Concert Review: Ceramic Dog (Shahzad Ismaily, Marc Ribot, Ches Smith) (New York City, 5/5/2013)

On Sunday night, some friends and I caught the record release party for Ceramic Dog‘s new album “Your Turn” at Le Poisson Rouge in New York. I was excited enough to get in line around 6PM to ensure top quality seats, and we ended up at just about the best possible table in the front row. As you can see, it was a pretty good view:

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I’ve always liked this venue, both for the room itself (sightlines, sound, etc.) and the consistently interesting and high-quality music they book. I wish they would open a branch here in Boston! (Le Poisson avec des Chaussettes Rouges?) I’m always happy to catch a show there. (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…)

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 (more…)