There's an emotional hangover that goes with the end of something as intense as Big Ears. I was exhausted yesterday, which was a mixed bag--most of the music, from Adrian Belew sitting in with George Middlebrooks and Jim Rivers' Ampient Cafe set at Old City Java a little after noon to the Books and Bang on a Can, was sedate stuff, made for settling into a cozy spot, but I also had a hard time staying awake through much of it.
In fact, I only saw about three hours of music yesterday--part of the Ampient set, half of the Books' show, the first movement of Music for Airports by Bang on a Can, part of the Shaking Ray Levis set with Shelley Hirsch, Ben Frost and Tim Hecker, and half of the Calder Quartet's set at the Bijou.
I just didn't have it in me--Saturday was such a long and energetic day, almost nonstop from noon to 4 a.m., with most of the weekend's highlights. And there were a lot--I made some tough decisions, and there are shows I wish I had seen, but I don't regret seeing anything I did catch.
I was glad to have a slower day after that, but I was also glad to be on my couch watching Celebrity Apprentice while the National were playing. They certainly didn't miss me, anyway, judging by the crowd lined up outside the Tennessee Theatre two hours before they started.
The rain actually seems appropriate this morning, even if it is coming down way harder than it needs to to set a somber, elegiac mood. Yesterday just kept ratcheting up to the buzzsaw blur of Liturgy and Gang Gang Dance's slinky, ritualistic dance party, and today feels like it should be spent with some quieter music.
I took a short break after Dirty Projectors, then headed back to the Old City for Konk Pack. The improv trio--a Frankenstein monster keyboard, drums, and a weird inside-out elctric guitar, laid out on a tabletop like a lap steel--started slow, and the group's free playing takes some orientation, but a third of the way in it started to click. By the end it was a beautiful swirl of noise, playful, just this side of chaotic, and a thrilling example of what Big Ears still offers besides marquee indie rock.
At this point I'd decided that the Big Ears Annex had been fruitful enough that I was just going to stay in the Old City. I skipped some potentially rewarding, even lifetime-enriching-type shows--Terry Riley's pipe organ concert, William Basinski and Ben Frost, Bang on a Can and Riley at the Tennessee, throw in Joanna Newsom if you want to--for Pilot Light's metal lineup. Warband's retro thrash sounded tighter than it did the last time I saw them (and it's fun to pick out the band's obvious influences--I spotted riffs straight from Metallica's "Whiplash," "Seek and Destroy," and "For Whom the Bell Tolls," as well as a double-time coda copped from Iron Maiden's "Hallowed Be Thy Name"). Argentinum Astrum has added substantial black metal influence to their doom/sludge, presumably since the arrival of new bassist Emily Robinson, formerly of Tenderhooks. An interesting departure, but I think I preferred the old Burning Witch style more. Something to watch.
Warband and A.A. brought in lots of people for Liturgy's second show of the day. The band just kills--great songs, tight as a drum, and the sight of cherubic-looking singer/guitarist Hunter Hunt-Hendrix shrieking his lungs out is something else. I really do appreciate that Big Ears recognizes the genuine artistic merit of metal.
Today's been great so far--Bang on a Can All-Stars, followed by Iva Bittova and Liturgy at the Annex and Dirty Projectors at the Tennessee Theatre.
Iva Bittova's a stunning performer--not entirely pleasant, but you dn't really want her to stop, either. She mixes classical violin training with Eastern European and Romani folk music and has a voice of unbelievable range. It's dramatic, virtuosic, unexpected, utterly brilliant.
The Brooklyn black metal band Liturgy somehow made perfect sense right after--they played most of their 2009 album Renihilation and one new song, totally loud as shit. They play an arty take on traditional BM, incorporating the foundational elements--blast beats, tremolo riffing, and shrieked vocals--with none of the theatrical stuff. Smart (they have a manifesto on "transcendental black metal" for sale), efficient (especially drummer Greg Fox--even his blast beats were all in the wrist and feet; he barely moved his arms above the elbow), imaginative. Black metal may seem an odd fit for Big Ears, but if you think that it's only because you haven't heard them. (They played at the Birdhouse last fall to about 30 people, and there were only about half that at the Annex. Liturgy plays again tonight at Pilot Light,supported by local thrasher Warband and local doom metal trudgers Argentinum Astrum.)
Dirty Projectors sounded great. Dave Longstreth is a weird guitarist, but everything worked great--the Tennessee was full, but it might have been just a bit big for the band. A mix of new and old songs, a quiet rendition of "Two Doves," and (okay, I left early) probably "Stillness Is the Move" at the end. A great band, idiosyncratic and smart with weird chops, but a little distant in the big room. A good argument that the best of Big Ears is in the small venues.
Day two got off to a nice start with Bang on a Can All-Stars at the Square Room--the five-piece set-up includes cello, bass violin, clarinet, electric guitar, and Ches Smith on drums and percussion. They're an expertly paced, tightly controlled ensemble, and closed with a few pieces by Dirty Projectors' Dave Longstreth. One was melancholy chamber music, the other energetic pop--the variety showed off BOAC's range. A good turnout, too--similar acts at the same venue last year drew much smaller audiences.
It's a beautiful day outside, and lots of good music ahead.
I took a lot of notes during the Terry Riley Quartet's concert at the Bijou. It was a weird set--a couple of original Riley compositions, a rearrangement of an Indian raga, and a composition by Riley's son Gyan. Ches Smith, drummer to the avant-stars, is indeed a fabulous percussionist, and he kept some interesting rhythms up the whole time. Mostly, though, I felt like there were a lot of really complicated musical ideas at work that were beyond me.
From there, the Ex at the Big Ears Annex. Anybody else has a hard act to follow--the Dutch post-punk four-piece was loud and ferocious, three guitars (one tuned to almost a bass) and drums, relatively simple songs, just riffs building and building, just a monstrous rock show.
I've just about decided to skip the rock shows at the Bijou and Tennessee in favor of smaller shows, so no xx for me. (I did have dinner at the Nite Owl at a table next to the National.) Andrew W.K.'s set with the Calder Quartet tried my patience--I gave up after an hour, even though the AWK hits were coming soon. His anti-comedy act was pretty unentertaining, and as good as the Calder Quartet is, they were drowned out by the crowd, which was made up largely of teenagers there to see AWK.
So, some disappointments of varying degrees bookended one nearly perfect set.
Andrew W.K.'s set with the