MUSIC, ARTS, REVIEWS AND RANTS
NEXT GIG FOR THE GRAVE DANCERS: ONCE SOMERVILLE W/TRUSTY SIDEKICK MONDAY OCTOBER 23!! Early show starts at 7pm!!!
DON'T MISS THE ROCK OFF MAIN 20TH ANNIVERSARY SHOW FREE THIS SUNDAY SEPT 30 FROM 12 -4 FREE AT NATICK CENTER FOR ARTS!!
It’s an event that might be off your radar, but The Natick Center For Arts is closer than you think, a half hour drive from Boston and well worth the trip. The bands are all made up of young kids and teenagers, and while you might hear some cover songs, these bands are committed to writing their own music, and it can be flat out amazing. For the past twenty years once a month teen bands from all over the region have shown up to play at Rock Off Main and lay down some great, smart, inventive music, the kind that makes you wonder what else is going on out there in basements and garages of Massachusetts that you don’t know about. Carissa Johnson who won the Rumble this year was one of them. She honed her musical skills there when she was starting out, as have many other successful acts.
In May of this year I attended Rock Off Main and caught the sister duo of Finola and Giulana McCarthy, with Finola playing acoustic guitar and singing lead and her sister Giulana doing harmonies and playing box percussion. At twelve years old Finola sounded like Sinead O’Conner with lyrics that brought to mind the sophisticated wordplay of Morrissey, smart, tasteful, inventive and complex songs. You can hear them here in their rock incarnation as Circus Trees. There was also a band of teenage boys called Moondrive that did catchy pop/funk material featuring a singer possessing a good voice and sterling sense of showmanship. After that I saw a rock group that laid into some kick butt alt rock, with an African American kid who sang lead and traded back and forth impressive guitar solos with another guitar player. All of it original material.
Diane Young, director of Rock Off Main Street at The Center for Arts in Natick works hard to ensure that each girl or boy who straps on a guitar has a place to play.
“What we’ve done is create a whole community of musicians,” Young explains. “The kids really connect here. They network after the shows.”
Young formed the monthly performance event twenty years ago when her son, then in 8th grade, formed a band with friends and couldn’t find performance venues. She went to the local arts center and convinced them to give her a night for high school rock bands. The concept ballooned, and renowned Boston institution Berklee College of Music joined as a sponsor, setting up a monthly showdown in which winners receive summer program scholarships.
The show this Sunday will feature the acts:
Blindspot – Boston, Left Hand Blue – Andover, A Night on the Sun - Natick
The Whatever – Natick, Rising Nation – Sherborn, The Kapps - Dedham
Company One – Westborough, Neil Popkin - Los Angeles via Natick
SAXOPHONE QUARTET ATTEMPTS ENDLESS PERFORMANCE - ALMOST SUCCEEDS
By David Wildman
Four saxophonists known collectively as Battle Trance stood at attention as the room gradually became quiet. Three minutes later they hadn’t played a note yet. It began to get uncomfortable. Then it got indescribable.
I showed up at Gallery 55 for what my friend had described as an “electronic show” put on by the good folk at Boston Hassle. The space was at 550 Mass Ave in Central Square up a few flights of an old wooden stairway. Immediately a level of commitment was required that I hadn’t expected: we needed to remove our shoes, the reason being the space was actually a dance studio. Luckily I was wearing sox, or things would have gotten ugly. And I mean UGLY. We deposited our shoes into what was rapidly becoming a sea of footwear and sat on the floor up against the wall. In front of us was a large subwoofer, some computer equipment on a stand and a table with various bells and whistles (literally) as well as a trumpet, fit with an aperture of aluminum foil.
My friend was telling me about the history of noise music going back to the 60’s and the Silver Apples, who used drums and a primitive synthesizer. She also said she enjoys pure noise and knows of a place on the South Shore where two radio stations converge, and she likes to listen as a kind of found art.
First up was Eric Dahlman, an older gentleman who proceeded to throat sing into a microphone, and feed the results into a looper. He built up quite a sound collage, picking up items off the musical buffet table in front of him. The stew of sounds lurched and bleated, and began to resemble an orchestra tuning up. He then put on a loop that sounded like steel drums and took the mouthpiece of a recorder off and began squealing with it, like he was trying to swallow a protesting gerbil. He finished up with a gorgeous soaring improv that featured synth strings and an arching melody on trumpet.
Next up the aforementioned Battle Trance from New York City came in and took their long battle stance. If you are still reading and looking for a place to get off this runaway train, I’d recommend doing it here – Because I’m going to take you through this entire epic piece of music, if you dare. Oh yes.
Five minutes in: The leader of the quintet mercifully breaks the silence and starts playing a 2 note sequence, over and over. This leads quickly to all four saxes playing the sequence, each breathing at different times so the flow never stops. Pretty cool stuff.
Seven-minutes in: the sequence has now morphed into a melodic section in which all the instruments are all playing in some higher octave and the result is something that resembles a mellotron string section.
Eight-minutes in: It sounds like saxophones again, and they are playing a rollicking melody of triplets that bursts into a jazzy, finger-snapping rip-roaring tune.
Ten-minutes in: the brief patch of tonality has begun to fade into the distance. The sole woman in the group starts into a flute like solo and soon everyone joins in with fluttering sound, textures and timbres, like a thousand butterflies released into the air.
Fifteen-minutes in: We’ve drifted off into light cacophony again, drifting in and out between dissonance and a pastoral feel, like some giant earthmovers are revving their engines poised to tear up the waving fields of wheat.
Twenty-minutes in: The whole thing has accelerated and begun swirling in a demonic trance, reminding me of the dramatic buildup in Night on Bald Mountain. The whole thing flies out of control and goes caterwauling off into a dark abyss. It ends with everyone whistling through their saxes to create an otherworldly soundscape that makes me envision H.R. Geiger and a land populated with hideous alien creatures.
Twenty-five minutes in: Suddenly they’ve gone insane, everyone is practically spitting into their instruments, moaning and shouting, then they are back to block chords, followed by a bunch of hissing as if a giant beachball has sprung a leak.
Thirty-minutes in: I’m thinking this has to be over soon. If only. They have now become a giant hideous beast run amok, destroying cities, lurching, screaming, dying, as if Trump or somebody has dropped an A bomb on it. But not dead yet.
Thirty-five minutes in: It sounds like someone set off a fire alarm. My ears are being seared. It builds to a climax and finally it seems to be all over. The woman is the only one playing, gently whistling into her instrument.
Forty-minutes in: New undulating waves of sound emerge. We’re going off into noise land again.
Forty-five minutes in: Ken Field, an outstanding sax player and composer sits down next to me and joins this crazy trip we’re on. We exchange silent waves, but no one in the room dares speak. Now one of the men is throat singing into his sax. Another guy seems to be having a hissy fit on the end, grasping his axe and jerking it around robotically, like its 1983 and he’s a member of Devo. I’m realizing how much this thing is a test of endurance for the players as well as the audience. And for you as well, dear reader, if you’re still with me.
Fifty-minutes in: They are all up there swaying and blowing air so it’s as if an ocean has descended on us. I’m thinking this is a taste of what it must have been like at the debut of Stravinski’s “Rites of Spring”. I’m also getting restless. My friend is mesmerized next to me, writing free verse in a notebook. There’s a giant mirror covering the far wall because it’s a dance studio. My reflection looks back at me from across the room and seems to ask: “what are you doing here?” There’s a guy I noticed who’d been sitting in lotus position since the beginning, eyes closed, meditating. Now even he’s had enough, he’s opened his eyes and uncrossed his legs.
One-hour in: The whole thing has devolved to all four of them banging on the valves of the instruments in spastic rhythms. It’s getting quieter. Now only the apparent ringleader is playing. He stops, and then brings the instrument back to his lips. You can feel the audience silently groan as one. After a few minutes of airy notes he slowly lowers his hands. They all freeze. It’s silent for another thirty seconds, and then another. Finally he says, quietly, “thank you”, the only words spoken the entire performance. The crowd erupts into a standing ovation. It’s like we’ve all been through the war together.
Immediately afterward I grab the first of the quartet I see and it happens to be the woman, who tells me her name is Anna Weber. I ask if any of that was written down, and how it was accomplished.
“I’m actually not really in the group,” she told me. “I’m just subbing.”
It took her four months to learn the thing.
Then I tracked down the composer, the guy on the end, Travis Laplante. I ask how he went about writing an hour long musical number. He said: “There’s a short answer and a long answer.” You can bet I asked for the short one.
“It was done through the time-honored tradition of passing it down, piece by piece,” he explained.
It was all done by him coming in for rehearsals every week and teaching each of the parts to the others. It took a year. I tried to imagine how grueling a process this must have been to put together and perform. These people are committed deeply to what they do. I decided that as challenging as it was to sit and listen to a single piece of music for an hour, we had it easy merely being the audience.