Thursday, August 09, 2018

Minibeast in Pittsburgh with Insect Factory & Skeletonized

Hopefully this won't simply come off looking like a love letter to Peter Prescott. But his appearance over the weekend with Minibeast served not only to entertain but to inspire as well.

Prescott is best known as the drummer of Mission of Burma, who were part of the Boston punk scene from about 1979 to 1982, disbanding only when guitarist Roger Miller developed tinnitus due to the loud volume of their performances. A few years after their story was told in Michael Azerrad's great book Our Band Could Be Your Life, Burma decided it was time to do the unthinkable and reunite. Time had done nothing to mellow their attack and the reunited lineup has released several albums, outliving their initial run.

When MoB first disbanded, Prescott launched Volcano Suns, which set a golden standard for songwriters who play drums. From behind his kit, he bellowed lyrics that were often pretty deep, usually pretty wry and often funny without being too obvious about it. With various lineup changes along the way, the Suns released six albums and toured frequently. One of those stops occurred on Easter Sunday 1990, where yours truly opened for them as part of a the Cure Experience, a parody of Robert Smith's band that many took as more of an homage. That night was also significant because Suns bassist Bob Weston borrowed the stations Easter Bunny outfit, which he wore backwards, He later stagedove during the set-closing "Testify" - and no one caught him. (He went to the hospital that night.)

Volcano Suns alone would be a tough act to follow. But with the Burma legacy (yes, I think at this point we can use that word) hanging over his head, it could give a musician a complex. Not Prescott. This is a guy who once sang, "How can I be senile when I feel so infantile," in his post-Suns band Kustomized, where he traded his drums for a guitar. He's not resting on his laurels. More like he stepped on his laurels on his way to band practice with a new project, which he is making sure maintains the same raucous feel as his other work, without attempting to replicate past glories.

Which brings up to this past Sunday night, August 5 when he came to Howlers with Minibeast. The name first popped on my radar as a solo recording project. "It's nothing like Volcano Suns," he told me in a Facebook comment once. True - it's a lot loopier, in terms of samples that appear in it and the wildness of the music. Two albums have been released under the name. They were no preparation for the evening. (The numerous live videos on youtube might help, though.)

In person, Prescott (who is on the right above, in the shadows) played guitar, though he spent as much time on keyboards, producing overdriven organ chords and sampling his voice and other random noises. Joining him were bassist Eric Baylies and drummer Keith Seidel who can hit a groove and keep it strong for infinity. The hypnotic repetition, coupled with Prescott's wild trimmings, recalls the finer moments of Can, although these guys seem like they have a better grasp on where the music is going. Afterwards, I mentioned to Prescott that the group never had a look of "should we keep going," or "what happens now." They just kept surging. He replied that if anyone felt that way, it was him.

Lately I've been feeling inhibitions about the whole idea of playing music. My band has come undone due to valid, other commitments by the players. Which leaves me wondering if it's still worth doing at an age when most people go to be long before the headliner comes on. Musically I do have something else in the works, but I still doubt myself sometimes.

Seeing Peter Prescott - who almost 10 years to the day older than me - up there, ripping it up, screaming like it's 1989 and pretty much displaying the same joie de vivre from that time, it gives me hope. There's plenty of reasons to keep doing it, especially if that feeling in your gut makes you feel like playing music is instinctual. (Sorry if I poured it on thick, Peter, but we Irish are like that.)

Insect Factory, the solo guitar project of Jeff Barsky, is on tour with Minibeast and played a gentle prelude to the trio. It felt like for the first 30 to 60 seconds, Barsky wasn't even getting much of anything audible from his instrument. As he continued, though, he developed a rich sound with a bank of pedals that created loops upon loops that built in dynamics and melody until it filled the room. Just as gradually as the sound built, it also retracted. Much like the focus of Minibeast, Barsky played with ideas in mind. This wasn't random pedal play.

The Pittsburgh alto sax/drums duo of Skeletonized opened the evening. Their duets featured some improvisation but they delivered it in the context of tunes. Drums were accentuated by triggers that added loud keyboard bass-style foundation to the music. It sometimes covered up the alto but as a whole these guys were a great start to the night. Solid stuff.

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