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It never fails to sadden me when I attend the concert of a well-established artist and the venue is nearly empty.
Peter Kember, aka Sonic Boom/Spectrum/Experimental Audio Research (EAR) stepped onto the stage at Chop Suey on Thursday night, and if my estimate was high, there were maybe one hundred people in attendance.
Kember was one of the founding members of the brilliant Spacemen 3, a group that combined garage rock and drugged out trippy auras like none other. The other core member of the band, Jason Pierce, went on to form the highly successful Spiritualized, while Kember’s later efforts have remained obscure at best. This said, the shockingly under-attended Spectrum show was incredible, with a sound remaining true to Spacemen 3’s original vision. Spectrum’s ever challenging music continues to impress, making the often bloated Spiritualized sound like the Kingston Trio.
Most Wire fans agree that their first three albums are excellent recordings that still sound as vibrant and challenging today as they were upon their initial release approximately thirty years ago.
Pink Flag, Chairs Missing and 154 are all timeless classics in their own right and each successive LP was vastly different from the previous one, making them that much more impressive. Interestingly, Wire fans tend to have wildly fluctuating opinions about their subsequent output. Personally, I quite like the 1980s albums too, but have not exposed myself nor been exposed to any of their records after that period. Last Wednesday evening (April 13), Wire took the stage at Neumos and offered a retrospective of their entire career, which provided the audience with a sampling of each decade’s evolution through music.
Photo by: Amy Bernard
Although this was not my first time seeing local band Hotels, this was my first visit to the Columbia City Theater. The theater recently came under new management, who renovated it and re-opened it this past June to rave reviews. The theater certainly has the history, hosting the likes of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Jimi Hendrix in it's earlier years. At a capacity of 350 people, think narrow version of the Crocodile, minus the balcony.
Hotels opened their set in turn-back-the-clock style with lead singer and bassist Blake Madden playing the role of a Frank Sinatra-type casino lounge singer for their set opener, "The Heart That Beats Like A Bat" from their 2009 album Where Hearts Go Broke. Freed of the constraints of playing the bass (at least for this song), Madden was able to swoon and sway, even holding a half full drink in one hand. His tuxedo certainly helped him look the part. They were joined on stage by local singer/songwriter Gabriel Mintz on accoustic guitar, and Mono in VCF front woman Kim Miller on back-up vocals. Although Mintz's acoustic got lost at times behind the sound of synths and electric guitar, his vocals were a nice addition to many of the new songs. Miller's vocals also provided a welcome female contrast to Madden's deeper voice, and while her voice was rarely at the forefront, she was certainly not drowned out on stage either. It's worth noting that in her classy red evening dress, she looked like a fine counterpart to Madden's lounge singer vibe. After setting the stage with the slow burning opener, they picked up the pace with the opening track "From The West" from their brand new album On The Casino Floor.
Michael Gira has been to town several times in the past decade, both with his group The Angels of Light and as a solo acoustic act. He has not, however, brought his legendary original band to town since it was officially boxed up and stored in the attic back around 1998. In fact, he has rarely even brought along an electric guitar on the tours he has done. So when Mr. Gira reinvigorated Swans last year and announced that they would take on a massive tour, I knew this was going to be an experience that was not-to-be-missed. And last Saturday evening, this was exactly the case as Swans performed a ninety minute set of what very well may have been The Loudest Show That I Have Ever Attended.
Opening with a thirty minute cacophony in which each member of the band took the stage about five minutes after the previous one created a massive build-up: first drums, then hammered dulcimer, pedal steel guitar, bass; and finally guitars to finish off layer upon layer of noisy complexity before Swans launched into "No Words/No Thoughts" from their excellent 2010 release. It was booming drums, bells, and guitars oscillating in some kind of mutilated brilliance.