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Live From New York

Mary Halvorson, Weasel Walter, Trans Am, Shinji Masuko, Jessica Pavone, Alex Ward & Tim Dahl

By Published: November 9, 2011
This was the second of two nights at Union Pool, the set devoted to the regurgitation of Trans Am's 1999 album Futureworld (Thrill Jockey). Back then, adopting a 1980s sound-palette was a more radical act than it is nowadays. The principal instruments of Nathan Means, Philip Manley and Sebastian Thomson are keyboards, bass and drums, although there is much exchanging of roles, particularly between Means and Manley. Means switched between bass and guitar, Manley frequently gave up bass for lead guitar or occasional keyboards and, sometimes, Thomson shunned his kit for synth-drums. The songs divided between instrumental and vocal, stretched out to greater length and bolstered by extended encore bonus tracks from the combo's general repertoire. At no point did sluggishness intervene, with the Trans Am sound motoring purposefully through a set that was just right in length—neither too brief, nor too rambling. Trans Am was concise, cutting, jerkily strutting, and in no need of any theatrics.

Shinji Masuko/Man Forever/Soft Circle
The Knitting Factory
October 10, 2011

Drums dominated this multi-combo evening, but guitars also staked out their own corner. Soft Circle opened, with percussion and electronics, stuttering dense textures and rhythms. Then, Man Forever played at The Knit for the second time in two weeks, using a single drum as a heartbeat. Two sticksmen sat either side of this centrally-placed snare, recalling the setup for Steve Reich
Steve Reich
Steve Reich
's "Drumming." A similarly insistent repetition formed the spine for an ongoing throb, with guitars meshing into a riff-wall, feedback bass humming underground. Next up, Boredoms guitarist Shinji Masuko reined in the sonic levels, shocking with a metallically minimalist soundscape, partnered by a similarly inclined bassist. The group's approach required sudden concentration on space and tonal textures, and leaps back from the high volume abyss. This was a radically different musical zone, but still in keeping with the mood of the night. Another facet of sparseness, quieted into a silver shimmer.

Mary Halvorson/Jessica Pavone
The Stone
October 15, 2011

The Thirsty Ear curatorship continued at The Stone. This was a CD release show for Departure Of Reason (2011), but due to a manufacturing delay the object itself wasn't going to be available for another month. Nevertheless, this absence didn't impair the quality of the night's music, lending an added sneak preview status to the proceedings. Halvorson and violist Jessica Pavone elected to perform the record in its entirety, establishing an intimate recital atmosphere for a sometimes abrasively intimate set of songs. Even if only a clutch of the pieces feature vocals, the instrumental majority sounded like it had been penned to prompt imaginary couplets to spring to mind. Each tightly constructed ditty tended to circulate around a very direct melody, simply stated but elaborated by changing texture or shifted timing. Both players worked closely with conjoined lines; then one might trigger a sudden rush of fuzz or distortion, enforcing rock toughness, but still at low chamber volume. All the more exciting.

Often, the works were reminiscent of the instrumental miniatures dotted periodically about Captain Beefheart
Captain Beefheart
Captain Beefheart
1941 - 2010
's catalogue, usually with a south-of-the-border avant outsider folksiness. The pair's compositions are usually prepared individually, subsequently subject to influences from the other, once rehearsal is underway. The structure might be rocky, the melodies folksy and the sonic palette experimental in nature, but the end-concoction isn't really completely any of these forms. That's one of the pleasures of the Halvorson/Pavone sound. One of the most striking illustrations of their toying with timing and repetition was "The Object Of Tuesday," with its stuttering words and cumulative riffing. The rock 'n' roll form was digested in a silent, seated, concentrated fashion, and the album sequence demanded careful attention throughout, each song refusing to overstay its welcome.

Alex Ward/Tim Dahl/Weasel Walter
Death By Audio
October 18, 2011

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