Concert Review: Les Rhinoceros (10/15/2013)


Les Rhinoceros, a young band originally from the Washington DC area, kicked off their 6-week, 20+ state U.S. tour on Tuesday night right here in my neighborhood in Cambridge, with a short set at the Lilypad. I’ve been a fan of theirs for a couple of years after picking up their debut self-titled album, released on Tzadik – partly because a friend recommended it and partly because they had a glowing recommendation from the maestro himself, John Zorn, and I figured it was worth a listen. You can listen to (and buy) both their albums on their Bandcamp page. Check out one of my favorite tracks from their latest album:

Their Facebook page lists their genre as “Noise/Ambient/World/Experimental/OTHER” and that sounds about right, except they are probably a lot easier to listen to than you might guess from that description. They have some really catchy tunes and a good groove on most tracks, and the experimental/noise side of things includes things like vocal samples, instead of, say, power tools. (Their music is mostly instrumental other than the vocal samples, although they do have a couple of really great spoken-word tracks on their studio albums.) Their sound is a little different, sure, but unlike some music I listen to I would not call it ‘difficult’ in any way.

The concert on Tuesday was pretty sparsely attended – probably in part due to the fact that they had scheduled four dates in Massachusetts, and in part due to the fact that the venue doesn’t do much in the way of publicity and has a very inconsistently-updated website. (I’m constantly missing shows there that I would have liked to see because I didn’t find out about them in time.) But the audience that did turn up thoroughly enjoyed what turned out to be an excellent set by the Rhinos. They came with a different lineup than the last time I saw them, a little over a year ago – IIRC, last time we got bass/drums/violin/sax and this time was a more traditional guitar/bass/drums trio. The two shows weren’t as different as you might imagine from the instrumentation, especially since both times they used quite a lot of samples and electronics to fill out the sound. I filmed one of the pieces they played:

A lot of their songs (like the above video) are slow burners, establishing a nice ambient sort of groove before getting into something more intense. They’re not doing 3.5-minute radio-friendly cuts, but it’s an approach to music that I really appreciate – I’m a pretty patient listener and I like the build-up and reward of a slower-moving piece (which is much more common in some genres than others, of course). They also seem to be believers in the album format, because they are one of the few groups around making albums that really ought to be listened to in order and as a whole. In other words, it’s truly an album and not just a bunch of songs that happen to be on the same CD.

I really recommend checking them out on their current tour – it’s the first time they’ve visited many of these places, and they’re coming to some cities that don’t tend to get that many great bands coming through. They’re hitting more than 20 states in the U.S. from coast to coast – check out the full schedule by clicking here.

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