The Fixx September 11, 2010 Clowes Memorial Hall Indianapolis, Indiana

photos by Jeff Dorgay text by Jeff Dorgay
The Fixx - Indiana

Just after one of the roadies poured a glass of red wine and set it on the drum riser, The Fixx took the stage promptly at 8:00 p.m., opening the show for Todd Rundgren at the Clowes Memorial Hall in Indianapolis, Indiana on the anniversary of 9/11 to a venue that was only filled to half capacity. In these days of mostly forgettable opening acts, those that didn’t make the first part of the evening’s show missed a great performance.

Original lead singer Ty Curnin fronted the lineup of mid 80’s Fixx members Jamie West-Oram on guitar, Adam Woods on drums, Dan K. Brown on bass and Rupert Greenall on keyboards, so the audience saw the iteration of the Fixx that became a radio and MTV staple in the mid 80’s right down to Greenall’s vintage Yamaha DX-7 synthesizer.

Playing a set that lasted just over an hour, The Fixx delivered some of their biggest hits, but also treated the fans to some deeper cuts. Opening with an atmospheric version of “Deeper and Deeper”, a bonus track from the 2003 remastered version of Reach The Beach was a perfect example of this approach, which also included “Driven Out” from Calm Animals and “Fatal Shore” from the Elemental album. They even slipped in a track, “Yesterday” that while not listed in any Fixx discography, could be from their upcoming album, Something Ahead of You. British understatement at its best.

There were plenty of Fixx fans in the audience, and they were treated to a headliners performance. Brown took a robotic position on bass, barely moving throughout, but the rest of the band clearly seemed to be enjoying themselves, with fair share of nods and smiles between songs. Just before the band broke into their biggest hit, “One Thing Leads to Another”, Curnin took a gulp of wine, smiled and said, “This is still my favorite.” Finishing to a standing ovation with “Red Skies”, the band ducked backstage and came out for one more tune, “Secret Separation.”

The band has a few dates left on their current tour, so if this was one of your faves from the 80’s, you won’t be disappointed. It’s like they never left.

ATP Festival: Part Two September 4, 2010 Kutshers Country Club Monticello, NY

photos by Jeff Dorgay text by Bob Gendron
ATP Festival coverage part two

Who needs lyrics? Instrumental bands–and the myriad ways such artists engage in dialogue without vocal support–flourished during the second day of the 2010 ATP Festival in upstate New York. But before all was said and done, two veteran noisemaking groups, Shellac and Sonic Youth, each featuring underground icons, had something to say, literally and figuratively. Here’s an hour-by-hour report. A full summary, with other insights, dozens of photos, and an in-depth take on the gathering’s atmosphere and success, will appear in Issue 32.

The members of Tortoise are pushing buttons, lightly skimming drums and cymbals, and creating what could be a composition designed for playback on a hi-tech calculator. Nothing about the Chicago quintet ever changes, including its disposition, a mix of stoic and serious. Counting producers and engineers amongst its fold, Tortoise approaches jazz-rock fusion with an audio geek’s focused sensibility, the completely instrumental songs alternatively ambient and direct, fading and flowing, squealing and soothing. Jeff Parker picks out the occasional staccato passage on guitar, prompting Douglas McCombs to respond with a thicker bass line. Once a tune finishes its course, Tortoise shifts positions, exchanging seats on the drum kit or manning a second percussive stool, or picking up the mallets and preparing for a turn on the vibraphones. The band’s liquid funk, outré blues, and modulated electronics give off a pastel glow that’s not dissimilar from the purple hues of the overhead lighting. However cerebral and dependable, the experience is best ingested in small doses.

6:16 p.m.: Kim Gordon lounges on a couch in the main lobby. Few fans notice her, though she does take a moment to check her cell phone. She looks as if she’s ready to stroll around the block; nothing about her presence shouts “rock star.” Indeed, one of the biggest appeals of ATP is the sense that everybody–bands, press, fans–are equals. Aside from a small interview staging area, there’s nary a sign of the separation present at other major festivals. No VIP section, no overpriced cabanas, no stages named after a video-game console. Moreover, the laid-back environment and existence of the Criterion cinema further lends to a cozy, unhurried vibe one can’t even get at the Pitchfork Music Festival. The small amount of people is also a huge plus, making access simple, quick, and easy.

7:01 p.m.: Motorifik! Billed as Hallogallo, guitarist/composer Michael Rother and bassist Aaron Mullan converge in an intoxicating conversation with Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley. Nearly four decades ago, Rother flipped the conventions of art-rock music on its side with Neu, an influential and pioneering electronic band that bridged his native Germany’s Krautrock heritage with exotic European timbres. Neu’s impact is still felt in the work of U2, Radiohead, Wilco, and others, and while watching Rother calmly operate behind a table packed with gadgets, pedals, plugs, wires, cords, and boxes, and performing Neu material for the first time in 35 years, the importance of his band’s legacy becomes transparent. Rother’s heavily treated guitar sounds as if it is an aural laser that inhales helium gas and exhales a gorgeous array of soothing tonalities. Seldom staring out at the enraptured crowd, the trio maintains constant eye contact with one another, the direct glances serving as communicative cues for when a groove should be switched into another gear. Shelley is a model of precision, pounding out tom-dominant beats that contrast with Rother’s processed melodies and Mullan’s slumbering bass burble. The steadily building “Hallogallo” stretches toward trance dimensions; “WeiBensee” begins as introspective film music before a heartbeat pulse creeps in and gets washed by soft ride-cymbal crashes, the arrangement doubling as a faint mist. Throughout, Rother’s frequency-shaping tunes exude a hesitant urgency and finessed poise. All the concentration pays off in the form of a tremendous marriage of traditional to modern, the songs distinguished by excellent cornering and obsessive attention to detail. Clearly, a product of German engineering. If circuitry had a human voice and soul, Neu is what it would sound like.

8:24 p.m.: Todd Trainer holds up a portable snare drum in front of guitarist/vocalist Steve Albini’s microphone, the drummer moving around the stage as Shellac begins an epic version of “The End of Radio.” Before the cleverly on-point song concludes, Albini reverently mentions legendary broadcasters Vin Scully, Jimmy Piersall, and Studs Terkel while chastising hate-mongering hacks such as Rush Limbaugh. Albini is in the process of delivering a somewhat impromptu monologue about the history of radio to an imagined alien civilization that sprouts up 10,000 years from now. It’s one part sincere apology and nine parts sarcastic, truthful observation of what the medium has become and how society has let it, and its content, go to waste. As Trainer walks about, flinging drumsticks at ceiling tiles and giving new meaning to “little drummer boy,” the Shellac singer wittily references Jonathan Richman’s “Roadrunner,” Eddie Money’s “Two Tickets to Paradise,” and an annoying Verizon slogan in mocking radio’s commercial excesses, crass promotions, and cliched Top Ten lists. It’s an inspired piece of rock theater, and the song bristles with the combination of seething anger, push-and-shove momentum, tightrope tension, and offbeat humor that infuse pertinent Shellac songs such as “Steady As She Goes.” In just 45 minutes, the Chicago trio verges on stealing the show away from the bigger-name headliners, thanks to immaculate, dry, crisp sonics and unbridled intensity. Albini and seemingly cuddly bassist Bob Weston (each accomplished recording engineers) play through trademark silver amps distinguished by one large knob and audiophile-grade tones. The music swerves and dives, pausing and resuming at unconventional intervals, and erupting with an intentional imbalance of murderous intent and comical relief. When he’s not doing his best Street Fighter impression, kicking and twisting with guitar in hand, a spiteful Albini grabs the microphone stand as if he’s a bookie shaking down a delinquent gambler. He spits as he barks and shouts lyrics, the effect savage, gnarled, and ferocious. Coated with a metallic sheen, the group’s rhythms and riffs evoke the torque and sound produced when a large screw is forced into a too-small hole on a sheet of reinforced steel. Weston’s instrument gurgles and throbs like a clogged drain, and Trainer brutalizes his drums, hitting with such might that his sticks look as if they’ve been gnawed by a pit bull. It’s ugly, acidic, and caustic–and thoroughly energizing. For the uninitiated, Shellac is revelatory; for repeat listeners, the set is over much too quickly.

9:20 p.m.: Kelley Deal stands on her tippy-tippy toes to sing “I Am Decided” and assumes that posture throughout the Breeders’ disappointing performance. After taking extra time to set up an armada of effects pedals, keyboards, and other related gear, the Breeders treat their slot as a band practice where anything goes. Little about the quintet suggests they’ve given any thought to their material in a while. Neither Kelley nor her more famous twin sister, Kim, prove competent on guitar, and frivolous pop fare like “Bang On,” “Divine Hammer,” and “We’re Gonna Rise” amateurishly drift on by. Several tunes fumble with skeletal arrangements that share more in common with fragments than whole songs. Unconcerned and lackadaisical, Kelley appears oblivious to the band’s hollow state. Only the surf-dipped “Tipp City,” slinky early 90s hit “Cannnonball,” and a country-bluegrass rendition of “Driving on 9,” during which the Breeders are joined by a guest violinist, register any vitality. The rest is goofy, sloppy, unremarkable, and, particularly after Shellac, boring.

10:54 p.m.: The three guitarists in Explosions In the Sky simultaneously plunge their hands against the bodies of their instruments, swiping the strings with gusto while they all lean and jump forward at once. It looks as if the sight could be choreographed, but the display is simply an outpouring of the emotion and conviction that the wordless Austin quartet brings to its hybrid of gentle dream pop, bursting cosmic rock, and intermittent instru-metal heaviness. Seen on the stage floor in the dark, the band’s lengthy arc of flashing effects pedals looks like a miniature version of an airport runway lit up at night. Deploying sustain, delay, distortion, wah, and volume effects, the group’s ambitious compositions are true to the band’s name. Harmonically driven songs conjure images of meteor showers, lightning storms, the aurora borealis, rocket launches, and solar eclipses. Laden with texture and color, individual notes shoot and spark, the trickles of reverb coalescing and forming choruses of sound that glow like stars against a deep-black sky. The members close their eyes for a majority of the concert, losing themselves in dynamic washes of controlled feedback and moody atmospherics. Tempos thrust forward and reverse, melodies flutter, and when crescendos reach an agitated state, the eventual detonations are often cushioned by a comforting softness. Explosions In the Sky revels in the areas found between light, shade, and darkness, and the band’s widescreen sonics allow abrasive passages to seamlessly merge with quieter, wispy sequences. During climaxes, sudden depth-charge booms function as avalanches, knocking over the geometrical shapes that the band so carefully assembles. Imagine a tranquil sea progressively discharging a steady river of water that, once heated and collected, bears down on a compromised dam and leaves nothing in its wake. Extremely impressive, and wonderfully executed.

1:07 a.m.: Sonic Youth attacks the riotous “Death Valley ’69” with a fervent menace that suggests the band is on the run from a desert madman. Lee Ranaldo, Thurston Moore, and Kim Gordon exuberantly shout into the microphone as the psychedelic ramalama boils to a fever pitch, drummer Steve Shelley pounding out a circular romp on the drum kit as a sign that the group needs to round up the wagons. Playing with vicious energy and rampant urgency, the iconic New York art-rock quartet appears to be in an especially blustery state of mind. What’s immediately obvious is how far the band has come as accomplished musicians. The older, wiser Sonic Youth not only possesses the enviable disposition, freak-out experimentalism, and cool factor of the ensemble’s early days, it also has the effortless capacity to spin thickets of imaginative noise and patchwork quilts of combustive rhythms into discernible songs. Gordon pounces with dont-mess-with-me feminist attitude on “The Sprawl.” “Cross the Border” turns wild in a hurry, Moore sensing the excitement and jumping with childlike glee as the tune dangerously races around the bend, its manic thrash pace inspiring an active mosh pit. “Catholic Block” leaves its mark like a graffiti tagger does on a subway car. Similarly, the rush of New York’s bustling downtown– the cabs, horns, trains, pedestrians, vendors–can be heard on the sensory-blurring “Stereo Sanctity.” The band carves out plenty of space for adventurism, with “Eric’s Trip” finding Moore assailing a modulated, hollowed-out bass and “Hey Joni” whirring to groundswells of corrosive feedback. Hot-rodded guitars cough, wheeze, burp, and gurgle. Pieces of wood double as makeshift bows that are dragged across frets and necks. Alternate tunings bring forth unexpected shifts and twists. Sonic Youth handles and shapes the seemingly discordant mix like aural putty, undaunted by the possibilities and renewed by the potential of what’s to come. What a homecoming.

The Scientists, Mudhoney, Iggy Pop and the Stooges, Sleep September 3, 2010 Kutshers Country Club Monticello, NY

photos by Jeff Dorgay text by Bob Gendron
ATP Festival:  Day one coverage...

The Scientists fizzled, Mudhoney wailed, Iggy Pop and the Stooges sheared heads, and Sleep deadened eardrums. Attracting a mix of youthful hipsters and older rock fans to New York’s rural Catskill Mountains region, the first day of 2010’s All Tomorrows Parties Festival is in the books.

Having started Friday with four bands each respectively performing one classic album onstage, the three-day gathering in upstate New York is inarguably the most intimate of the major music fests. No corporate signage exists, security consists of stagehands, attendance is capped at fewer than 3,000 people, and a majority of concertgoers remain onsite at Kutshers dilapidated hotel, a surreal setting that conjures unmistakable visions of “The Shining” and “Friday the 13th.” More on the fest’s atmosphere, vibe, music, and logistics will appear in the print version of this report in Tone 32. For now, here’s an hour-by-hour wrap-up. 6:06 p.m.: Fans ring a swampy pond situated on the hotel’s grounds. Sitting, smoking, and drinking, the sight is akin to a camping trip that doesn’t involve any outdoor activities other than playing cards and comparing notes on favorite bands. Judging from the relaxed vibe, one would never be able to guess that a rock festival was taking place. Yet there’s also something very creepy about the scene, no doubt produced by Kutshers backdrop of peeling paint, filthy windows, moldy smells, mildewed carpet, and the sense that, save for ATP, this place remains closed for the majority of the year. There’s no better location for filming a slasher film. 7:17 p.m.: Tony Thewlis picks up a whiskey bottle and uses it as an impromptu slide for his guitar—as well as a blunt object that he smacks against the body of his instrument. The Scientists are performing their first-ever U.S. show, and as an acknowledged influence on many of Sub Pop’s early bands as well as New York’s downtown scene, expectations and curiosity levels create a buzz throughout the audience. Yet the Australian post-punk quartet fails to deliver. Devoid of personality and primarily flat, the band ignores the crowd and clings to a volley of monotonous beats. Frontman Kim Salmon occasionally shakes the microphone stand and chokes up on his vocals, coming across like a back-alley predator sniping at innocent passersby. Steeped in rustling reverb, tough swamp-country tones, and barbed-wire rolls of slash-and-burn guitar notes, the Scientists generate a downward spiral of cacophony that yields a rumbling grind but feels entirely one-dimensional. Without a word, the group allows Blood Red River to take its course, and while its impact on musicians such as Jon Spencer is clear, the lack of elasticity and purpose convey that the States could’ve waited another 30 years for the Scientists’ debut. 7:58 p.m.: Steve Turner isn’t even a minute into “Chain That Door” and he’s already busted a guitar string. No matter. Perfection doesn’t belong anywhere near Mudhoney’s joyous spree of ramshackle garage rock, swiveling rhythms, or gutbucket blues in reverse. Turner and fellow guitarist Mark Arm give everyone ample opportunity to dance, and it would’ve been nice if somebody would have thought ahead and brought a few lampshades to the party. Every song from the band’s landmark 1990 Superfuzz Bigmuff Plus Early Singles sounds as vibrant as it did two decades ago. “Sweet Young Thing Ain’t Sweet No More” moans, groans, and growls as Arm spouts off about a girl in transition from being a wide-eyed child to a realistic teen, with the consequences of liquor, drugs, and late-night soirees greeting her as she leans over a toilet bowl. “Touch Me I’m Sick” rages with insistence and festers like an itchy scab that doesn’t quit bleeding once it’s picked. Turner’s slide playing and flanged notes contribute to the zany shimmy on uptempo fare and spray beer-soaked grime onto slower material such as “Mudride,” which finishes in a heap of feverish noise thanks to wah-wah pedal effects that function as the blasts from a sci-fi ray gun.

The provocative “Halloween” injects filthy sludge by way of syringe before Arm, preparing for his close-up, deftly moves out of the way of an out-of-control crowd surfer that nearly kicks him in the face. The band plays on as if it’s an everyday occurrence. “In and Out of Grace” captures Mudhoney’s knack for driving melodies, the song wrestling with itself until it gives way to a brief Dan Peters drum break that’s straight out of a classic surf song. Arm no longer yelps as loudly as he once did, but there’s nothing wrong with his attitude or wail—or their ability to convey frustration, desperation, and dissatisfaction with a knowing wink. Witty humor underlines nearly every tune, with “You Got It (Keep It Out of My Face)” emphatic albeit slackjawed and “If I Think” jeering at the leftover residue from an emotional breakup. Nothing that another drink won’t solve. Point taken.

9:20 p.m.: Iggy Pop lands onstage as if he’s just been shot out of a cannon. James Williamson batters his guitar, Mike Watt throttles the bass, and the Stooges charge into Raw Power with manic delight. At 63, the animated Pop seems more animal than human, his sinewy body riddled with grainy lines that resemble those found on a cut of flank steak. He sways his hips, punches imaginary foes, and enthusiastically dives at the feet of his mates, getting right up in the faces of the fans in the front rows that egg him on to escalate his wild antics. Pop responds by writhing and flailing, throwing microphone stands, pushing speaker monitors into the P.A. system (an action that causes nervousness amongst the stagehands attempting to re-steady the speakers), jumping into the crowd, and yelling for his band to keep up. Watt, Williamson, and company are more than up to task. From a crouched stance, Watt watches the entire spectacle with a sense of invested intensity, much like an overzealous football coach barking at his team to annihilate the opponent. Williamson is all business, manhandling his guitar and reeling off searing solos that further spike Pop’s adrenaline. Steve MacKay remains off to the side, yet his blaring saxophone fuels the music’s free-jazz irreverence. “Search and Destroy,” “Your Pretty Face Is Going to Hell,” and “Penetration” are pure unadulterated kicks to the stomach and uppercuts to the head. The explosions of unfettered volume, storming violence, and pummeling riffs are as inspiring as they are threatening. “Gimme Danger” bristles with deadly sensuality, a characteristic epitomized by Pop’s physical movements and primal shrieks. He invites “freaks” and “spazzers” up onstage for a chaotic “Shake Appeal,” yet this communal showing is topped by “I Got a Right,” during which the iconic singer shouts “Do you feel it?” and demands an answer. Anyone within the premises that doesn’t feel the passionate fury that the Stooges are throwing down isn’t alive.

A harsh, demanding “I Wanna Be Your Dog” finds Pop wrapping the microphone cord around his neck while his cohorts turn the pounding music into an all-out blitzkrieg. The sonic torrent pushes the personalized “Open Up and Bleed” to the limits until everything threatens to collapse. Lights go up but the Stooges aren’t done. “Funhouse” swaggers with big-band R&B inertia and the closing “No Fun” wallops the senses, hitting hard and aggressively before sending Pop off with a huge smile after he takes one last tumble over the hands of a sweaty crowd that’s eager to give him his much-deserved victory lap. The bar for the remainder of the weekend is set extremely high. Will ATP 2010 be like Pitchfork 2009, when the Jesus Lizard performed on the first night and rendered the rest of the festival light by comparison? Bet on it.

11:21 p.m.: How does a band follow the Stooges? If you’re Matt Pike, you slow down the pace, up the decibel level, and utilize volume as a mesmerizing narcotic. Far removed from both the style and presence of the Stooges, Sleep captivates with almost unimaginable amounts of heaviness. The reunited stoner metal trio’s foundation-shaking riffs and bowel-moving low-end thunder literally move the air in the room to the extent that anyone within the premises can feel the hairs on their arm moving from the vibrations. Dry ice fog and dense lighting shroud the band, whose psychedelic doom renders any vocals inaudible. This is all about the art of the drone and the dirge, and the committed virtuosity of the heavily tattooed guitar god Pike, who, with one swipe of his hand, unleashes a distorted chord that seems to hover for days. While playing Holy Mountain, Sleep treads as if scaling a glacier, taking its time, refusing to go fast, and steadily climbing up its way to the top. All that seems to be missing is the gong. Distinguished by titanic grooves, tectonic tension, and perception-changing feedback, the down-tuned thunder of overdriven sonic mulch such as “The Druid” and “Inside the Sun” appear to unfold in slow motion, coming into existence much like a fissure spits out lava on the ocean floor, whereby the presence of water distorts the rapidity at which the liquid is actually being released. Indeed, Sleep is playing in real time, and it’s this altered sense of reality that makes the group’s brand of sonic hypnotism and monolithic heaviness all the more impressive. Positively transfixing—and quite possibly the loudest show you’ll ever experience.