be with you: Thurston Moore and Bill Nace.
Wools, Pocahaunted, Robedoor, Century Plants
26, Upstate Artists Guild Gallery
It’s not hard to spot Thurston Moore on the street. A head
taller than the tallest dude in the crowd, the legendary Sonic
Youth frontman has presence. As he mingled with the crowd
before his set on our little old Lark Street, there was an
inescapable sense of something important about to take place.
It was a sense, though, that no one spoke of. Stealing furtive
glimpses of the anti-rock-god around pulls on a cigarette,
we played it cool while our souls screamed for him to sign
How the Albany Sonic Arts Collective pulled this one off is
still kind of a mystery, but the show made a certain kind
of sense. After decades spent feeding-back guitars in bars
and stadiums, tearing down the conventions of beauty and coolness,
a small, sweaty gallery gig is, for Moore, a return to roots.
His music has only grown more radical and abstract since his
days as a grunge troubadour, and begs for the type of humility
and deep listening that the Collective has exhibited through
its monthly event series. Cloaking his celebrity in a four-band
bill only made the performance that much more appropriate.
Opening the evening were Century Plants, a noise duo featuring
ASAC organizer Eric Hardiman on guitar. Silhouetted by live
video projections, the two cast a soft layer of fuzz from
which an aggregate drone emerged. Next were Robedoor, a duo
from Los Angeles, and one-half of the following band, Pocahaunted.
Seated on the floor in front of an array of electronics, both
bands recollected the unbridled creativity that occurred when,
as a kid, you dumped out all your Legos and action figures,
even your sister’s Barbies, and just started to build. The
little girl seated in front of me certainly understood what
was going on when she shook her mother’s keychain along to
the dark, pagan drone. With dozens of sweaty bodies squeezed
onto the UAG floor, a sense of who was creating and who was
observing the spectacle disappeared by degrees. All we lacked
was a fort built from couch cushions.
By the time Thurston Moore took the stage with guitarist Bill
Nace as the Northampton Wools, a deep sense of attention had
fomented between the gallery’s low ceiling and floor. In a
wholly improvised manner, colors were exchanged between the
two guitars in deep responsivity. With their guitars laid
across their laps, the two plucked, rubbed, and scraped their
instruments to elicit bright, metallic tones. Forgoing the
heavy distortion, which characterizes most noise acts, both
tones were relatively clean, and generally quite mature. In
order to access their instrument’s full palette, it seemed
at times as if Moore and Nace applied the technique of, say,
a mason, baker, surgeon or gardener to their guitars. While
one hammered his strings with a drumstick, the other plucked
his strings above the nut to produce a gamelan-esque pinging.
Nace took to bending his strings with his palm to create contact
with the instrument’s pickups and so generate microtones that
bore insectoid qualities.
As attention focused, a swarm mentality prevailed, and each
guitarist began to command myriad voices. From a frenzy of
brawling marionettes, the imp in Moore finally stepped forward.
With guitar under arm, he began to cast reaching psych-lines,
occasionally also strumming frantic rock chords on his lower
strings. A sort of fugue-state ensued where it seemed like
Moore was trying to do nothing less than coax the plant spirit
and mineral alchemy from the properties of his machine. With
the headstock braced against the top of his amp, he commanded
a full range of feedback and phased the pitches in and out
of synch with his whammy-bar. As the clatter subsided, both
he and Nace resolved in a deep, gorgeous drone. Oceanic waves
of sound traveled through the floor, up through the spine
of each seated audience member, to crest somewhere in the
apartment above the gallery’s ceiling.
Ecstatic Peace is the name of Moore’s record label, and might
also be the best term to describe how it felt, pouring out
of the gallery and into the cool post-show night. Thrilled,
Freihofer’s Jazz Festival
Performing Arts Center, June 28
The reunion of Return to Forever at the SPAC Jazz Fest was
the only must-see show for me so far this year. In 1974 my
college mates and I poured ourselves into the SUNY Ballroom
after the usual 1974 pre- concert abulutions and RTF came
out, grabbed us collectively by the throat, and didn’t let
go for an hour and a half of the most bodacious display of
ensemble virtuosity, in any musical genre, the world has ever
seen. I’m still not right from that experience. And I’ve always
Because the weather all week had been so uniformly skeevy,
I checked the NOAA Albany radar reflectivity composite loop
(highly recommended, btw) online that showed a skinny band
of bad weather maybe a half-hour away from SPAC, with nothing
behind it. As I live an hour and a half away, I figured, “perfect.”
I figured wrong. Driving up the Northway, we got hit around
Clifton Park with the kind of serious rain that makes everybody
slow down to 30, put on the four-ways, and wish they were
home. This continued all the way to SPAC, and we sat in the
VIP parking lot (I had the coveted Metroland parking
pass, but there was no one out in the downpour to check it)
for 20 minutes ’til the storm passed. Despite the storm passing,
the air was heavy, fetid.
We got inside, and the usual jazz-fest happy vibe was seriously
on, and even though folks were soaking wet, they were joyous
and chillin’. Nothing was happening in the theater so we worked
our way back to the Gazebo, where the Maurice Brown Effect
had taken over. Maurice is a happy, dreadlock-wearing New
Orleans trumpeter, leading a young, killer quintet, playing
aggro-post-bop with a splash of Miles and N’Awlins strut.
They were special. A song and a half in, raindrops started
falling on our heads so we headed to the theater, where the
“sax summit” was getting started.
As we didn’t put in for seats until Friday, we were way
in the back corner of the theater, under the overhang, were
the sound is notoriously dead. Our fault, not SPAC’s, but
the sound was still dead. I was watching Joe Lovano, Dave
Liebmann, and Ravi Coltrane “doing battle” in some kind of
tribute to Michael Brecker and John Coltrane. It wasn’t happening.
They took turns bleating, then they’d all bleat together.
Then they’d take turns again. The rhythm section (Cecil McBee
and Billy Hart) noodled in a decidedly non-grooving non-groove.
No one seemed to be looking at each other, and sure as shit
nobody was smiling. It sounded, more than anything else, like
a duck gang-bang in a freightyard. I snuck down to where another
writer/friend was sitting, way up close. I listened for a
few minutes and said to him, “They sound less like they’re
jacking off into their hats than they did back there.
But they still basically sound like they’re jacking off into
As a good pal and serious jazzbo recently told me, these guys
and their self-absorbed ilk are going to be responsible for
the death of jazz. And that’s a crime. I mean, just listen
to Maurice Brown! Or Brian Patneaude!
Despondent and uncomfortable, we wandered back towards the
Gazebo. The rain ramped up a notch, then another. In a food
tent near the Gazebo we got some decent overpriced Mexican
food, which tasted perfectly fine eaten standing up, with
one of those styrofoam boxes and a plastic fork, in a very
crowded tent, while the rain outside built and built and the
air simply pressed down. It was hot. It was really no different
than standing in stinky hot water. We were sweating into our
shoes while standing still eating decent overpriced Mexican
Nearby, Jenny Scheinman (who I also really wanted to see)
and her band were gathered on the Gazebo stage, looking around.
A few folks with umbrellas sat on the benches in front of
the stage, looking back. The rain bumped up some more, and
one by one Scheinman and her band trudged off, instrument
cases in hand, for places unknown.
The mood was turning sour. Over a $5 bottle of lemonade, under
a different crowded tent, we weighed our options. The only
sane alternative was heavy survival drinking, a solution to
which many around us had clearly already turned. But we hadn’t
brought our own hooch, and “premium beers” were $9, God knows
what an honest drink would cost, and besides, it’s a long
road back to Housatonic. We were soaking wet, hot, and after
less than two hours, miserable. This was no freakin’ fun and
there was absolutely no conceivable set of circumstances that
was gonna make it fun. I thought about the long drive we made
to get here; my journalistic responsibility to Metroland;
my need to see Return to Forever one more time; mostly, I
though of you, dear readers, who no doubt have been fervently
wondering what I might think about the performances
at this festival, so much so that you’ve had trouble
sleeping, eating, and playing with others.
I looked at my wife and said, “Let’s get the fuck out of here.”
In any relationship, there are moments of perfect tumescence,
where one says or does the perfect thing, moments that live
forever in the scrapbook of one’s mind. This was one of those.
As we hit the Northway, the rain again went batshit, we slowed
to 20 and put the flashers on, and thought, while listening
to Garrison Keillor live at Tanglewood on WAMC: (1) Those
poor bastards back at SPAC are getting whooped again; and
(2) why didn’t I put in for Garrison Keillor at Tanglewood?
As I write this, it’s 8:15 Saturday night, I’m sitting comfortably
in front of a fan, an honest drink next to me (that cost me,
like, nothing), and I’m missing Return to Forever. I’ll bet
Old Songs Festival
Fairgrounds, June 28
The 28th annual Old Songs Festival, which took place last
weekend at the foot of the Helderberg Mountains, offered the
rich potpourri of acoustic blues, protest songs, Celtic, French
Canadian, old-time Appalachian, and world music that the Voorheesville-based
folk preservationist organization assembles time after time.
Their strong suit this year, though, was Celtic music, being
represented by, among others, fiddle champ Liz Carroll, and
Irish bouzouki master Andy Irvine, of Planxty and Patrick
On Saturday, the first event I took in was the blues workshop
at Area 2, one of eight different areas running. I got there
midway through a Delta slide tune played by Rev. Robert Jones
that was either by or in the style of Son House. Jones’ vocal
range is close to that of House’s, and his robust singing
and accurate re-creation of House’s slashing guitar technique
uncannily channeled the old bluesman. Scott Ainslie, another
singer who seems to have a cast-iron voice-box, contributed
an unusual version of the Mississippi classic “Another Man
Done Gone” in the rarely used guitar tuning of open C minor.
The following set at nearby Area 3 featured the tunes of the
Irish harper Turlough O’Carolan (1679-1738). Carolan, the
last of the great Celtic harper-composers, was influenced
by Italian baroque music, and in attempting to fuse it with
the harping tradition, produced a body of now-celebrated melodies
that are among the most distinctive in all folk music. This
time, the panelists, who included hammer dulcimer players
Bill Spence and Walt Michaels, fiddler John Kirk, and keyboardist
Toby Stover, played Carolan’s beautiful compositions mostly
en ensemble rather than by turns, as is typical at Old Songs.
War to Civil Rights,” a musical chronicle of the struggle
for racial equality, was next back at Area 2. Sparky Rucker
played banjo for Henry Clay Work’s 1865 tribute to Sherman’s
March to the Sea, “Marching Through Georgia” (Northern musicians
still don’t dare perform this song in the South). “Marion
Anderson” sung by Peter and Mary Alice Amidon, movingly told
the story of the black contralto, who, excluded from America’s
great concert halls because of her race, gave a historic performance
on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial on Easter Sunday 1939.
Opening the evening concert at was Andy Irvine, whose sang
a hilarious ditty of recent vintage that had to be a first
in Celtic music: a gender-bender ballad. The lyrics told of
a sailor who hires a prostitute who is actually a drag queen,
and then turns to the trade himself. Later, Liz Carroll, an
American who won all-Ireland fiddle contests at ages 17 and
18, played her jigs and reels with spellbinding skill as guitarist
John Doyle provided seamless backup. Although she didn’t give
the titles of most of the tunes, they were still wonderful—whatever
they were. Wrapping up were the Canadian group Le Vent du
Nord (The Wind of the North) with their vivacious traditional
songs and fiddle hoedowns.
Old Songs stayed up to par this year with ease.