Thursday, May 9, 2013

Music Tapes at the Vera Project

I was excited to see that Music Tapes was playing the Vera Project. I saw them put on a beautifully strange show at the Vera a couple years ago with Olivia Tremor Control and the stories told on stage about Hungarian Gypsy circus performers really stuck with me, and so did the world's largest metronome.

Julian Koster has a different vision of what live performances are, using narratives and props to a much greater degree than any other small venue touring band I've ever seen. If I thought the last show was more narrative and prop driven than most, I had no idea what I was in store for this time - it was the traveling imaginary tour!
Music Tapes at the Vera Project
The band put up a circus tent inside of the Vera Project, and the audience was full of parents with little children. The show takes place in and around the tent, with Julian leading the children and the adults in organized play and contests before the music started.

They brought back the world's tallest metronome and added the drowning sailor and games of skill involving balls and giant snowmen, there were Hungarian Gypsy circus stories - mostly different stories, Julian appears to have quite a few. It was another fun yet totally unexpected and imaginative show.

The first couple of songs were Julian on the musical saw, then on a banjo played with a bow while he sang: Different sounding song, odd and a little small, but it has an undeniable emotional impact as the descending banjo sounding a little like a violin winds through the song.

There was plenty of music on a combination of normal instruments, some used differently (bow on banjo in the above video) and some less usual instruments like musical saws (a saw played with a bow) and the worlds largest metronome and the odd percussion thing to the back a little on the right, I have no idea what they call that. Here's the bit where they introduce the metronome then the giant (drowning?) sailor assembles for an almost indescribable number with the music starting around 2:00 in.
Between the odd rhythms and the horn driven sounds I can sense the circus roots, but the horn break around 2:30 or just after defies easy classification - this stuff is the Music Tapes, and not much else is like it.

I was happy to see that they had several new tricks up their sleeves like the game of skill involving the snowman and throwing balls at the moon until you break it.
Music Tapes at the Vera Project They play more conventionally on some songs like this one, but it still has a musical saw and that odd percussion thing going, so it's only more conventional than the other even odder Music Tapes songs, it's still way out there in unconventional music territory. As a long term novelty seeker, this makes me very happy. They are dedicated to a unique artistic vision, and they pull you into that vision through their artistry and commitment. The odd atmosphere with the occasional barker leading the audience into participating in games (the ladies got be firefly fairies with lights before the show) and play, the high proportion of kids, all of us seated in the circus tent watching the show, it felt like something out of a Ray Bradbury short story - and that's a pretty big compliment, coming from me. Definitely an all out experience, not bombastic or sensory assaulting, just different, like we were slipping into an alternate universe where the old school European Circuses never faded away into something different and they still circle the globe , bringing an evening of alternative reality to those of us lucky enough to find it.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Land of Pines, Special Explosion, Peeping Tomboys and Iji at the Vera Project

Land of Pines put on an EP release show on May 4 and I signed up to steer well ahead of time. I've seen Land of Pines a few times, opening for STRFKR/Champagne Champagne (a pretty epic show) and at the CHBP on the Vera Stage in 2011 and at Reverb Fest later in 2011 as well. They're always fun to watch and listen to, so I signed up as soon as I saw they were doing the show. I bused to the Vera - the weather was nice and hot so I got a little warm lugging the tripod and cameras and laptop and dinner and all, but it was really nice getting some sun and working on that vitamin D deficiency.

We got a good crew of volunteers and they made it easy to steer - all the critical front door posts were filled, and so was concessions and roaming security, so I just had to check in periodically. I was able to get the whole show on video and take lots of pictures. First up is Iji. Iji at Vera Iji is a local Seattle (or nearby) band that I never quite caught. They play local shows, they toured with Megabog and I saw Megabog, but not with Iji. Must have been a different tour. Anyway, I was happy I finally did manage to catch Iji. Guitar, bass, keyboards and drums, with a woman on drums. I'm not sure I'd point that out normally, but we did get a shout out form one of the bands noting that we had many great women performers playing, more than you tend to see at most rock shows.
Iji has a nice guitar driven sound with good dynamics, I enjoy the way the guitar rhythms play against the drums in this one, their final song:
The song has a nice sense of movement and development, pulling us along with it's instrumentals during the break and circling back through the lyrics, with the upper end into the falsetto drifting over lightly, slightly questioning and detached, perhaps. Nice use of song structure and tone to set a mood.

Peeping Tomboys were up next. Funny name, tomboys culturally are "girls who act like boys" and peepers are usually boys or men, so the using that name for an all girl band definitely opens up some thoughts on sexuality and sexual identity. Peeping Tomboys at the Vera Project While looking through my pictures from this show, I noticed that I have photos from Peeping Tomboys playing with Silicon Girls too (Silicon Girls was all men, so the gender identity stuff which was never an explicit topic as far as I noticed was in play there too) but that's another story. They have the same power trio lineup with the guitarist doing most of the vocals, bass and drums. Good mid range guitar sound, nicely built rhythm carrying interesting songs along and supporting the vocals. The drummer does a good job filling some of the transitions and solos too, they never have a weak or anemic sound, it's always working in the context of the song.
This one uses a descending chord progression and some fun backbeats and rhythms to build into a fun song:

Special Explosion had the penultimate slot. Special Explosion at the Vera Project
Lead, rhythm and bass guitar with drums and two vocalists. The guitarist/vocalists did most of the vocals, with the bass player also contributing on occasion.
On thos one they get an angular, jangly opening into a fairly rich, complex instrumental bit before the vocals come in a bt over 90 seconds in. I love the droning sound of the vocals and the transition from the vocals back out to the jangling guitars, and the building leads coming across the vocals around 2:45 to 3:00, then the structure changes and you get some repeated almost paused tempos, the rhythm is quite complicated. I enjoy the song structure and really like the leads and the sense of anticipation as he builds that delay into his licks. Nice stuff. The second song starts about 5:25 in and has dual vocals, also worth checking out.

There are several more tracks from each of the bands on my YouTube channel like this video of Special Explosion closing out their set, so if any of these pique your interest, by all means check out their other tunes on YouTube.

Next up was Land of Pines, the headliners. Land of Pines at the Vera
They roll with 2 guitars, bass, keyboards, and drums. They have a great sound, mixing elements from the different band members as needed, making great use of dynamics. Songs have bits where fewer instruments are playing, then the song intensifies and more instruments join in, with nice rhythm guitar hooks and the rhythm section chugging along until the final climactic breakdown.
Nice song, nice sound. It's good to see Land of Pines headlining a good loud show with some interesting attitudes and themes on display, here's to hearing the new stuff on the radio and more chances to see all of the bands again. Special Explosions in particular look poised to headline their own shows, and Land of Pines should be increasing their draw with some radio airplay and perhaps getting some larger venue gigs. These bands are all working hard and putting on good tight shows - Seattle has an embarrassment of riches with so many solid bands at every level.