Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Reviewing An Instrumental Band

The other night I had to review a show. My dream job is to actually get paid to review shows, befriend bands or make them pariahs of the scene. That comes later. But for now, I am the east coast concert reviewer for I get to see shows for free(that is how I'm paid) and review them(works for me). The band I went to see was instrumental rock/funk/, jazzy/electronica/ free form/indie/math based band. A very good band whose been around since the 80s and many may say are responsible for the term "post-rock".

There was a slight problem. Trivial as it may be. They are an instrumental band and mood is conveyed with conviction through their songs and the lack of words such songs tend to have. I take notes at shows with my Moleskine pad. Its small enough to fit in my back pocket. I usually rely on song lyrics and structure to set up my framework for the review. I have to burn off wordy calories and get my review down to a fighting weight of 275 words or so. Let me get to the point. How do you review a show FOR THE MASSES when the show is instrumental and you don't know the titles of the songs???

I thought of reviewers everywhere who cover jazz and classical and what their plan of attack was....with no words, no frontman and no real verbal interaction with the paying public to use as a foundation for their review. But those reviewers are usually academics who research hours of taped performances beforehand and know one movement from another. I'm a moody rock singer who loves to criticize everything. I could only come up with one method of getting this assignment done, and lets just say I'm gonna need a Plan B.

I went the free thought route and just wrote what I "saw" as I listened to Tortoise plow throw an unclassifiable set. I will now share with you what I wrote for "songs" #4 and #6 as they happened in real time.

#4 : huge crowd response
2112 alarm : HAL in a panic
pod doors close
Medeski Martin and Wood introduces to Keir Dullea
geiger counter of twin xylophones
bossa nova bee bite
metal detectors going off as tsunami waves crash the beach

#6: amphetamined high hat
Steely Dan Gaucho Rhodes intro
onward to SantanaDan
timbale turrets blasting beats over hipster headspace.
Breaks out and back into
souled out sacrifice asymmetrical
hair bobs and sways
THEN Heavy Beat Steady Bass
straight into LIVE EVIL guitar
Keys sound-asylum break
rhythm is beat of running inmates
heartbeat lulls-we're in hiding
night is a blanket
we are out of sight
until the morning
we crawl out of the forest
re-live the pace- run toward freedom.

WOW... it just exhales off of the page(maybe not the screen) and I like it.

I'm a huge fan of Lester Bangs, the late great most awesomest rock critic of all time...most of you don't know who I'm talking about so go watch Almost Famous where Lester is portrayed by Philip Seymour Hoffman...or go read Let It Blurt by Jim Derogatis to get yerself up to speed if you care to.

Lester just "Let it Blurt" out of him as he wrote. Like a tape worm of quotes, vignettes, idol worship, Rock case studies and fascinating verbal diarrhea... Stream of Conciousness refined a little bit. You either loved him, hated him or misunderstood him.

I could never be Lester Bangs....but I like where I'm going with this. a review of an instrumental not quite jazz and not quite rock band whose latest album is called Beacons of Ancestorship and I don't know the song titles but I really like them anyhow and I let it loose as best I could.

If after one reads a review, they do not wish they were at that show, then I have not done my job.

Let me know if I've done my job.

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  1. Hey Man,
    I thought your review was quite poetic. I cant imagine reviewing music like that although I do enjoy listening to it at times. Not much into Jazz though. Remember Tower of Power? They were huge back in the early 70's and are still recording and touring to this day. They had some lyrics but they were primarily horns and rhythm. I'll have to watch Almost Famous again to see who you are talking about. It has been awhile since I watched that.

  2. Excellent free-form review. Nice Kubrick film reference (Keir Dullea, gone tomorrow...) Lester Bangs once wrote in a review that he hated the album (can't remember by which artist) because "it smelled like rotting posies pressed between the pages of a large volume of Tennyson"

    Now who would even have an ounce of that imagination these days? I've read just about everything on him (by him) that i could get my hands on. I haven't always agreed with his assessments, but he did bring an outspoken intelligence to rock criticism that isn't easily found in the mainstream these days.