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The Messthetics and James Brandon Lewis Electrify the Bowery Ballroom


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The The Messthetics and James Brandon Lewis played the Bowery Ballroom in New York City in May (2024). This performance stands out as one of the most memorable live music experiences I've had this year. JBL is one of the great saxophonists and artists in contemporary jazz and was recently featured in the Jazz Raconteur series. The Messthetics are an instrumental trio consisting of avant-garde guitarist Anthony Pirog and former legendary DC punk band Fugazi members bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty. They recently released an outstanding album, The Messthetics and James Brandon Lewis, on the Impulse label, showcasing their exceptional musical synergy. The music is sometimes referred to as punk jazz. But I don't think that does it justice. The band sound is somewhat similar to Marc Ribot's Ceramic Dog; a heady stew of rock, punk, funk and jazz. Both are outstanding live acts. JBL is a seamless fit and they have great chemistry as a quartet. Pirog and JBL have a history of collaboration on James' albums and in performance.

The group performed the entire album, albeit not in its original sequence. They opened with a scorching rendition of "Convergence," a high-octane hard rock instrumental infused with elements of free jazz. Other highlights include, "Fourth Wall" which is based around a simple 80s-informed riff with the band totally locked in. "The Time is the Place" has a great groove with JBL playing the melody which transitions into a bit of an avant-skronk guitar freakout before returning to the slower paced groove and melodic theme. "Railroad Tracks Home" is close to a straight blues. The 100-minute set also included a searing performance of "Fear Not" which appears on JBL's album Eye of I (2023), a track which features the Messthetics. JBL is a phenomenal soloist, and he unleashed a barrage of electrifying solos throughout the performance. He would sometimes tradeoff with Pirog an excellent soloist in his own right. Pirog is a sonic explorer well versed in jazz and rock. Regardless of how far he ventured in his solos, they were consistently in service of the song. The songs were never merely a vehicle for the soloists. All the songs are credited to the four band members. Lally and Canty form an excellent "rhythm section." I was captivated by Lally's distinctive bass playing, often highlighted by his adept use of a pick. He can lock in a solid groove on the bass and also play lead guitar-style riffs. The four of them play with remarkable synergy. It was truly an exhilarating experience.

Wendy Eisenberg, a singer-songwriter and distinctive guitarist, opened the show with a solo set. Following her performance, songwriter and guitarist Steve Gunn took the stage. He accompanied himself on an acoustic guitar connected to various pedals, producing a wide array of electric sounds. Gunn masterfully switched between clean acoustic tones and distorted electric effects, utilizing these contrasts to great effect. A standout moment of his set was a captivating cover of the Velvet Underground's "Venus in Furs."
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