Saturday, December 02, 2006
Tommy Gun Angels hit town... review of Bardo Pond at the Maze, Nottingham, Thursday 30th November...
A crowded room,buzzing with anticipation. The Maze, on Mansfield Road in Nottingham is one of the better venues in the area, friendly bar staff and enough space to get a reasonable crowd in to cook up an atmosphere without being cavernous or cramped. (Although the envelope was pushed tonight...). Another coup by Damn You to get Bardo Pond here, whose inspired bookings along with other local organisers like Knees Knees have really put this town on the map with regard to the best in contemporary cutting edge musics. Fortified in advance and armed with two Budweisers (no way I was going to battle back to the bar during the set) I had managed to squeeze downfront and to the side (impossible to get front of stage – I arrived too late, just catching the last few minutes of the second support band – Souvaris (?) -they sounded good). I watched with interest the equipment being set-up – a lot of FX pedals for the guitars. Stompbox heaven impending... Then the band took the stage and without much preamble launched into their set. Bardo Pond are – what? A rock band? Sort of – the rhythms start out from rock and their drummer Ed Farnsworth wacks heavily smack dab on the beat when needed to. But he also has the flexibility to mix it up into trickier syncopations that closely track the drift as their long songs mutate and unravel outwards. Again - they work off fairly simple 'rocky' structures – but extend these into improvisations that take you on long and loudly beautiful journeys into the psychedelic sublime - and prove that it's still a viable space to inhabit... So: something more than just a rock band, in iron tune with the strong improvisational ethic that has been running through the musics for some time now, that came from jazz. Maybe something like, to risk an analogy, a customised vehicle with a disguised engine – a rock car with a mighty free jazz engine under the hood... but enough speculations – just to mention that this uncategorisable nature is reflected in the following quote from their bass player:
'Yeah, for the outside we're too inside, and for the inside we're too outside. [But] I just like rock bands, you know what I mean?' (Clint Tekeda, from here...).
Maybe 'rock' has become as problematic a word as 'jazz?'
For all the womped-up electricity and volume, there is also a close attention to light and shade – Isabel Sollenberger's vocals and flute offering timbral variety. I have wondered about this down the years, ever since I first heard the Velvets way back in the sixties. A specifically American music strategy that takes in wild experiments and noise, but oddly rooted even if diagonally/obliquely in popular forms and usually with strong melody coming through at some point out of the electronic/noise stormwaves... maybe (ahem) call it post-modernism? In the interesting rather than banal sense... out of Olson - 'the first literary figure to use the term “post-modern” (preceded only by the historian Arnold Toynbee)' (from here... ) - and other liberators as opposed to the dull thudders of academe... For all the space in the music and the improvisations, they remain a very tight unit, as befits a group who have been living and playing together for so many years. Maybe it's something in the water of Philadelphia where they are based – the home of Sun Ra and John Coltrane, that epic quester who blew out of the walls of jazz in a reverse Jericho manoeuvre to venture wildly beyond. From that Wire interview again:
Clint Takeda: 'But there is a strong history and reverberation in Philly. Like Coltrane, Sun Ra, Lynch, Duchamp.'
Michael Gibbons: 'It's the heart of the enlightenment, you know? It's the heart of democracy.'
The Sun Ra connection – sometime back, Michael Gibbons had been involved in a collaboration with Marshall Allen, the keeper of the Ra flame. Bardo P travel the spaceways too... Yet, despite the exotic sound spaces they inhabit, there's a refreshingly no-messing, no-frills approach to their performance, typified, maybe, by Sollenberger having monitor problems throughout the set (and she seemed a bit low in the mix at times) but not falling into tantrums about it as some would but offering a resigned and graceful acceptance that fuckups unfortunately happen.
Like all great bands, their bottom ground is the platform from which they launch their epic sound adventures – the bass and drums of Clint Takeda and Ed Farnsworth, mightily holding it all together tonight. With Isabel's mysterious vocals and flute at the top, the middle ground is criss-crossed by the two guitars with their masses of FX pedals blasting sonic cloudbursts, whipped across by subtly unobtrusive textural synth/keyboard interjections. Little in the way of audience addressed rock babble – just 'Thankyous' and moving on the the next song. They proved that old (and prescient) Albert Ayler quote, about music now being more about feeling and emotions than notes. And they operate as a democracy, albeit Isobel's frontperson presence (which is admittedly downplayed), the music swelling and breathing as one mighty unit, each individual locking into the broader collective endeavour. The audience went with them all the way, song to song, on a long, strange but defiantly beautiful trip – if you had 'em and smoked 'em it must have been a cosmic blast. I made the journey on Budweiser – and still flew the distance... because The Tommy Gun Angels were in town and firing from the hip - and soaring mightily into the dark provincial night...
As a taster, here they are on MySpace – playing, what else? - 'Tommy Gun Angel.' My favourite song title of the last two years...
And the Wire has an alternative mix of 'Lost Word' from their latest album, 'Ticket Crystals,' here... (Scroll down the side frame...)