For the record, I’ve pretty much given up on trying to review each concert I go to. In the last 30 days I went to 25 shows. Between that and working full time, I haven’t even finished unpacking from my move, let alone found time to blog about all those shows! I’m not sure if it’s best to write about only one in five shows (give or take) or if it’s best to write about more of them, but in less detail. Your feedback on this is encouraged…
Since my last review (a week ago) I’ve seen seven concerts in six venues in two states featuring roughly 20 bands/ensembles. I can’t write about them all, and it’s hard to even know where to start, but let’s go with 6:30PM, last Thursday afternoon. I’d been planning to go to the Stone for a relatively easy evening out, but I was feeling pretty well rested after staying in the previous evening and I made a very last-minute decision to take the PATH train to New Jersey and attend the HONK! festival event at Monty Hall in New Jersey. The main reason I wanted to go was to see Kenny Wollesen‘s band, the Himalayas, who were on the bill. I’ve seen him play vibes or drums or percussion many times, but only once before had I seen him lead a marching band, and it was over-the-top fun. Naturally, I was eager to repeat the experience.
Monty Hall is a new venue and I had never heard anything about it, so when I arrived to find a quite small venue with no seating, plush wall-to-wall carpeting, and a surprisingly liberal BYOB policy (…I’ve heard of “bring your own” but not “greet everyone at the door with directions to the liquor store and a suggestion that they go get something to bring back”), I just shrugged and tried not to think too hard about their carpet cleaning bills. Like pretty much every HONK! event ever, there was a great vibe to the place and the show was massive amounts of fun. There were a bunch of bands, my two favorites (very narrowly, but I’m trying to be brief, here!) were the Himalayas and the Chaotic Noise Marching Corps. CNMC were punky, loud, crazy, and fun. They overflowed off the stage and into the small audience area, making for a very intense and in-your-face set. The Himalayas, with Kenny Wollesen at their helm, were more percussion-focused than the other bands we saw, which I found very interesting. The rhythms seemed more subtle and sophisticated, and I really enjoyed that difference in a show that didn’t have a lot of subtlety going on. The whole concert was a lot of fun and we danced a lot. (Well, I only danced a little, I’m not very good at dancing. But other people danced up a storm and I had fun watching!)
The weekend brought us a couple of events from the Content Creators Coalition, a relatively new organization that is fighting for the rights of artists in the digital age, where many creative people are finding their work devalued or outright stolen. (While I don’t make money on my blog, I do understand the feeling, as I’ve had a number of my blog posts copy-and-pasted on other sites without permission.) We saw many talented musicians performing at Roulette (on Saturday) and Le Poisson Rouge (Sunday): John Zorn, Marc Ribot, Steve Coleman, Ches Smith, Ava Mendoza, Roseanne Cash, Henry Grimes, Trevor Dunn, Amir ElSaffar, Melvin Gibbs, Eric Slick, Brandon Seabrook, Cibo Matto, Marcus Rojas, Doug Wieselman… it was pretty major. Highlight sets for me were the Ribot/Grimes/Smith/ElSaffar set; Doug Wieselman’s solo set; Ava Mendoza’s solo set; and the Zorn/Coleman/Dunn/Smith quartet. I decided not to post any sneaky videos from those shows due to the whole theme of the thing being that artists want more control over their work 😉
And: bonus! After the Sunday afternoon show at LPR, Kenny Wollesen and the Himalayas showed up to lead us on a protest march through Greenwich Village, so after going five years between sightings of his marching band, I got to see them twice in three days. Score! We had a ton of fun marching with all the musicians (there were a number of non-Himalayan musicians who brought their instruments and joined in, too – you may recognize a few in the pic below). We attracted a lot of attention from everyone we passed on the street, and I even saw one retail worker come out of a store to share his support for musicians’ rights. All in all, I think it was a big success.
To complete the trifecta, I was invited to a private house concert the next day that turned out to feature – you guessed it – Kenny Wollesen again. This time it was not billed as the Himalayas, but “Wollesonic Laboratories” performing what they call a “sonic massage.” We didn’t really know anything about it beforehand, and it turned out to be unlike any show I’ve ever seen. It wasn’t even really a concert, exactly. Maybe you would call it performance art? I don’t know, I think it’s just unique.
The basic gist of the sonic massage was that the ‘audience’ all lay on the floor in a darkened room (yoga mats were provided for our comfort and convenience) and closed their eyes. In this particular venue, it was a darkened room with a fab view of the NYC skyline, which added to the ambience. Once everyone was in place, Mr. Wollesen gave a short explanation of how things were going to work while walking up and down the aisle between the rows of people on the floor (there were two rows of 7-8 people each). We were encouraged to relax and just focus on the sounds.
Wollesonic Laboratories are basically known for the endlessly creative and inventive homemade percussion instruments they create. It was a very focused, meditative experience, just concentrating on what we were hearing (and 90% of the time, thinking: what IS that?). In addition to listening to the interesting sounds, there was the aspect of movement – four percussionists moving slowly around the room. We are so used to hearing music through headphones and speakers that it is easy to forget how precisely our ears can locate a sound in a room; it was really cool to follow the sounds around and imagine what was happening. (I did peek a few times and every time was basically a snapshot of “what on EARTH??” when I would see, e.g., someone turning the pedal on a unicycle, or using a mechanical crank to swivel what appeared to be a pair of giant balloons in a circle.)
To make the ‘massage’ more personal, throughout the performance the musicians would periodically lean over and play something very quietly right next to an audience member’s ear, or perhaps moving it around your head slowly, to let you hear how the sound changes at different angles to your ears. It was almost like being taught how to listen all over again, not to take any noises for granted, to pay attention to every subtle nuance. Whether it was an unidentifiable scratching sound three inches from my right ear or the siren of an ambulance speeding down Frederick Douglass Boulevard, pitch gradually shifting due to the Doppler effect, I paid attention. (It was very John Cage…)
It was all quite fabulous, and if you ever get a chance to submit yourself to a Wollesonic ‘sonic massage,’ I highly recommend it!
The final concert I went to this week (I mean, so far this week) was Secret Chiefs 3 at Le Poisson Rouge on Tuesday. One of the members of SC3 was laying a few feet away from me during the sonic massage on Monday night, so the continuity of my musical week, well… continued, even though the character of the music was entirely different. Live music, to me, is all about a shared unique experience; I appreciated being able to thread together so many shows in a row with my personal experiences.
Le Poisson Rouge set up a stage ‘in the round’ instead of their usual configuration, which I really liked – there was a round stage in the middle of what is usually the audience section. This means that (since I got there early) I could stand on the stage (or, rather, the platform that is usually the stage) where they’d put up a rail, and have a nice close-yet-high view of the whole band, and have something to lean on. Perfect.
You can tell that photo was from early in the show, because drummer Kenny Grohowski hadn’t freed his magnificent head of hair from his hood yet 😉 I had a terrible time getting pictures at this show because we were basically standing on top of the subwoofers at the front of the stage, and the bass was so heavy that the vibrations would blur the image in the camera every time a bass note was hit. (Don’t worry, Mom, I wore my earplugs.) I was thinking to myself that it was the second sonic massage I’d gotten in two days, because the bass vibrated the floor so much I felt like I was getting a foot massage!
Aside from the mechanics of it all, it was a GREAT show. I’ve seen them about half a dozen times (not including Masada Marathons). This was probably the second best out of all of those (the first best is still on my shortlist of all-time favorite shows, it’s a tough competition). I think the encore was my favorite part – they played a couple of my favorites and also brought out a guest, Gyan Riley, to add an extra guitar to the mix. (Some audience members were confused, as he was also wearing the robe-and-hood SC3 ‘uniform,’ and people in the back could only see that the band had come back for an encore with one more Secret Chief than they’d started with.) An energetic and intense show. If I wasn’t exhausted and it wasn’t pouring rain I might have gone out to Brooklyn to see them a second night in a row instead of staying home and writing blog posts… but I think it’s probably healthy to take a night off once in a while. 😉
Highlights coming in the next few weeks: Golem, Schizophonia and Imaginarium at Littlefield (10/23), John Zorn, Cyro Baptista et al. at the Stone on Halloween, Preservation Hall Jazz Band with Allen Toussaint at the Music Hall of Williamsburg (11/1), Marc Ribot Trio at Le Poisson Rouge (11/3), and Cyro Baptista’s residency at the Stone beginning on 11/4.