field report no.092817

SUBJECT: Rafael Toral

A very unscientific poll implies Rafael Toral's fans are split along the two portions of his career. I've found little overlap between his ambient-electronic guitar manipulation pieces and his  homemade electronics improvisations. While I've enjoyed both, it's by dint of viewing the two phases of Toral's work-to-date as if by separate artists.

When I heard this show announced in a preamble to the Daniel Levin show (the week before) at Revolve, I could hardly believe it. That he would play a gallery space in Asheville, NC, seemed too improbable. Toral's work seems so isolated and niche, I counted myself lucky catching him a few years ago, in NYC.

Toral performs with smaell, curious, make-shift electronic devices that seem homemade. Many of them work, on some level, with feedback. This emphasizes gesture, making him move his arms in wide sweeps to control the sound, occasionally using his body as a dampener. The delicacy of his control, his expressive touch with these somewhat crude tools is nothing short of impressive.

Unfortunately the tools themselves are not nearly as expressive as he is. Monophonic and with a throttled tonal range, he wrings everything possible from them, yet it can still feel two dimensional. I would rather, given a chance to see him again, catch a duo or trio setting. He'd thrive in a scenario where there's something for him to play off. He could even introduce some expansion effects—variable delay or reverb—to add a depth of dynamics to the sound.

NOTES: Rafael Toral; ANKA

field report no.092517

LOCATION: the Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: The Church

The Church were as stately as ever. The last time I saw them, they were touring their sophomore album, from 1982, in its entirety. This night they were focused on promoting their new album, Man Woman Life Death Infinity. While they're conscientious to sprinkle in fan favorites from their 35 year career, The Church remain moving forward. They've never simply tread water.  While their sound has progressed and evolved, neither has it radically shifted. Many of the newest developments came when leader Steve Kilbey ceded his bass duties to a roadie, freeing him to deliver more daring vocals for songs, like Undersea, that are unique in their catalog. Submarine pushes their atmospheric psychedelic leanings as far as they've been. Meanwhile, I Don't Know How, I Don't Why is formed in a classic Church mold, and would easily be a highlight from any LP in their last decade.  Speaking of, I don't know why I never noticed the krautrock motorik pulse underneath their 80s single Tantalized, but live, there was no denying it. 

NOTES: The Church; Helio Sequence

field report no.092217

SUBJECT: Daniel Levin

I'd only just caught wind of Daniel Levin with the recent Live at Firehouse 12 set. I was busy playing catch-up with his discography (as is my wont) when I saw this show, in an Asheville gallery space, announced. The relative scarcity of high calibre of improvised music in our remote region made it must-see for me and the (maybe) 50-or-so people who could cram into Revolve's listening space this night.

The solo performance we witnessed was in the Tristan Honsinger / Tom Cora tradition: the cello serves as a resonant sounding board to be tapped, scraped and rubbed with any traditional soundings relegated to mere filigree. At times it's a more of a focal point for the activity around it, almost a prop to remind us of the performance's musical origins. Yet, it's hard not to search for the rhythmic pulse at the heart of it all, even as he stomps the earth and flaps crumpled pages of a notebook about, arms outstretched. Such is our minds' visceral need to order sound, no matter how abstract.

NOTES: Daniel Levin, solo; Sonic Parlour & Constance Humphries

field report no.091117

LOCATION: the Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Shabazz Palaces

I've seen more hip hop since moving to Asheville than I saw in all my 10 NYC years. Which is to say, New York just had more on offer for a tangential fan of hip hop. Given that, Shabazz Palaces is much more my speed than any other rap I've seen. You could argue they're more of a continuation of the trip hop tradition, which is a movement I (personally) count as formative. The left field abstraction and sonic u-turns of Shabazz Palaces is more in-line with the likes of Tricky, or even MC 900 Foot Jesus, than Digable Planets (which their leader, Palaceer Lazaro, hails from—as any writeup is obligated to mention).

Shabazz records can veer so oblique, their live show gave heft and punch to tracks that could too often drift by, almost unnoticed on the stereo. The instrumentation was stripped down, with a fitful stop-start pacing to refocus your attention. I'd seen Shabazz once in Brooklyn, but the situation—as a poorly matched opening act in a daylit, open-air amphitheater—was by no means flattering. This time around I left as a convert.  

NOTES: Shabbazz Palaces; Porter Ray

field report no.090617

LOCATION: the Orange Peel AVL.NC
SUBJECT: the Mountain Goats

Mountain Goats at the Orange Peel

I was surprised upon realizing I hadn't seen the Mountain Goats live since way back in 2006, in NYC, when they were touring their album, Get Lonely. That gap speaks in part to their success: their shows sell out quickly. Now, they're touring Goths, which like Get Lonely is a little more understated in terms of performance—often using what Darnielle has called his 'middle voice'. It also features him on a Fender Rhodes for a number of songs, instead of his usual guitar. The material also throws in some fun instrumental flourishes like the chorus-drenched bass at the end of Shelved, a tip of the hat to the subject at hand.

While they have climbed far from their humble beginnings, The Mountain Goats unlikely ascent to the upper echelons of indie-rock has been fairly linear in artistic growth. The seeds of their original recordings, when the band was really just John Darnielle yelping misanthropic tales into his shitty boombox, are still nestled at the heart of their music. A band has simply grown up around him. Half way through the set, that band took a break while Darnielle dug deep into his back catalogue, giving a glimpse at the still extant core. 

One of my favorite parts of seeing the Mountain Goats, though, amazingly persists decades into their career: they seem so goddamn, genuinely happy to be playing for an audience. No one has ever presented songs with such brazenly brutal subjects with such a giddy grin on their face. 

NOTES: the Mountain Goats; opener

field report no.090317

LOCATION: the Grey Eagle AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Roky Erikson

Sometimes you just roll the dice. We hadn't planned on seeing a show, but It was the kind of night where we felt like getting out. I can only claim a passing familiarity with Roky Erickson's music—just the first two 13th Floor Elevators albums, really—but he's a bonafide legend of the original psychedelic rock era. It seemed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. That suspicion felt doubly confirmed as Roky didn'tt lot look to be in the best shape. He was in high spirits; obviously elated to be in front of cheering crowd. They had him sat in his chair, arms hanging almost lifelessly at his side, with a guitar he could obviously no longer play given him like a prop or good luck charm.

When the band stuck to his 60s material, it was like returning to the source. We were hearing an anachronistic, oft-copied sound from one of its original innovators. His 70s material, which veered toward substandard, AC / DC knockoffs best suited for biker bars… well, let's say we spent part of the show on the patio, chatting. Honestly, it's rare when I'll go to a show I'm not terribly invested in. It was a bit liberating to feel free to just walk away for a spell. It was an odd dichotomy of being wowed and non-plussed every few songs.

NOTES: Roky Erikson and band; Death Valley Girls

field report no.080917

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Lætitia Sadier Source Ensemble

Somewhere around Emperor Tomato Ketchup, Stereolab's output veered studio savvy. Since then Lætitia Sadier's music has been exquisitely constructed, perhaps at the expense of a certain visceral impact. For this same reason, ABC Music—a collection of Peel Session and other live(ish) BBC recordings—remains one of my all time favorite Stereolab records. Those performances revitalize the a human impact the band. This isn't necessarily meant as a criticism of Sædier's work—I'm a firm believer that the live performances and studio recordings living as separate entities. My most damning review of a performance is perhaps "it sounded like the album, only louder".

Sadier's new working outfit, the Source Ensemble continues this tradition. They may not court the rockist outbursts of Stereolab, but their live set still belies the entirely human, endearingly flawed aspects of a music that was originally documented in a slick veneer. The album they were touring, Find Me Finding You (her fourth, post-Lab), is a high-water mark—even given her storied history. Anyone, who carries a torch for the heydays of Stereolab, owes it to themselves to catch up with Sadier.

NOTES: Lætitia Sadier Source Ensemble; Art Feynman

field report no.071117


While I've become accustomed to sparsely attended shows since landing in Asheville, I'm inclined to attribute it to the type of music I opt for. This ain't New York City, and Asheville can only sustain so much experimental music. Maybe it was too early in the week or too close in proximity to a holiday weekend, but the Woods played to a thin crowd on this summer evening. Surprising, since I would have pegged their folk-tinged indie-pop as right in Asheville's sweet spot.

Small turnout or no, after well over a decade of touring, Woods are a battle-tested and dependable live act. Not to say they lack ambition or have grown complacent. Many of their songs still bear tell-tale traces of ramshackle psychedelia from their freak-folk beginnings—exploding into extended, sprawling guitar solos. Singer Jeremy Earl's permanent falsetto delivery has settled into a deceivingly wistful lull that still leans forward, pushing the tunes ahead. The denizens of Asheville missed out when they dropped the ball on this one. 

NOTES: Woods; John Andrews and the Yawns

field report no.061217

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Peter Brötzmann / Heather Leigh duo

22 years ago, I came to Chicago from Oregon for school. It ended up being a fortuitous time in Chicago jazz. Ken Vandermark was rallying the troops and the Atavistic label was creating connections with legends of European free jazz by reissuing a pile of classics from the FMP library. inexorably bound up in both parts of this renaissance was Peter Brötzmann, the true saxophone colossus.

The (probably) apocryphal tales of his intensity ill-prepared me for how I was to be excoriated that first night at the Empty Bottle, by the Brötzmann Octet (a precursor to his long-running Chicago Tentet). I've lost count of the times I've seen him live, but the frequency went down once I moved to NYC. When I moved on to Asheville, I didn't even entertain hope. But lo! The jazz barbarian did in fact come to raze our small village on what was speculated as perhaps his last US tour.

Since disbanding the Tentet, Brötzmann's favored small groups—trios and duos mostly. This swing through America was with lap-steel guitarist (and former Charalambide) Heather Leigh. Perhaps the greater jazz community's disregard for Peter Brötzmann's scorched Earth improvisations has made him more willing to reach out beyond jazz's narrow circles for partners. He diverse list of collaborators ranges from Last Exit to Middle Eastern folk musicians. Heather Leigh's history with the ecstatic-improvisation scene seems a readymade fit.

While the pairing is pitch-perfect, times have also changed, and Peter Brötzmann once again defied my expectations (in the best way). The evening was not molten peals, split reeds and broken strings, though I would never call it plaintive. Not to say he no longer has it in him: Brötzmann let loose some frightening cries, but it was not a sustained blitz.

The duo created what could best be described a 'volatile ambience'. Leigh summoned a bed of held and distorted tones, swelling to answer Brötzmann's reeds. Since the lap-steel uses a slide, it gave Leigh ready access to a wealth microtonal dissonances, giving everything a disharmonic edge.

NOTES: Peter Brötzmann / Heather Leigh; Thom Nguyen

field report no.060717

LOCATION: Thomas Wolfe Auditorium AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds

Over the years, and especially since the early 90s, Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds have honed their skills, evolving into a captivating band for large venues without giving up a very real sense of intimacy. They are playing their music, yes, but they are performing as well. 

That they've endured long enough to grow into this role is stunning. Their origins, stretching back to the Birthday Party, are by no means populist, let alone stadium material. Cave has passed through years of self-inflicted obscurity and even more self-abuse (in the form of drugs). By persevering without compromise, they've now arrived on the other side with with critical acclaim, but also a large and loyal fan base, and a deep well of songs—no small number of which are just awaiting acknowledgement as classics in the canon. 

Their extended set was heavy on recent material: the harrowing Skeleton Tree and the acclaimed Push the Sky Away. They still had plenty of time to touch on crowd favorites from their back catalogue (they had just released a Greatest Hits collection, after all). For the first time, I realized one of his most enduring tracks, the elegiac Into My Arms, was in essence, the best Leonard Cohen song Nick Cave has ever written. It's poetics are unexpected while still managing a sincere and heartfelt sentiment. It's a song sure to be covered often in the future.

As a title, I Need You might seem as plaintive as Into My Arms, but that's a feint. Each verse dwells in a strange key, always feeling out of tune. For a fleeting chorus, the group will rise into beauteous reprieve, only to fall back again. His words revolve in cyclical, maddening mantras. I Need You is pure, confused desperation distilled to song form. Cave's powerful delivery and presence make it impossible to imagine any cover version. I Need You was a singular highlight of the night, even though it's a song I had somewhat passed over when listening to Skeleton Tree.

I've been lucky to see Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds a few times now. Each has vastly improved upon the last—no mean feat for an artist who's career itself is now middle-aged. While it seemed odd the only show in the Southeastern US on this tour was in Asheville, since I'm both a resident and a fan, I won't challenge such fates. And while I'd love to see the band dig into their back catalogue for dusty gems instead of fan favorites, I'll always be grateful for whatever Saint Nick sees fit to grant us.

NOTES: All Cave

field report no.050417

LOCATION: Isis Music Hall AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Adrian Belew Power Trio

King Crimson grew on me slowly. They only took root when I heard ThrakAttack, an album of improvisational interludes from their 1995 Japanese tour, all stitched together into an instrumental monstrosity. Even though I've come around to their greater oeuvre, Crimson remains the greatest as a demonstration of instrumental prowess and power. Likewise with Adrian Belew, who was a guitarist and the voice of King Crimson for decades (in their on-again-off-again way). By far my favorite of his solo records is e, by the Adrian Belew Power Trio, an album of insanely complicated rock instrumentals.

While I've never managed to see King Crimson live—and actually just missing them on an upcoming trip to NYC—the Adrian's Power Trio had to stand in. They're more than a reasonable facsimile, as a good third of the material they played was, in fact, Crimson songs (along with a sampling from throughout Belew's illustrious career). The band are consummate musicians. All three made the gnarled material they tore through look too easy. Belew, especially, likes to goof around: mugging for the audience as he shows off, ultimately coming across like so many dad jokes. But this is a man who has worked with David Bowie, Talking Heads, Frank Zappa and Paul Simon (to name only a handful), he's allowed a bit of grandstanding or levity, if he pleases. He's got naught to prove.

NOTES: Adrian Belew Power Trio (featuirng Julie Slick, Tobias Ralph); Saul Zonana

field report no.043017

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Mind Over Mirrors

The best transportive music can result in a feeling of lost time. It's not the boredom of staring out the train window—more like an out of body experience. You arrive at your destination wondering how you got there, where the middle went. Time flies when you're having fun, as they say.

I've seen Mind Over Mirrors three times now, and at each I've only a vague recollection of what transpired. Within minutes, their music cocooned me within it. Jaime Fennelly's project first made an impression on me with The Voice Rolling, a psychedelic album of solo harmonium (plus effects). He has slowly expanded the project into an ensemble, incorporating percussion and strings, but a swirling dream-state remains it's spiritual center.

Opener, Brokeback, has steadily grown as well. Starting as solo project for Tortoise bassist, Douglas McCombs, it's now full-blown band. They manage an expressionist sort of instrumental rock with minimalist means, leaning heavily on Ennio Morricone's western atmospherics. 

NOTES: Mind Over Mirrors (ensemble); Brokeback; Smelt Roe

field report no.042417

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Dave Rempis

Rock-n-Roll is a young man's game. Most pop stars over 50 are required to remind everyone why they matter whilst simultaneously not embarrassing themselves or tarnishing their legacy. Jazz, though, has a model more based on apprenticeship. Truly talented, unknown phenoms are rare beasts. Most up-and-comers are over 30, having spent a decade or more gigging as sideman with a wide variety of more established players.

For 12+ years, Dave Rempis was best known as a member of the Vandermark 5, which he joined in 1999. Since I was an avid follower of Ken Vandermark from my years in Chicago, I've been hearing Rempis' playing for well over a decade. He's been leading groups since the turn of the century but I took serious note of his extracurricular activities upon hearing Ballister, his trio with avant-cellist Fred Lonbgerg-Holm (fellow V5 alum) and the ubiquitous free jazz drummer, Paal Nilssen-Love (the Thing). From there it was off to the races—I've tried to keep up with his release schedule ever since. Rempis' duo with electrician Lasse Marhaug made my best-of-2014 list, and I've been keen to catch him live (again) for some time.

Where his old boss, Ken Vandermark, seems to have sworn off touring the US in favor of the more hospitable climes of Europe, Rempis has taken up the 'get-in-the-van-and-drive' mantle. I caught him this night, on a solo trek across the country. Rempis can be a fiery saxophonist—with a vocabulary full of loud honks and pinched squeals—but like many bombastic free players, he shows a more melodic side when playing solo.

Any sense of narrative within the tune, invention or change in dynamics and texture are all down to the individual, making a solo performance a rite of passage for even the most accomplished player. It's a test Dave Rempis passed easily. I mean, he's been training for this for years. I look forward to hearing the album these nights on the road were workshopping towards.

NOTES: Dave Rempis; Tashi Dorji

field report no.041917

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: New Rain Duets by Mac McCaughan & Mary Lattimore

Such a little thing can make such a difference…Billing this concert by Mac McCaughan and Mary Lattimore as 'an evening of semi-improvised music for harp and analog synthesizer' set all the wrong expectations. It might seem trifling to prefer a more accurate variation, like 'post-rock-tinged, ambient instrumentals', but the distinction matters. The tools to judge improvised music and ambient composition are vastly different. As the latter, it was a surprisingly successful set.

Mac McCaughan is indie-rock royalty: leader of Superchunk and Portastatic and co-founder of Merge Records—one of the most stalwart independent labels around. His latest release was a swell set of synth-driven, lower-case pop tunes. Here, he manned a handful of analogue synthesizers. I was not familiar with Mary Lattimore going into the evening, but she's featured on labels from small cassette outfits to the established electronica purveryor, Ghostly International. Their structures allowed some spontaneity—they managed to surprise each other a couple of times throughout the evening. While the format, perhaps, didn't play squarely into either artists' strengths, it's especially rewarding to see established artists willing to work outside their lane. 

NOTES: Mac McCaughan / Mary Lattimore duet; Oriana

field report no.041817

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Acid Mothers Temple and the Melting Paraiso UFO

Any given show by Acid Mothers Temple is less a discreet performance and more a random sampling, an excerpt of an unending one. That's not to say each concert is identical. Those scorched guitar ecstasies may be cut from the same cloth, but it's like wading into a ever-shifting cascade of sound—the same river twice, and all that. Halfway through this particular night, the group began leaning hard into disco-vamp rhythms. When merged with their trademark heavy psych excesses, their throbbing groove of metallic rock scaled peaks the likes of Hawkwind were trying to climb in the early 80s.

NOTES: Acid Mothers Temple; Babylon

field report no.033017

LOCATION: Mercury Lounge, NY.NY

The week started in uncharted territory but ended in a warm bath of pure nostalgia. While Jon Spencer has remained active, it isn't until the last few years that his projects have seem carry a shadow of his original spark. Since he's on a roll, it was high time to bring that lifeblood back home to his wife, Christina Martinez, and their band Boss Hog. The interplay between Martinez on lead vocals and Jon as bandleader and hype man is ruthlessly effective.

This night, at the intimate Mercury Lougne, was a release part for their first new album in 17 years, Brood X. While it might not touch their peaks of the early 90s, it's far stickier than their last, the fun-but-forgettable White Out. At this point, it's seeming like Boss Hog will go down in history as another electrifying stage act who who were never quite captured on tape, in full. Stage craft and presence go a long way in winning back that teenage feeling missing on the records.

Martinez is purposefully sultry and threatening at once as she sneers and swaggers across the stage in a slinky dress topped at the shoulders in clutch  of black feathers, less boa than mod-armor. Spencer knows to stay out of her way and keep the band in formation, barking responses on her command. It all rides atop the jagged propulsion of the rhythm section of Jens Jurgensen and longtime member Hollis Queens. 

Seeing the show actually gave me a much greater appreciation for the new album going back to it (more than once) the next day. If only I could have caught them on the White Out tour too.

NOTES: Boss Hog; Surfbort

field report no.032717

LOCATION: Le Poisson Rouge NY.NY
SUBJECT: Supersilent

While I've followed Supersilent since stumbling upon their debut nearly 20 years ago, chances to see them live (stateside) have been nearly nil. (I've watched their live DVD, titled '7', repeatedly, though). Having to miss them this year, at the Big Ears festival—when they played the same day I was there—stung all the more for it. Luckily, the very next week I was traveling to NYC for work and they scheduled a stop the Greenwich Village stalwart, Le Poisson Rouge, on their way home to Scandinavia.

The New York audience was rewarded for their patience, as the trio played 3 extended sets in one sitting totaling nearly 2½ hours. The focused narrative of their improvisations renders their unscripted nature unbelievable. Each member multitasks across different instruments charting a dynamic range from heavenly to hellish. A number of years ago, the departure of their drummer left them as a trio but not without power. More than once, each member settled into trading blows with concussive electronics—creating choppy, unpredictable percussive patterns. Arve Henriksen's falsettoss and breathy trumpet glided atop the most serene passages. Helge Sten could coax clouds of ambience out of thin air by cupping his hand over a small mic and leaning in to illicit feedback from the stage monitor—using filters and faders to control its sound and shape.

Supersilent are in a class unto themselves: masters of their tools and in command of a singular, inimitable sound, crossing boundaries between jazz, progressive rock, noise and ambient electronica. I'd had almost 20 years of anticipation leading up to this one night, yet Supersilent exceeded all expectation.

NOTES: Supersilent- Arve Henriksen, Helge Sten, Ståle Storløkken; Matan Roberts, solo

field report no.032517

SUBJECT: Big Ears Festival

Work and life conspired to keep me to just one day of the 4-day Big Ears Festival in Knoxville. I poured over the early schedules, debating which day to choose—no easy task with lineups that were both eclectic and packed with experimental star power. Ultimately it made sense to choose Saturday, the 25th.

I wanted to arrive early, so as to not miss anything due to unforeseen logistics. I needn't have worried. Big Ears proved to be a well-organized and expertly managed event. Picking up my pass as the proverbial gates opened, I had time to catch the showing of Jonathan Demme's late-90s documentary on Robyn Hitchcock. As an avid Hitchcock fan, I've seen the movie (repeatedly), but never on the big screen. Robyn himself was there to give a cheeky introduction. The theatre was enormous (especially for the small, early-riser crowd) and lavishly baroque.

From there, it was just down the street to the next theatre to see Meredith Monk. For Monk's revered status, I'd yet to spend much time with her repertoire, so this hour-and-a-half presentation was something of an immersion course. My first impression was sheer bravery: a small woman, alone on stage, commanding a good-sized room of fans and curious onlookers with wordless, a cappella songs and strange ululations. Her songs were playfully challenging, wrapping NYC, avant garde formalism in sing song nursery patterns. She has a commanding knowledge of musics of the world—displaying techniques from Southwestern Native Cultures as well as Chinese and Indonesian flourishes. I'm not 'woke' enough to gauge if these strains in her music constitute learned influence or appropriation.

Then a few blocks up to standing-room only room, to see Xylouris White. The duo of Greek-born lutist, Giorgis Xylouris, and the legendary Australian post-punk drummer, Jim White, are often lauded for merging Mediterranean folk with a driving krautrock motorik. Their range is much more dynamic than their press—taking in atmospheric chants and tunes with a far more subtle, jazz-tinged percussion—but it's understandable. Those wild flights of abandon that music feel transcendent: White chasing an ever-higher crescendo and Xylouris giving a full-throated rallying cries. 

Just across the tracks, in a cavernous, modern event space, Musica Elettronica Viva gathered a crowd for a concert in the round. The trio of Richard Tietelbaum, Alvin Curran and Frederic Rzewski are elder statesmen of experimentalism, playing together on and off for over 50 years. While MEV's pops and fizzles of improvised electronic sounds are no longer quite as alien, their restraint and broad palette belie a wizened experience. It's hard to imagine any young, Brooklyn synth group incorporating Biblical passages in their work without a heavy dose of ironic detachment. In Rzewski's hands, these Abrahamic fragments were a springboard for calls to Freedom and Resistance.

I couldn't get into see a folk performance by Joan Shelley, but honestly, it was the only thing that felt like filler in my schedule for the day. I had only read about her music, and have a narrow interest in folk forms. Instead I took the opportunity to catch a lunch. The cafe where Shelley performed seemed to be only space small enough to regularly run out of room, which speaks again to the festival's planning. Big Ears by no means seemed sparsely attended but nor did it seem oversold, devolving into a line-cutting mob-scene.

Back to the club to see Horse Lords. I'd heard them first at a Pioneer Works showcase, in Brooklyn. Since then, I've more thoroughly explored their mash-up of King Crimson's dextrous bravado and Steve Reich's pattern-based minimalism. Their infusion of process music with raw rock muscle is riveting at full-force volume.

The main reason I chose Saturday, and made the two hour drive to Knoxville, was Gavin Bryars. I first heard his music in the early 90s, because Tom Waits was a featured soloist on the Point Records release of Bryars' Jesus Blood Never Failed Me Yet. I quickly became a devoted follower. While the performances of Jesus Blood… and his Sinking of the Titanic on Sunday were surely going to be divine, I wanted a chance to dwell in his works I wasn't quite as familiar with.

Where his early work split the difference between classical minimalism and Brian Eno's Discrete Music, his newer material draws more heavily on ancient songforms. Many of the pieces were 'Laudas', which he described as small chorales sung outside churches, to coax people in, "who would otherwise be on their way to the pub". Even still, he has a patience as a composer to include only what is absolutely necessary. The chamber group performed in a small cathedral just off the old-town square. The stone church provided appropriately stately and reverberant acoustics for the atmospheric performances.

I snuck out of Bryars' show a touch early to catch a Steve Lehman and his Sélébéyone group. Their abstract combination of hip hop and spiky, downtown jazz had been on repeat for months and I was keen to squeeze one last show in before I drove home to Asheville. I shouldn't have bothered. Their set started nearly one hour late (due to some technical difficulty or other). The crowd sat impatiently through repeated sound checks (that all sounded the same to us), increasingly worried we were going to miss something else if this dragged on. It was hard not to let that anxious impatience spill into actually listening experience. They seemed a little put off too, dispirited but not disinterested. The performance seemed flat, and overly reliant on pre-recorded material. Entire sections saw the whole septet standing around listening to Lehman's laptop with the audience. The album is phenomenal, but there's definitely distance left to run for the live set, yet.

There was much more, even that one day, I left to early to see Phillip Jeck, Deerhoof, Roedelius, Nels Cline and Yuka Honda, or Supersilent. Alas, safety first. Next year I am definitely going to make a weekend of it.

NOTES: Robyn Hitchcock (film); Meredith Monk; Xylouris White; MEV; Horse Lords; Gavin Bryars Ensemble; Steve Lehman Sélébéyone

field report no.032217

SUBJECT: Blackalicious

I have a special place in my heart for bands that seem to persevere in the face of indifference and obscurity. Though never outpacing their closest peers, Jurassic 5, Blackalicious has steadily held their course and outlasted and outdistanced them. It must be tiring, and this night, it showed a little—as Blackalicious looked they'd just run a marathon. Even the hype man, Lateef the Truth Speaker had a hard time making his "Yes Yes Y'all's" too convincing. 

This is not to diminish the immense craft and skill on display. Gift of Gab has an unrivaled, old-school hip hop delivery. Even that seems unfair to say, though, as it's less old school, and more 'what-old-school-might-have-grown-into-in-a-parallel-universe' kind of way. He's built upon a legacy of rapping that reaches to the earliest days of hip hop but refined it. He's a master of what I call rhythmic phonetics—marked by a careful attention to how words break down syllabically, and using them to keep a lively interaction with the beat. Nothing in his flow is four-square or hemmed in by the meter, but still always making beat more dynamic and elastic.

Unfortunately, I have to give a special mention to the opening act, which was so annoying it bordered on offensive. If you can imagine stumbling into a bar to find it's live-band karaoke night, and a handful of frat boys are hogging the stage, doing ill-advised, poorly practiced takes on hip hop classics, you get the general idea.

NOTES: Blackalicious; FTO x King Garbage
PRESENT: AMS; Angela F; Angela F.(2); Eric H.

field report no.031817

LOCATION: the Mothlight AVL.NC
SUBJECT: Hans-Joachim Roedelius

It's a bit of quandary, reviewing this show. At 82, Hans-Joachim Roedelius is nothing short of legendary: a member of the original Krautrock movement—among such luminaries as Neu!, Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream. Between Cluster (with a C, K or Q), solo and countless, diverse collaborations (from Brian Eno and Lloyd Cole), his discography is now unfathomably deep. Since his earliest recordings he's maintained a dedication to improvised electronic music—a concept that was so far ahead of its time in the early 70s, it's still a tricky concept, 40 years later.

Roedelius is an oddly casual innovator, though, and his music's gentle abstraction obscures its advances. So Cluster doesn't inspire the rabid worship and rampant emulation that Kraftwerk and Neu! have. Of that first class though, Roedelius (and his partner in Cluster, Moebius) were the only ones to continue constantly and consistently pushing forward through the decades that followed.

That kind of quiet persistence and explains why this couldn't be a mind-blowing experience. Roedelius' music does not knock you sideways—it stays with you, instead. It endures. All the hallmarks of his work were there: bits of field recordings mingled were shaded by clouds of abstract electronics, all brightened by meandering but beguiling melodies. While it's never less than beautiful, Roedelius deftly sidesteps new age schmaltz. The amorphous nature of his music isn't settled and predictable enough to be trite. He ended with a short piano improvisation—and handled a short technical difficulty with class.

For a handful of years now, I've nurtured a growing appreciation for Roedelius (and Cluster). They are, easily, now my favorites from that particular burst of German creativity. I never imagined I'd get to him live (a feeling compounded when Dieter Moebius passed last year), let alone see him in Asheville, North Carolina. 

NOTES: Hans-Joachim Roedelius; Xambuca