Year In Ears 2014: #14

Biggest God Damn Surprise

June 7, 2014
OU (with Amy Denio)
Duende, Oakland

Like many people in the Bay Area, I place an inordinate amount of trust in KALX DJs. So when Greg Scharpen played some OU music, or mentioned them, or was on the air talking with Amy Denio, or was reading a calendar listing, or was wordlessly thinking about this band, I received the message loud and clear. I parted ways with the Mysterious Michael Zelner outside the YBCA Forum where Myra Melford and Ben Goldberg had conducted an interesting conversation (and almost as interesting performance, but for time constraints). MMZ was headed up the street to tUnE-yArDs, and I opted for the tiny alternative as big as a house: the Sardinian sextet that trampled the Duende stage, trampled I tell you, like it was a big puddle and they were a twelve-legged toddler.

A twelve-legged toddler with an insane aunt.

A twelve-legged toddler with an insane aunt and a razor wit.

A twelve-legged toddler with an insane aunt, a razor wit and a genre-bending grasp of quantum physics.

A twelve-legged toddler with an insane aunt, a razor wit, a genre-bending grasp of quantum physics running its own circus…

to which you are perpetually invited.

Check it.

Year in Ears 2014 #7 #8

Best Downtown Sounds In One’s Own Backyard

I used to get to New York a lot more often but no longer, or when I’m there, I’m completely self-absorbed and miss huge swaths of culture. In 2014, a bit of the past, present and future of the so-called Downtown, Anti-Downtown came to my town to make me nostalgic, and then mock me for it. What a relief and no TSA.

May 30, 2014
Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog
SFJazz Center, San Francisco

Marc Ribot spent the better part of a week at SFJazz in a residency, which I took to mean SFJazz spent the better part of a week with Marc Ribot attempting to amass cred. I saw as many nights of it as I could (including closing an appalling gap in my cinematic education by seeing my first screening of Chaplin’s The Kid) and observed many highs and lows, as one naturally would. However, the way Ceramic Dog marked its territory in the Miner Auditorium was just so glorious. They smashed through a set with hammers, angles, and loudness, much to the delight of an adoring crowd and the apparent absence of management. The set lasts forever and includes a huge dynamic range, tenderness, and rage. I was dissatisfied at the end because (a) I never spotted anyone leaving, and (b) I kinda wished I was at the Hemlock for this show.

Then I came to my senses.

June 20, 2014
Thumbscrew
Duende, Oakland

I thought the trio of Mary Halvorson, Michael Formanek and Tomas Fujiwara was a Mary Halvorson vehicle, but it’s that thin slab floating in space forever without flipping over because of the perfect distribution of the players’ weights. Way better. The evening was filled with compositions from each of them, blurred divisions between soloists and forms, migrations from one compositional voice to the next.

I was stoked to see Tomas’ drums set up front, always a welcome sign of sonic equanimity. Buy the CD already.

Year in Ears 2014 #3

Best Cover Band

February 9, 2014
Secret Chiefs 3 perform Masada
Duende, Oakland

I am a complete sucker for the Masada Book Two (Three) and other projects of its ilk: seeding creativity with small, catalytic instructions, taking risks with scale and monumentality. But in the end, playing Zorn compositions requires so much stone cold skill, that I often feel like I’m in a late 19th century surgical theater when I attend. It’s hard to hide my concern for the patient while everyone is being transported by the procedure. SC3 surprised me by not just operating but being operated upon by those compositions. They did this in the middle of another tour above a kitchen making heavenly plates of paella. It was infectious. Listen to it.

Year in Ears 2014 #2

Best Show You Did Not Expect But You Deserved

February 6, 2014
Man Forever
The Night Light, Oakland

After seeing a couple rapturous editions of John Colpitts’ creativity at All Tomorrow’s Parties (Oneida) and the Thrill Jockey celebration, and stupidly thinking I understood it all, this under-attended show surprised me with its generative sonic and visual strategies. With each pulsing iteration (three drummers, one performative projectionist) an old idea about Man Forever departed my head and a new one entered, until I felt I was little more than a contraption for the circulatory system of all that sound.

Year in Ears 2014 #1

Best Show to See After You Just Played an 8-Hour Show qith a Shamanic Korean Performance Artist

January 18, 2014
Surplus 1980 and Vacuum Tree Head
The Night Light, Oakland

It’s true. I hired (at that moment not evil, just expensive and incredibly utilitarian) Uber SUV to bring me, my electronics, a classroom phonograph, my cymbals, several flowerpots, all my mallets, a craptastic student violin bow, an accordion, a flea-market electric guitar, an amp, an ample hand truck and, I think, a 6×9 area rug from a transcendent, durational performance at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts to the Night Light where I loaded it all in to another car in broad nightlight in front of the Night Light, climbed the stairs and heard the dulcet tones of these two god damn bands in the warm embrace of a hundred god damn friends, many of whom I had not seen since the last Vacuum Tree Head show which I want to say was in the former E.G.Y.P.T. Theater on Foothill Boulevard (or the first Oakland Metro within spitting distance, or the last Heinz Afterworld edition at Merchants within… hurling distance) one hundred million years ago. More than a night of nostalgia, math and fellowship, it was a moment where an eclectic group of dare I say thinking fellers startled the management again by turning out en masse to hop and sing along to the beehive of notes.

Who are these people? the door guy shouted at me.