, the four facing each other in a square formation, holding hands silently. I'm absolutely sure this made most of the audience uncomfortable. The band played this gambit completely poker-faced, so those looking for an ironic wink didn't get one; the full intent of this action remained ambiguous. The intensely inward focus of the players on each other's sounds and channeling of emotions seems to openly exclude the audience to a large degree. Perhaps art should occasionally be about the quality of the end result, and not whether or not everybody in the audience is made to feel special and included in the process? Fine with me. The group operates outside of the conventional mores of performance style in the underground rock scene. They don't play into microphones. The saxophonists tend to move around the space, directed by unseen forces of suggestion. They aren't terribly interested in "bringing it" the way that most people expect: the new piece presents long stretches of transparent, porous improvisation, many times interrupted by sharp, loud fragments before entering slightly different, but similarly diffuse sound areas. The insularity of Little Women's presentation can, and probably will be misconstrued as sanctimonious or pretentious, but I believe their current work is strongly in development, clearly at constant risk of misfire. When they're hot, they're hot, and when they're not, it can be excruciating. They are clearly more interested in seeing what they can do beyond the ordinary than caring about what people (like myself) think. The kind of freedom they are seeking is not based on following a predictable template and their journey outward is earnest and carried forth with much consideration. I think the music scene needs more bands challenging the conventions and expectations of the audience while delivering carefully crafted presentations, so whether or not I loved this performance is beside the point. If you check out Little Women, you might be nauseated or blown away, but you will not be apathetic.

Charlie Looker of Extra Life
Charlie Looker's songwriting vehicle Extra Life has been around a while, now slimmed down to a compact trio formation of drums, guitar and keyboards. The brisk minimalism of the ensemble actually heightens the gothic bombast of Looker's starkly angular compositions. The songs are pure psychodrama, propelled forcefully by the powerful mechanical drumming of Nick Podgurski. Intriguing harmonic modulations and off-kilter metric shifts dominate the music, but it also resounds with a keen '80s new-wave timbral familiarity, vis a vis the dramatic vocals and chorused guitar/synth tones. Could Extra Life be the unholy matrimony of Prog and Morrissey? Possibly, but a flippant blanket statement like that does no justice to how serious and ambitious this group is. I have seen these guys a handful of times this year and each performance has been great. Particularly gripping is the very long and deathly slow number they've been ending their sets with - it is a Swans-like masterwork of gradual build and tension. During this dramatic set closer, the protagonist repeatedly faces "The Beast", and the entire setting constantly evokes for me the sexual horror of Andrzej Zulawski's mindboggling 1981 film "Possession", where a couple are reunited, only to reveal that the wife is getting regularly fucked sideways by a slimy octopus like demon/subconscious manifestation . . . if you don't know it, trust me on this one, folks!

Satanized: before .  .  .
Philadelphia based Satanized quickly whipped the remaining audience members into random bouts of frenzy and chaos with their maniacal mixture of rigorously dissonant and asymmetrical grinding death metal-cum-no wave. At first the group appeared aloof, garbed in uniform black and issuing devastating onslaughts of noise with sinister looks of calculated apathy. Then, vocalist Andrew Gaspar started to implode. A violently static outpouring of vitriol leapt from his throat. Sweat was broken. The shirt came off. Then the pants. Scum from the floor mixed with perspiration and audience members tried to shove broken drumsticks up his ass. This once regal, luciferian rogue has devolved into a snarling man-beast in a matter of minutes as the the musicians' fastidious sonic manifesto of hate and iconoclasm belched forth in screeching showers of treble-laden discord. The archetypal Id of the subconscious unleashed, this Dionysian display is firmly rooted in the rock and roll tradition of REBEL MUSIC, and in this dystopian era of complacency and blandness, we need these assaults of individuality more than ever. Satanized are as intellectual as they are visceral. Their presentation confuses the line between sanity and disorder. They are the freaks of society, but these freaks are smart and they have knowledge that the average mensch is not privy to. The music of Satanized is a quasi-fascist aesthetic propaganda device, hellbent on the defiance of good and intentionally disruptive to logic. Their long awaited sophomore album "Techincal Virginity" was recently issued on Skin Graft Records, but that offering actually reflects an earlier incarnation of the group featuring former drummer Pete Angevine. The new material eschews the more rhythmically linear approach often underlining the older songs and has more of a blasting grindcore element (primarily emanating from the rabid drumming of new recruit Vincent Klopfenstein) which I'm sure will be fully documented on their next release. Satanized have really stepped up their program in the last few years, and right now, they're definitely at the top of my extremely short list of must-see bands.

- Weasel Walter, 11.2.11

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