Peelander-Z + Anamanaguchi + The Local Skank performing at One Eyed Jacks on April 26, 2011
Peelander-Z + Anamanaguchi + The Local Skank performing at One Eyed Jacks on April 26, 2011
Jazz Fest is here, and it is so wide-ranging and awesome you – almost literally – cannot go wrong no matter what you end up doing once you reach the Fairgrounds. Barryfest aims to give you a look at what’s going on after the sun sets on Jazz Fest each day.
04.28: Okkervill River + MyNameIsJohnMichael – Republic
04.29: Crocodiles + The Fresh & Onlys + Young Prisms – Republic
2010 was a heavy year for the Fresh & Onlys, a young San Francisco band who – though part of the modern deluge of “garage rock revivalists” vying for what little attention the electronica-centered masses have to give – has managed to somehow elevate itself from the strict confines of an admittedly minimalist genre of music with a brilliant Phil Specter-esque atmosphere of fuzzed-out psychedelic guitars, ethereal vocal harmonies, and driving, crash-heavy drums. After releasing Play It Strange in 2010, the third of a series of releases that call to mind the career progressions of Liverpool band the Coral – and, by association, the numerous 1960s Haight-Ashbury acts that inspired it – the Fresh & Onlys embarked on a year-long touring charge that took the band to the Matt Groening-curated All Tomorrow’s Parties and further through the UK with the wildly-popular Deerhunter.
The band’s 2011 release, the Secret Walls EP, finds them somewhat slowed-down yet substantially more brooding in both songwriting approach and demeanor as they traverse a Nick Cave-influenced Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse vibe, complete with thick vibrato guitars and heavily-reverbed, baritone vocals. If 2010 is any indication, the Fresh & Onlys have no intention of slowing down their current lightning-pace of recording and touring. Indeed, they’ll be stopping in New Orleans for their second performance here in six months for a show at the Republic where they, along with recent Kanine Records signees the Young Prisms, will be supporting San Diego noise pop band Crocodiles.
04.30: Rotary Downs + Big History – Siberia
05.01: ?uestlove + Biz Markie – Republic
One of the most interesting, if not funniest, elements of Empire Records is the array of esoteric – even absurd – in-jokes and references that its makers – the producers, director, screenwriter and designers – seem hellbent on calling to the audience’s attention without any real explanation. When we’re not digesting the posters, T-shirts, stickers, and verbal music references that are the subject of this feature, we’re witnessing A.J.’s sticky quarters trick or Lucas’ zen-like armchair pseudo-extentialism, antics that, though we as the audience see, never quite let us into their world.
Taken in this context, Empire Records serves in a way to preserve – as a time capsule or visual archive – the existence of its own obscure references. Ironically, the impenetrable nature of the film’s set dressing strangely parallels the little-known histories of many of the very bands it features, most of which have, in real life, been badly preserved over the years. For some bands, this film is literally the only record of their existence, and it’s therefore nearly impossible to write about them.
Fortunately for Band of Susans, whose promotional poster for Love Agenda can be seen many times throughout the movie, that isn’t completely the case. On the contrary, there’s plenty to hear and read about the New York band, which rose to relative notoriety from the infamous No Wave scene of the late 1980s. Nevertheless, this methodical, precision-oriented, mid-tempo noise rock band’s unmistakable presence on the walls and in the echoes of Empire Records – a presence that is strange since I can’t imagine that the filmmakers, based on the other work they’ve done, were ever involved in the No Wave scene – is almost as abstruse as the band’s career itself.
The short story is that Band of Susans is based around the work of composer Rhys Chatham, a man best described as the noise music version of an orchestral conductor, to whom the band has dedicated songs ( “In The Eye of the Beholder”) and with whom they’ve even collaborated (“Guitar Trio”). Oddly enough though, the close connection of core BOS members Robert Poss, Susan Stenger, and Ron Spitzer to Chatham wasn’t the result of being party to the same “scene”. Although you can find Chatham’s work in the annals of Tellus, a legendary cassette/mail art ‘zine from the 1980s that dealt heavily in the New York No Wave scene while in its earliest incarnation, he and Poss come together under an apprenticeship system of musical collaboration not unlike those found in classical music circles, in which people set out with a specific artistic vision and spend the rest of their lives perfecting that vision. Chatham then, unsurprisingly, served as noise guitar mentor to his student Poss and, by association, the rest of the band.
As abstract as that sounds, it may be the only way to characterize the work of Band of Susans, a band whose discography is, at times, nothing more than entire albums of dense feedback and fuzz with rhythms so mellow they border on slowcore. Each offering seemed more impenetrable than the one before it, with the band making little effort to display even a modicum of creative growth between recording sessions. Although that usually lends itself to the more common problem of laziness, I’m inclined to say that Band of Susans operated under the auspices of the much rarer avant-garde grand design.
Regardless, it can ultimately be a challenging listen to even the most open-minded arts consumer because, twenty years after the fact and without the benefit of live experiences, exposés in Rolling Stone Magazine, or even simple word of mouth, we’re nothing more than distant historical onlookers when we listen to the incredibly obtuse music of Band of Susans. It’s only on songs like “Throne of Blood” (from 1988’s Hope Against Hope), “Not In This Life” (from 1993’s Veil) or “Pardon My French” (from 1995’s Here Comes Success) that the band’s talent for sprawling, euphoric, multichannel walls of guitar noise meets its rhythm section for a simple, concise, easily-digestible listening experience.
I was reading an article about New York avant-garde icon Andy Warhol recently that discussed the criticisms Warhol faced in the 1980s – specifically that he was running solely on business tactics and surface aesthetics, without any attention to meaning or feeling. By this point, the Factory had long been closed off to the public, and the only thing people – including critics – knew of him was what he chose to show them. In many ways, this isolation was the root of the public’s distaste for his work in the 1980s. In the past, a person could walk into the Factory, check out what Warhol was doing and even get a sincere, albeit vague, explanation about the work from the man himself. But at the end, there was no transparency or explanation; there was only what we saw: art and money.
From what I can gather, the art world of 1980s New York City bought heavily into notions of isolation and the ability to clearly mark the line between artist and listener. Band of Susans is no different. Their discography, while vast, contains no demos, no side projects, no collaborations (outside of Rhys Chatham), and no live recordings (with the exception of a single Peel Session EP). I’d challenge anyone to find even a single cam-quality live video of the band. This is unfortunate because all we have to rely on is folklore that purports Band of Susans to have been one of the loudest band of all time.
Instead, all we can work with is what they chose to show us: impeccably finished noise music: purposely unrecognizable lyrics, triple-stacked amps spilling mammoth walls of fuzzy distortion and drums that intentionally plod with a precise intensity for the six-to-eight-minute duration of each song.
Cut Copy + Holy Ghost! performing at Republic on April 23, 2011
If you, like me, happened to walk into the Rusty Nail on the Tuesday or Wednesday between last year’s Jazz Fest weekends, you were treated to significantly more than just the comfortable atmosphere and reasonably priced drinks that are the bar’s specialty. You would have walked into a day-long, indoor/outdoor music extravaganza featuring local and regional favorites plus appearances by the likes of Bill Kreutzman and Blues Traveler’s John Popper.
The “Daze Between” Festival is coming back for 2011, with proceeds from the event benefiting The New Orleans Musicians Clinic and the Gulf Restoration Network. On May 3, Nail regulars Jenn Howard & Crazy McGee and Country Fried will be joined by Chicago funk outfit Lubriphonic and a Tea Leaf Green/ALO mashup dubbed The San Francisco Free For All.
Wednesday’s lineup is awesomely filled with a variety of supergroups paying musical tribute to the Grateful Dead. It’s Dead tunes all day, interpreted by Papa Mali and Friends, the Honey Island Swamp Trio, the Iko All-Stars (featuring Billy Iuso, the Radiators’ Reggie Scanlon, CR Gruver and Gravity A‘s Mike Foo), Drums and Space (featuring Particle‘s Steve Molitz, Col. Bruce Hampton, Ret. and a variety of special guests) and Counterclarkwise (another incarnation of a Tea Leaf Green/ALO collaboration).
Wall-to-wall music, hot boiled crawfish, freshly shucked oysters and jambalaya are sure to help you get a running start on the second weekend of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival; and if last year was any indication, there should be plenty of surprises in store.
Native America + Chris Rehm + Ben Jones performing at Breezy’s on April 17, 2011