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

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

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Mary Halvorson/Weasel Walter
The Stone
October 9, 2011

This gig was originally intended to reflect the lineup of the 2011 Electric Fruit trio disc on Thirsty Ear, the latest label curator for two weeks at New York City's The Stone. Unfortunately, trumpeter Peter Evans was forced to cancel his appearance. This situation did have its advantages, though, as it allowed an opportunity to catch a stripped-down duet between the other members, guitarist Mary Halvorson and drummer Weasel Walter. Perhaps it was inevitable that the improvisations would take a rockier turn, given that such a vocabulary is a large part of Halvorson's method, and certainly a foundation for Walter's attack.

As with the album, the pair chose (or were mutually compelled) to form shorter pieces than would often be the case for improvisers. This had the effect of framing their outbursts, sometimes lending them an increased strength. Walter tended to be dominant in terms of volume, as Halvorson is not one to crank up her amplifier to hardcore levels. Aware of this, he frequently dampened his skins with towels, muffling into a pattering, scampering state. Halvorson hovered between jazzy tonalities and harsher rock splintering, inventing riffs and tuneful circular phrases on the hoof (although the trio had already been moving towards the incorporation of half-prepared melody frameworks). Walter kept up an almost constant tumble and clatter of muted strikes, heard at his more sensitive extremes, his woody articulacy descended from that of British old-school detail specialists such as Tony Oxley, Roger Turner and Paul Lovens. Hesitation was completely absent. This pair has the advantage of a continuing rapport, without losing any freshness through over-familiarity.

Trans Am/The Psychic Paramount
Union Pool
October 9, 2011

The Psychic Paramount could be viewed as either the perfect opener for Trans Am, or an unwise choice, given the trio's power-drive proclivities, which made it almost too similar to the headlining band. This New York combo prepared the sold out crowd for what was to come: a Black Sabbath disco followed by the cranking of an immense dry ice machine. The Union Pool's relatively small back room was soon filled with the most ludicrous amount of billowing clouds possible. Having never ever, ever, ever witnessed such a density, one girl draped her entire scarf over her head, another waved palms furiously, and yet another vainly attempted to puff away the fumes. Fat chance. One couple decided to leave the Williamsburg building. Even the men-folk were weeping. Further hazards arrived when drummer Jeff Conaway, bassist Ben Armstrong and guitarist Drew St. Ivany all hit the opening strike with absolute simultaneity, like a physical blow to the collective body mass. Weaker hearts would have burst. And then there was the further stress placed upon the eardrums...

The Psychic Paramount sound is very direct, almost primitively eviscerating in its intent. The group operates a huge wall of riffing, axed up into hard-edged blocks of staccato ram-rodding. The guitar sometimes sounded like a keyboard, but it's reasonably certain that the trio had no such device onstage. Triggered samples frequently transformed string sounds into sheer slabs of electro-tone. The band might only desire a monomaniac nature, but with bare white spotlights shining through the mist, limning vague shapes of these riff-gods, the Paramount threesome triumphantly achieved its single-minded aim. As a bonus, it made the audience smile, cough, bang its heads and leave the room. That's quite an impressive mixture of responses.

Afterwards, Trans Am appeared almost conventional, in terms of its stage presentation. The group's own tactic was to rely on the sheer substance of its dynamic delivery, in an almost old-school fashion. Of course, as the decades roll by, Trans Am is now entering the road-worn pantheon of rocking veterans, associated with the Chicago sound of the Thrill Jockey label despite originating out of Bethesda, Maryland. Equally indebted to truckin' rock and bleeping electro, half-hard, half-kitsch, Trans Am seemed to accept the category of post rock, but its songs swirled with more humor than that style usually entertains, not to mention a preference for vocals (even if heavily vocodered) that is also somewhat alien to the post rock form.


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