It doesn't happen often these days that I make a point of seeing an entire show from beginning to end. More common in my life is a scenario where either the opening band are friends I promised to catch or a buzz band I'm trying to make sense of, and I take off before the overrated headliner hits the stage, or, in the interest of preserving energy for a headliner I'm really into, I show up late and skip earlier acts altogether. Why waste my time on bands I don't care about? My feet are sore and my back aches at the end of the night, for what? I've gotten the practice of timing my arrival to just coincide with the first song of the band I want to see down to an art form. It's a pleasant surprise, then, when one of those rare nights comes along when I am equally interested in every band on the bill. Tuesday night at the Knitting Factory was one of those nights.
Even the DJ in between sets was an attraction: DJ Thanksgiving Brown was on hand to spin a very anticon.-friendly selection of tunes from the balcony, setting the mood and keeping the vibe of the night going while each band set up and broke down. I even arrived in time to hear him spin a few tracks to start off the night, as Pattern is Movement prepared to take the stage.
[Pattern Is Movement]
Soon the Philly duo was in full swing, playing a solid set entirely comprised of songs from their outstanding recent album, All Together. I love this band on record, but with their current live re-arrangements of most of their songs, they have one-upped even themselves. Most tracks now end with what appears to be some beautiful freestyle riffing with Andrew Thiboldeaux's operatic vocals and keys and Chris Ward's virtuosic drums, which I suspect may be more rehearsed than their performance betrays, since I caught Ward singing along a few times. Either way, though, the re-imagining of the songs is pulled off well. I especially like the subtle reference to Radiohead's "Everything In Its Right Place", which the band played live for most of last year, that Thiboldeaux slips in there in the middle of another song. Andrew also made quick work of endearing himself to those audience members who weren't already in his corner with his stage banter, playing the part of the self-effacing, self-conscious newcomer to the stage. Chris contributed by drawing everybody's attention to the couple who were making out in the front row.
After some setup time soundtracked by DJ Thanksgiving Brown again (including one unfortunately skipping Why? record), Zach Hill was up. It was clear there was an amount of anticipation in the otherwise somewhat-subdued room to see how this set was going to play out, and with good reason. The drummer of Hella was set to perform a "non stop heavily improvised rendition of the track 'Necromancer' off my newest solo release". And that he did.
He kicked off his set with a creepy opening spoken-word track played from his computer about a Necromancer dad (which I imagine might be found on his album as well?), and then barreled into a 40-minute barrage of power drumming. The double kick drum was working overtime and I've never seen a cymbal so beat up as his. There was a dude accompanying him using PIM's keyboard and some samples, some guy named Marco Benevento who I'm told is a fantastic jazz pianist, but to be honest, he was superfluous. The sounds he was making were little more than incidental noise in the face of Hill's assault. Not being any sort of expert on percussion, I can barely believe it was possible for Zach to go on for as long as he did, with as much energy as he did. He kind of powered-down about once every ten minutes to let a sample shine through, but even for those brief seconds I wouldn't really have said he was pausing. All that being said, although it was wildly impressive that any human being could keep that up, what I heard wasn't something I'd regularly make an effort to listen to. I don't think that was the point, though: this performance was less about music and more about stamina. It was just a chance for this crazy thin muscley dude, who doesn't usually get to play solo, to show off what an amazing drummer he is. Mission accomplished.
Eventually it was time for Subtle to finish out the night. I half-expected the crowd to start thinning since PIM and Zach Hill had been so obviously excellent -- surely, no matter how awesome Subtle is, the others would have brought out some fans that would now be going home? -- but this was not the case. If anything, even though the crowd was fairly uniformly lukewarm the whole evening, the knot of nerdy kids at the front had become even more dense.
Subtle's set was fantastic. This was the second time I'd seen them perform at the Knitting Factory, and after having spent most of the first one in the balcony with friends, I was glad for the chance to redeem myself up in the front this time. There was a lot that I'd missed about this band that first time: for example, although it's obvious from his lyrics that Adam 'doseone' Drucker is an extraordinarily witty dude, I didn't realize that he constantly cracked jokes onstage, as well. It's refreshing to see a lyricist/musician I really admire be able to casually throw out dorky kickers like "What did the fish say when it swam into a concrete wall?...Dam." Hilarious (really, I loved it). Other new observations my second time around with Subtle: dose flat-out raps more live than on record (even the vocal parts that are more sung in recorded form were delivered in speedy monotone flow), and even at a million words a minute he never misses a beat. Also, the normally touring 5-piece was down to 4, apparently missing cellist Alexander Kort. Wonder if this has anything to do with the band's impending hiatus? The exitingARM album-art-themed backdrop, huge hanging red vinyl forks, all-white attire, and overabundance of props were all still there though. As were dose's signature impulsive, sometimes audience-involving dance moves and cracks about white people/hipsters/Americans.
All in all, it was a night to remember. This really was a well-put-together bill, and I like that the bands had overlapping draws among the crowd thanks to common threads: all three boasted superb percussionists (in Subtle, Jel's manipulation of drum machines supplemented Jordan Dalrymple's live drumming masterfully), as well as anticon. affiliations tying the latter two bands (and the DJ) together nicely. I left the venue that evening proud of myself for actually genuinely enjoying a full show in its entirety, the spring in my step totally negating the achy back and sore feet I'd forgotten to even complain about.