Saturday, June 25, 2011

R. Stevie Moore - one week later

Playing right now: Trotsky Icepick - Baby (It's not that I've been playing it continuously since it arrived in the mail. It helps me get moving, so I don't either turn on TV and get pulled away from listening to music and writing, or else get bogged down in the eternal question of what should I listen to.)

A week ago today was the R. Stevie Moore show in Pittsburgh. Half of the previous week was spent transcribing interviews for an article on the Ladybug Transistor for City Paper that will run this coming Wednesday. So when that was finally put to bed, I didn't feel like writing nothing. Plus I think I was fighting some kind of sickness that I hope I'm finally shaking.

So I haven't been able to get to writing about the show until now.

In short - what a performance! What a songwriter! What a ham! (All good things in the Shanley book.)

In long.... the show took place at Modern Formations. Andy Mulkerin said I "hit it out of the park" with my article in City Paper that week. See for yourself. Stevie was such a great interview, and so full of good comments that it was hard to figure out what would make it into the article and what wouldn't.

For as much as he sounded shy about being around adulation, there he was standing in the gallery of ModForm, talking to a few guys between sets. (I think they were Hot Dog Forest who I had missed. Sorry guys.) Unlike a certain other "legendary" musician that I interviewed prior to a performance in town, Stevie at least seemed to remember our conversation and was a personable guy. I gave him a copy of the article and he gave me a copy of his latest CD, Advanced (which you should be able to find on iTunes soon but not right now). Nice fella.

As his band was setting up, he ambled onto the stage, setting up his bass and arranging song lyrics on a music stand. Then he held up two different tops that looked like the kind of scrubs that you might see on a nurse walking down Liberty Avenue near West Penn Hospital. "Which one?" he asked the audience. We picked the one in his left hand. And that point I remembered a comment from our interview, that came out of a discussion of his beard and how he thought he shouldn't talk about his looks. He shifted gears: "I am a fashion plate. It's getting really big. I'm starting to buy real gaudy women's clothing, mainly for stage. Rapper's hoodies, I'm really showing off. Way beyond my means. It's not my style to boast and show off, but I'm so desperate for attention these days."

Then he took a big swig from a wine bottle and one from a seltzer bottle and says, "Thank you for coming to my concert." (It's always so quaint to me when someone refers to a small-venue show as a "concert.")

From the get-go, the band sounded amazing. Stevie played the bass with his thumb the whole time, strumming it, not popping on it. The only other person I've seen do that is the guy who played with Tito Puente in the '80s. The first song wasn't really psychedelic in the traditional sense, but it contained a certain level of psych feeling, and it wrapped up with a great boogie coda. "Pop Music" (which appears on Advanced) had some Brian Wilson high vocals and 7th chords, along with some clipped and extended time signature tricks. Later on in the set, some Byrds influence could be felt. He quipped that "Theorem" was something that "meets fuckin' Timberlake or Bieber." (On Advanced it sounds like something from Forever Changes.) The thing to remember is that even though Moore has some of these cultural touchstones in his music, he wasn't trying to really emulate them. It all sort of flowed from him naturally and helped him make something original.

The band (drums, guitar, guitar/keyboard + him) played five songs and then walked offstage, which puzzled all of us. He came back by himself and played a couple songs on guitar, including one about seafood that ended with a weird tag about Popeye and it was hard to tell if it was spontaneous or part of the song. (I hope the latter.) In all, he played about a dozen songs.

"Carmen Is Coming" was the final song of the night, which sounded like the metal freakout that Stevie mentioned in the interview. It has another mutant proggy blues line and by the end, when the sound refused to die, he wound up lying on the floor because that's where the spirit put him. It was a good way to end the show. (Point of interest - the version of "Carmen" on Advanced sounds less like metal and more like a Captain Beefheart melody played on nylon string guitars.)

In closing, if you have an opportunity to see R. Stevie Moore perform, do it. And buy as much of his music as you can. I bought one more disc on the way out.

Weird Paul played just before Stevie, pouring on a helluva lotta ham: He sang a new some short tunes, some classics and even had his son sing along. Even though he wasn't there. The preprogrammed tracks featured his voice, at which point Paul pointed the mike at the picture of his son.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Jooklo Duo in Pittsburgh

Playing right now: Knives from Heaven (Matt Shipp, Wm Parker, Beans & HPRIZM) (Thirsty Ear)

My R. Stevie Moore article hit the street today. Read it online right here. Then this week, I wrote a Trotsky Icepick article for Blurt, only to find out that the first reunion show is happening as we speak and that the second one is tomorrow. I thought they were playing this weekend, so I don't think the site will post the article in time. Then I discovered that Blurt ran my Kid Congo piece on May 24. Check it out. Finally this morning I gave them two more CD reviews. Oh yeah - I also wrote something about Jeremiah Clark for City Paper, which will run next week.

In between all that, I made it out to a show at Garfield Artworks on Monday night. Manny brings in a lot of avant jazz folks that I've never heard of and don't get a chance to see. So when I saw the flyer for the Jooklo Duo - a man and woman from Italy - I made a mental note to check this show out. I had no idea if they were the free jazz type of improv or noisy electronics kind of improv. Regardless I was going to be there.

The opening act was a local fella who performs under the name Burnout Warcry. He had a table full of instruments: a small keyboard, a chain that looked like line used when fishing; a kazoo, bells, metal plates. He also had a suitcase that he routinely kicked to fill the space that a kick drum would typically handle.

He played for about 20 minutes, all told: one longer piece, one shorter one. And he used all the instruments to fill the space. Sometimes he looked like he wasn't sure what to grab next, or how to continue the sound, but most of the time, he seemed pretty assured. Most people would've thought he was just messing around and that it was pointless, but he kept the sound going. The length of his set was just enough.

Jooklo Duo were actually a trio that night because guitarist Bill Nace had joined Virginia Genta (reeds and things) and David Vanzan (drums) for this tour. Nace's guitar added a level of consistant drone to the set, but it could've come down in the mix a little bit. As the set started, he was bowing the guitar and Vanzan was gentle playing his kit. For the longest time, he didn't pound the drums, which gave the drums a nice muted effect. It helped put the spotlight on Genta, who began by blowing the double-reed horn the zorna, on which she used circular breathing to keep her tone flowing. She picked up the clarinet, but some of the nuances got lost in the swirl of guitar drone (he had it in his lap the whole time) and drums, which by now were getting kind of loud.

When Genta picked up her tenor saxophone and started to blow, I wrote "Oh yeah, now you're talking" in my notebook. The band was now firing on all four cylinders. Her tenor playing was reminiscent of early Gato Barbieri, with a gush of wild overtones. Sometimes it was hard to tell what was coming from her and what was coming from Nace due to the volume and the echo from the room and instruments.

As the set moved on, the sound swelled more and more. Genta pulled out the jew's harp, the one instrument that was hard to hear over everything else. But that boing was in there somewhere. Vanzan, whose past-the-shoulders length hair and full beard, together with his lanky frame made him look like some '70s prog rock dude, whipped out a flute and started playing it into one of the drum mikes without batting an eye. I don't think he looked at his trap kit once while he was playing. Nace creating the sound of a beehive and later a leaky faucet, while Genta moved to melodica, then cowbell and police whistle, to which she added some vocal yells. Then after about 45 minutes, things died down and Vanzan let fly a final thump across his drums. The kind that says "the end," and mean it. I wasn't about to argue.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

The Return of Trotsky Icepick

This week I received a package from Vitus Matare, founding member of Trotsky Icepick (also a former member of the Last). He sent me a copy of Baby, the one album by the band that I did not have on vinyl (or CD). After all these years, it still sounds really, really good. It also takes me back to those carefree days when I was 20 and living on my first apartment.
In an email explaining the box, he mentioned that there was a TI facebook paged, which he created in part to promote "the two reunion shows we're doing with the Meat Puppets." What?!?!
He had made some passing wisecrack about a reunion when I first tracked him down on FB, but I thought it was nothing more than that - a joke. Boy, was I wrong. The group is playing June 16 & 17 in or around LA with said Puppets. So I did what any fanboy turned music writer would do: I pitched a story to Blurt, who took me up on it and I interviewed Vitus last night. He's still the same nice guy who put up with my numerous phone calls 20+ years ago. I'm thinking of calling John Talley-Jones too, but I also have to interview R. Stevie Moore sometime today, although he wants me to do it via Skype! I don't have that shit. I'm lucky I can record interviews that are audible.
Which reminds me, I ought to start reading up on him before I have to go to work.... Even though I'm worried this thing won't come off.