Concert Reviews: Hot Club of Somerville (2/28/2013), Victor Gama, EVIYAN (3/2/2013)

Last week, the Boston Circus Guild put on a couple of variety shows at Oberon in Harvard Square – they had live music, comedy acts, burlesque/sirlesque and various circus-type performances like juggling and acrobatics. I won a pair of tickets from a Facebook contest (thank you, Emperor Norton’s Stationary Marching Band!), so I convinced my brother to come with me and we made a night of it. We were lucky enough to see the live debut of the Hot Club of Somerville, a jazz/swing offshoot of ENSMB. We both really enjoyed their short set – I was dancing on my sprained ankle! It was particularly fun that they played some Squirrel Nut Zipper tunes, since that was the last concert my brother and I went to together, a few years back. I think my favorite part was when the accordion player sang a tune; I was really impressed by her voice and her singing talent. (I wish I’d caught her name! I will have to ask around, because I can’t find that info online.)

On Saturday I made a last-minute decision to check out the EVIYAN concert at MIT’s Kresge Auditorium. I really like the Kresge – it’s big (~1200 capacity), with good sight-lines, good sound, and it has an enormous stage allowing for large, complex performances. They present a lot of new music there (in the sense of contemporary classical / avant garde type stuff, not just “music that is new”). I’ve had a lot of really interesting nights at the Kresge under their strange-looking wavy acoustic ceiling panels.

I didn’t know until I showed up that there was going to be a solo set by Victor Gama, which turned out to be a lovely surprise. He is a composer, performer, and instrument maker, and he brought three of his own instruments to perform on: the acrux, the toha, and the dino. I unfortunately did not catch which instrument had which name, but I thought they were all fascinating. Here are two of them:

Instruments

The one on the left had a sound somewhere in the harp/guitar/pizzicato-cello neighborhood, and the other sounded very much like a thumb piano. The third instrument he played (not pictured) was a single-stringed instrument played with a bow; that one had a really interesting timbre. I thought there might be some electronics involved in the piece he played on the single-string instrument, but I couldn’t see well enough from where I was sitting to say for sure. I found his performance really interesting and beautiful – I would definitely go see him again.

EVIYAN was, to my ears, a (more…)

Concert Review: Ceramic Dog (Amsterdam, 2/23/2013)

Last Saturday at the Bimhuis was a special night for me, for a lot of reasons. In part it was because I have a special love of introducing people to amazing music, especially live music (hence the blog!), and I had about 10-12 friends attending the show with me, many of whom had never heard Ceramic Dog before. I was really excited for all of them to see one of my favorite bands, and I was excited to be at the Bimhuis, which is a venue I’ve been hearing good things about for years. (In fact, I was so excited to be in the Bimhuis that I slipped on one of their many stairs and sprained my ankle while entering the venue…)

Ceramic Dog is a trio consisting of Marc Ribot (electric guitar, vocals), Shahzad Ismaily (electric bass, electric guitar, Moog, percussion), and Ches Smith (drums, percussion). They are all three brilliant musicians and endless fun to watch – I never know who to look at since they are all so interesting when they play. For this concert I ended up sitting right in front of Marc Ribot on guitar:
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As an introduction, Marc told us that tonight was very special, because half of the band members were feverish and sick (as were two of my friends, as it happened – not a healthy night at the Bimhuis), because the show was going to be broadcast on the radio, and because they had their new record, “Your Turn,” available at the merch table.

The show started out with a particularly good five-minute instrumental, with Ismaily’s bass line powering it like an engine. Marc Ribot let out a couple of yells, which is always a good sign that he’s really into whatever he’s playing 😉 They made an abrupt cymbal-smash-bang transition into the next song, “Prayer,” which is from their new album. It starts very quietly and simply and builds gradually into a huge loud smashing peak – and then does it again; and again; before finally launching into several minutes of frenzied — well, I’ll just let you watch for yourself, because I filmed this one!

After the assault of “Prayer” is resolved into a quiet outro, the next piece was eased into very slowly, with a couple minutes of quiet, repeated guitar themes over a background of spare drums. There was a bit of a reggae flavor to it, but just a bit. It morphed into something a little noisier and Ceramic Doggish, losing the reggae feel and going in more of a rock direction, with a different sound to the guitar and a bigger bass presence. As is often the case with this band, it ended up turning into a huge, driving, pounding wall of music, with some really beautiful power-drumming carrying it all. Towards the end it quieted down again and turned quite abstract and spacey in order to segue into a cover of Hendrix’ “The Wind Cries Mary.” As usual, this cover bore little resemblance to the original and has relatively little emphasis on the electric guitar. I guess they like to turn expectations upside down sometimes.

They actually paused to let us applaud for a few seconds before launching into a light-hearted piece from their new album, “Mr. Pants Goes to Hollywood.” (I’m told Mr. Pants is a dog belonging to the band’s management…there’s a photo of him in their new album’s liner notes.) This one has been a live favorite of mine for a while – it’s a lot of fun. They transitioned from that into another fun instrumental that ended up turning briefly into something very Latin-sounding that would have been right at home at a Cubanos Postizos concert.

After an intermission, they played a short instrumental piece that was one of my favorites of the night – a beautiful and quiet guitar melody, slowly overtaken by (more…)