Conference Call and IsWhat?!
Thursday · The Greenwich
Before the home-burned copy of Conference Call's Spirals: The Berlin Concert froze my secondhand computer on production day, I was feeling the sonic burn of drummer George Schuller, pianist Michael Jefry Stevens, bassist Joe Fonda and especially multi-reedist Gebhard Ullmann, the German leader who spastically washes 20-plus minute "songs" with intentionally hit-and-miss notes like a cross-pollination of John Klemmer before he souled out and Ornette Coleman on meds. In the spaces Ullmann leaves unattended, Stevens, who spends five hours every day doubling as the group's publicist, plunks and splats discordant sections of dissonance so Schuller can shade them from the lob of Fonda's searching bass balls. And that's only in "Comeuppance," the lone cut I heard in its entirety before the disc shut me down. It's the trade-off when the musicians who work for themselves have to work it themselves. Strangely, it's almost as if Stevens planned the tease just to keep me from delving any deeper into Conference Call's musical spin cycle — it's an exercise in appetite whetting that worked.
This show's even more astounding because it's the first hometown date for IsWhat?!, our favorite and hardest-working Hip Hop brethren, since they signed with a New York independent label, Hyena. The label re-released and put extra "oomph" behind the distribution of You Figure It Out, IsWhat?!'s beatific release. The excellent release is made even more so by the guest appearance of master drummer Hamid Drake and a remix by DJ Spinna. If that's not enough, MC Napoleon Maddox just finished a stealth tour with New York's Ming and FS, backing their Back to One disc which he blesses with upper echelon verses.
This is cause for celebration. (Kathy Y. Wilson)
Harsh Reality Tour with Sybreed, Lyzanxia and Freak House
Thursday · Sudsy Malone's
After listening to a recent Reality Entertainment compilation CD, it's clear that the "Harsh Reality Tour" is aptly named. Even though the three bands on the bill originate from distant lands (France, Switzerland and Los Angeles) they do have a good amount of scathing musical circuitry in common. For starters they're all aggressive bands with an obvious affinity for the darker side of Rock that has been tamed and mastered by industrial forefathers Nine Inch Nails, Stabbing Westward and Fear Factory, to name a few. This is the side that incorporates the aptitude of computers to generate sounds impossible to replicate on any instrument not equipped with Pro Tools. The manufacturing of such synthetic textures to accompany their muscular guitar thrashings produces an aural attack that strikes for the cerebellum as well as the jugular.
Sybreed is the embodiment of Space Metal inside a black hole. At one end, a cybernetic backbone anchors drum and bass power-grooves to an accumulating mound of ferocity. At the other end, their cosmic range pulls at their massive sonic gravity and directs their sound away from uninspired "chugging" and more toward an unearthly expression of melody. They give the listener the option of plunging headfirst into a pit of erratic elbows or hanging back to analyze the weaving of Gothic Techno with Gothenburg Metal.
Lyzanxia have propelled themselves out of France with the strength of the classic Heavy Metal library in their grasp. Their homage to the era of vintage Metal runs unabashed as singer David Potvin hits stunningly high crescendos and gratuitously intricate guitar solos throw dagger-sharp squeals between thunderous sing-along choruses. Although more malignant than Arena Rock, the fun of their EuroMetal expels the guilt of enjoying a band whose CD could be found in The Terminator's disc changer.
Freak House is the American band on the bill and the one with the most Pop to them. Along with the computerized layering of celestial harmonics and the man-made grit of Hard Rock attitude, Freak House is the most accessible of the three bands. The ominous shadow of technological domination is put on a shorter leash and actual six-string distortion is the highlight of their show.
While Trent Reznor & Co. might be the unsurpassed lords of the machine-generated opus, these three acts show that they have open hands to receive the torch whenever it might be passed. (Jacob Richardson)
Kelly Joe Phelps
Friday · Jack Quinn's
The Blues has always been equally concerned with redemption and damnation, as saints sing about sinners and sinners sing about themselves and the hairline's difference between damned and blessed. No genre subset is more versed in this schizophrenic quality than Delta Blues, whose proponents were likely to break commandments after preaching adherence to them. For every Robert Johnson hellhound there is a Rev. Gary Davis prayer, and this dichotomy has kept the Delta Blues and Country Blues vital musical forces since the 1920s. There is no less likely a contemporary source for this style than Washington state's own Kelly Joe Phelps. Born in 1960 and reared in a musical family, Phelps began playing Jazz guitar professionally at 17. A dozen years later, he was exposed to Country and Delta Blues, which rekindled his earliest musical memories of the Country, Gospel and Folk songs sung by his family. After hearing Mississippi Fred McDowell and Robert Pete Williams, Phelps found a style that appealed to his improvisational desire and still satisfied his need for a stable musical foundation. He adapted all that he learned into his singular style, cementing his signature by playing his guitar across his lap. Phelps has a tone and delivery that suggests any number of acoustic magicians (Leo Kottke, John Fahey, Michael Hedges, Taj Mahal), with an otherworldly quality to the mind-bending slidework of his left hand on the strings and the fiendishly percussive use of his right hand on the body. Perhaps this is the thread that weaves together Phelps' amazingly authentic originals and his unerring sense of cover material. It might seem disingenuous to call Kelly Joe Phelps an innovator in a genre that has turned out disciples since record players had cranks, but even the most cursory listen to his work will prove Phelps is, at the very least, a unique and shimmering light in the pantheon of the Delta Blues. (Brian Baker)
Kelly Joe Phelps