Concert Review: Ceramic Dog (Fontenay-sous-Bois, 2/19/2013)

This is my first jet-lagged blog post, but it probably won’t be my last 😉 Just got back from a week in Europe where I saw a handful of excellent concerts. The first concert of the trip was Ceramic Dog, a strong contender for my favorite live band. Ceramic Dog is Marc Ribot (electric guitar, backing vocals), Ches Smith (drums, percussion), and Shahzad Ismaily (bass, Moog, percussion, backing vocals, guitar, etc.).

In theory, Marc Ribot is my favorite musician on the planet, but the rest of this band is so much fun, and so fascinating, that I often find myself watching them instead. And when I happen to be standing directly in front of Mr. Ismaily, I have a hard time paying attention to anyone else. This was my view on Tuesday night:

Shahzad Ismaily

…so I mostly watched him. Which is just fine, because he is astounding. He plays a ton of instruments, he composes, he produces, and he’s involved with a lot of great bands and musicians (Secret Chiefs 3, Jolie Holland, Carla Kihlstedt, etc.).

The concert started with some somewhat spacey instrumental music which got a lot heavier when Ismaily’s bass kicked in (that bass amp was LOUD! plus I was standing right in front of it). They had a great groove going for a few minutes and then deconstructed the piece back into the spacey instrumental stuff; this segued smoothly into a second instrumental piece, which involved a lot of sudden crescendos and decrescendos before settling into something pretty heavy again and then eventually devolving into some serious noise, courtesy of Ismaily’s Moog. (“Noise” as in “noise music”… it’s a good thing!)

After a brief break to let the audience offer some appreciation, they headed in a slightly more retro direction and did a cover of Hendrix’ “The Wind Cries Mary.” Their version bears very little resemblance to the original. This devolved (…one tends to use that word a lot while talking about this band) into what seemed like a largely improvised jam, which ended abruptly and was replaced by one of my favorite Ceramic Dog songs. I sadly don’t know the name of it, but maybe if I keep going to their concerts they’ll announce the title at some point :) It starts off with a slow, sad, beautiful and quiet solo guitar melody, which continues throughout the piece. The other two create all of the dynamic tension – slowly adding in noise and percussion until it utterly overwhelms the guitar. This night they played a shorter version of it, not as epic as some other times I’ve heard it. But I still loved it.

They reached back to their 2008 release, “Party Intellectuals,” for the next song – “Girlfriend.” I can’t say it’s one of my favorites from their debut album, but it does have some pretty funny lyrics going for it. And I always enjoy the backing vocals on that one. Like so many Ceramic Dog songs, this ended up in a heavy electric guitar frenzy. Another smooth segue (I think they don’t like being interrupted by applause) and we were into another instrumental piece I didn’t recognize – I liked it very much, very dynamic and somewhat exotic, with some especially nice touches by Ches Smith. This segued into another piece from their first album, “Digital Handshake,” which is… well, there’s actually a pretty good video of this song on Youtube, so you can check it out yourself:

After taking a quick break to let us cheer a little bit, Marc Ribot told us that they had just gotten the very first copies of their new album – not yet for sale in stores; “you can’t even download it – not even illegally!” I was really excited to hear this and actually let out an involuntary yelp of surprised joy when I heard it, because I was absolutely not expecting to get my hands on their album for a couple of months. (You can pre-order a copy here! I especially recommend listening to it really loudly at one in the morning in a flat you’re renting when you know you are leaving the country soon enough that the neighbors can’t hunt you down afterwards. Not that I would ever do such a thing…)

I spent most of the next song (a quiet, country-tinged cover of “Angel On My Mind”) being excited about getting the new album, but the following instrumental piece from their new album seized my attention again. It had a really nice motor to it, grooving along at a nice pace, and then it switches into another gear and just lifts you right up. Great stuff. Finally, the encore: my favorite song from their new album (at least for the first few listens – I may change my mind!). I’d heard it once before at their show in Brooklyn right before Hurricane Sandy hit, and it’s called “Lies My Body Told Me.” Some kind soul has already uploaded the album version to Youtube for your listening pleasure, so I’ll let your ears decide. (Warning: this song really likes to be played loud!)

It’s more powerful live, I think, especially standing where I was, after the big crashing drums and earth-shaking bass kick in. (Stay tuned – I saw them again later in the week and got a nice video of them doing this song. I’ll share it in a few days.)

If I had any complaints about this show it would be the mix – where I was standing, the guitar was a bit low and the vocals were way too low. But the performance was pretty legendary. If you like a little noise in your jazz/rock and this trio is in your neighborhood, they get a DO NOT MISS rating from me!

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3 Responses to Concert Review: Ceramic Dog (Fontenay-sous-Bois, 2/19/2013)

  1. Marco Van Bergen says:

    Thanks Sarah!

  2. Jan Neirynck says:

    This was just before or after the Amsterdam gig, right?
    I must agree that it is a pleasure seeing these guys perform live, trying to play the bass myself, it was an absolute joy to seen Mr. Ismaily play his instrument, with a heavy fever even…
    Great band!!!

    Jan Neirynck

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