“I know that many have been taught to think that moderation, in a case like this, is a sort of treason”
Edmund Burke (British Statesman and Philosopher, 1729-1797) (thanks google/thinkexist.com)
Yes amp’s going up to 11 and blaring your favorite song so that the neighbor’s can hear it is really cool. When you were 15 it was the world, but after a week if you had any real interest in music you were trying to think of what to do next. Something to push it forward, taking this raw energy and coupling it with some emotion. I am a huge fan (as are many reading this I am sure) of Can’s output with Damo Suzuki and was thrilled to see he was brining his touring “network” back to Chicago’s Empty Bottle. Then, having Rob AA Lowe and Ben Vida open up and eventually join him on stage was icing on the cake. Unfortunately the cake was just inedibly sweet.
After stopping to see a friend in the area, we arrived at the Bottle minutes after 9pm. An early start time considering only one opener, I was surprised that it was followed rather closely. By 9:15 Rob and Ben took the stage and for the next 45 minutes created the most dark and mesmerizing space with just their voices and sparsely anything else. Rob started it off, looping some low vocal chants which he further lowered by slowing down the loop. This created some deep pulsing rhythms to which he added some bells. Ben at this point started adding some higher pitched vocal sounds fed through a bit of a phaser, creating a nice gurgling noise. Ben then turned to the a large hand drum while Rob began screaming the highest notes imaginable. It really lifted me off the floor, momentarily forgetting I was at the Bottle. I felt I was floating in space listening to the noise created by background radiation and the pulsing of quasars. Yes this is drone music, based and constructed around a single chord. Its not music of movement but there is skill to the construction. Its the aural equivalent to a abstract painting. To cap it off, Ben and Rob brought us back down to earth even though we wanted nothing of the sort, leaving us wanting for the next show.
Now, if only Damo Suzuki had that kind of control. It started off well, with Damo taking the mic and singing in a deep guttural, almost bluesy voice. The backing band, as is customary with Damo's current motif, was made up of local free jazz/improv luminaries: Joshua Abrams on bass Jason Adasiewicz on vibes David Daniell on guitar John Herndon on drums Jorge Ledezma on rhodes and moog Fred Lonberg-Holm on cello and Steve Krakow on guitar. As Damo started to lead the band with random rhythmic lyrics in a language not always comprehensible, Krakow and Herdon began with some simple scratches and brushes. Abrams fat low end locked in with Herdon and the group really started to take off. Slow and careful notes were replace with hectic raw energy. Adasiewicz banged the vibraphone in fits of euphoria, totally bug eyed. This pattern dominated the whole set, and for the first hour the crowd dug it. We were packed in tight, hanging on every shout and turn of Damo and the band. At time it really rocked, on par with those Can records. An hour in it started to slow down and I began to think “oh no, its almost over” while secretly wanting it to be the end.
There is a reason why you don’t eat your favorite food at every meal, why you go to that expensive savory restaurant only on special occasions. The contrast is what you really crave. At the hour and ten minute mark it picked back up again. Now the crowd had started to thin. This was becoming a test of endurance, for the crowd and the band. Over the next hour I would notice the crowd dwindle to well over half of its original size, and even members of the band appeared stunned. Fred Lonberg-Holm took a smoke break. At a point early in the set Ben and Rob joined the group, but by this late point they were also taking breaks. I know that this is part of the art of group improv, knowing your place in the larger group. Seeing how this was the first time any of the members stopped playing, I had a different idea. I am not completely down on this show, I am glad I went. Being the presence of one of my favorite singers of all time was special. It was a good set, unfortunately it would have been a great set if it was shorter.