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All Eyes on Me

By Kirsten Ferguson

Robyn Hitchcock

The Linda, July 10

‘You came here to escape, but get to hear imaginary things that are more terrifying than the gross realities you came here to escape,” joked Robyn Hitchcock early into his set at the Linda last Thursday. Hitchcock was prefacing a classic tune from his great punk-era band the Soft Boys: “I Got the Hots,” which darkly enacts romantic obsession, a favored Hitchcock theme, using the ghoulish imagery of corpses and “floating currents of human eyes.”

But contrary to Hitchcock’s opening proviso, the song wasn’t all that terrifying coming from the prolific British singer- songwriter, an otherwise affable and very witty man whose career spans more than 30 years and 20 albums of truly unique songs about crustaceans, stalkers, spiders and other creepy-crawly things—both real and existential—that sprout from an imagination far more fertile than most of us can summon beyond childhood.

Thursday night’s show featured plenty of tunes from Hitchcock’s darker and more macabre oeuvre, with selections from a wide range of his albums. There was “Trilobite,” an outtake from 1996’s Mossy Liquor, which referenced Dwight Eisenhower while chronicling the plight of an ancient wood licelike creature destined for future fossilization. (“One of the great achievements of our species is to be able to give names to objects that can’t name us,” Hitchcock dryly noted beforehand.) And “The Idea of You,” from 2003’s Luxor, which perfectly captured the thin line that can exist between romantic obsession and scary stalkerism. (“How many stalkers are listening to Bryan Ferry in their head?” he asked.)

But Hitchcock has another side that he displayed as well—he’s not all eyeballs and insects, all the time. He’s just as likely to bust out a harmonica on a straight-up love song, or to capture the very real, and less-than-fantastic, quirks of human nature. “I’m sorry, my brother Robert has been here giving you his usual misanthropic shit,” Hitchcock quipped after returning to the stage for the encore. He had swapped his bright pink shirt for a paisley one, and traded his acoustic guitar for a seat at the piano, where he played a somber instrumental and the beautifully melancholy “Flavour of Night,” from 1984’s I Often Dream of Trains.

Two the Moon

Benevento/Russo Duo

Revolution Hall, July 11

When Phish called it quits in 2004, so began the great jamband diaspora. Fans turned to lower-order improvising rock bands for the manic wonder that Phish induced and, while many found satisfaction in the surrogate scene, embracing the “jamband” moniker instead of the cross-genre multivalence inherent to the Phish style and mythos, others felt hemmed-in. Interest turned to free jazz and indie rock, minimalism and DIY electronica. Reared on Phish-tour but hip to a new paradigm, the Benevento/Russo Duo represent a new generation of improv-rock and stand, as Phish once did, as an avatar of musical influences.

For two guys, the Duo sure can fill a stage. Surrounded by an arsenal of organ, electric piano, vocoder, and sundry circuit-bent electronics, Marco Benevento took a cheerful, mock-confrontational position across from his counterpart, Joe Russo, on drums. Russo, himself, was far from ill-equipped, with a sample-trigger and miniature keyboard supplementing his kit. With “Welcome Red,” a sense of ease descended to the stage and would remain there for the rest of the show.

While a new Duo album is pending, the set consisted mostly of older tunes, from the albums Best Reason to Buy the Sun and Play Pause Stop. Instead of the linear lyricism and heroic soloing that gives most instrumental acts their distinction, the Duo opt for effervescent washes and humble tone-poems. While most would use their chops to prophetically lead their listeners to transcendent conquest, Benevento and Russo offer innocent invitations that most can hum along to. However, what begins simplistic becomes ecstatic, crescendos, and eventually boosts the listener up and over the peak of a mountain more familiar to the likes of post-rockers Mogwai and Sigur Ros than jammers like Phil Lesh or Umphrey’s McGhee.

From a thick cloud of circuit-bent static, songs like “Walking, Running, Viking” drifted, then pulsed to their triumphant resolution. In “Soba,” an Atari groove defied its 8-bit stiffness, angular but decidedly in-the-pocket. Russo proved his dexterity during the new tune “On a Sea Horse I Ride,” juggling the melodic lead on his sample-pad with a grungy double-bass beat. Even as some songs came off in a fairly cursory fashion, a certain playfulness was present that deepened as the night wore on.

The highlight came in a nearly 30-minute encore of “Becky.” After lilting forth as a quaint bossa nova, Russo grounded the beat and launched an industrial romp akin to something to which Björk might lend her pipes. The tempo quickened while Benevento stacked on fuzzy electronic textures. Like their progenitors, the Duo pushed the theme through countless stylistic contexts, sounding at one moment like Tortoise and the next like Four Tet, conscious at all times of the dance-party happening below.

While the Phish analogy only runs so deep, the Duo too contain multitudes within their means. A window into a new generation of music, Friday’s show confirmed that Benevento/Russo are more than the sum of their influences.

—Josh Potter

Big Empty

Stone Temple Pilots, the Secret Machines

Glens Falls Civic Center, July 8

To get to the crux of the matter, Scott Weiland appears to be OK, at least for now. The town of Glens Falls even decided to make the Thin White Count and his faceless Zephound bandmates honorary mayors for the duration of their visit (no Marion Barry cracks, thank you very much). After a worrisome half-hour delay, STP launched into a killer crawl through “Big Empty,” Weiland in prime reptilian/rock-shaman mode, the audience shouting back probably the best line he ever wrote, “Conversations kill!”

Decked out in leather jacket, scarf, shades and a Sharon Stone haircut, Weiland sang the perpetually radio-ready rock of “Wicked Garden,” “Big Bang Baby,” and “Vasoline” with an impressive conviction, the androgyne whipping the rabid bull mastiffs near the front of the stage into such a sexually confused lather that some of them couldn’t help but start alternately hitting and hugging each other.

Not to give the other members short shrift, but this concert reinforced the vacuity they’re often labeled with. In the hermetically sealed environs of the recording studio, Dean DeLeo has concocted some of the most intriguing and ear-pleasing melodies and textures of any middle-guard rock guitarist of the past 15 years. But live, his role as a Jimmy Page facsimile hits a wall, because he has none of Page’s improvisatory, of-the-moment “messiness” and concurrent soulful feeling. Likewise, drummer Eric Kretz does a serviceable job of hitting some Bonham-esque fills from time to time, but often he’s just ham-handed and flat-footed.

On this particular evening, bassist Robert DeLeo fared much better, his knack for the tasteful and fortifying riff a testament to his professed admiration for the late Motown legend James Jamerson. But the band as a whole faltered badly when they broke into a seemingly impromptu jam on the “We Will Rock You” beat about three quarters of the way through the show. For five painful minutes, Stone Temple Pilots fell from their perch as kings of radio rock and became a jive-ass high-school band jamming in their father’s basement. It revealed that the only magic they have is the very real charisma of their troubled frontman. Things recovered a bit with the one-two punch of “Plush” (though the query “Will she smell alone?” hasn’t aged well) and “Interstate Love Song”, but the moment that’ll stay with me (besides the jam debacle) was a roaring jaunt through the first album’s “Crackerman,” accompanied by footage from the car chase in Bullitt. So, boys, pedal-to-the-metal meathead rock, that’s a big 10-4; showing off your improvisatory flair? That’s a big hella-freaking-no.

The Secret Machines had the somewhat unenviable task as openers this night, a job they pulled off by bringing the thunder rock and sending the aforementioned bull mastiffs to the beer lines. What vocals there were became lost in the rafters and came boomeranging back sounding a bit like Spinal Tap singing about Stonehenge, which I don’t think is a bad thing.

—Mike Hotter

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