Friday, September 4, 2009

Live: Lightning Bolt + Teeth Mountain

When: 8/31
Where: Broadway Backyard, Bushwick

On Sunday, while all the wussy kids (including Jay-Z and Beyonce, apparently) went to Williamsburg Waterfront to check out snooze-pop band Grizzly Bear, the cool kids hopped on the J train to Todd P's new vacant lot of choice, Broadway Backyard in Bushwick. It speaks to the quality of the bands playing that many of Brooklyn's best musicians turned out to see the show, including Shilpa Ray, Pterodactyl and some of the Death By Audio folks. Meanwhile, the Vivian Girls and the rest of the Woodsist/In the Red/whatever clan where nowhere to be seen. (I'll you decide whether or not that speaks to the quality of the music too.)

Since I attended the Woodsist/Captured Tracks festival at this space earlier this summer, I knew the acoustics to be surprisingly sound. Despite being outdoors, and therefore losing controlled resonance and instead gaining late, loud echos off the train tracks and buildings, the music is blasted loud enough to remain clear and full.

When I arrived, Todd P's ipod was playing in alphabetical order (Weezer, Wipers, Wipers, Woods, XTC) but before we got to find out if he owns any ZZ Top, Teeth Mountain took the stage. Teeth Mountain play repetitive, percussion-driven fusion music, which puts them definitively in a camp with the likes of Aa and Gang Gang Dance. It's not all drumming though (neither are those bands) but includes noise guitar, bass and saxophone as well as some electronics and homemade devices.

On the percussion end, the beats were pretty cool. One of the two drummers was a chick and I'm always happy to see lady drummers because there are so few. On an array of snares, tom-toms and roto-toms, the two percussionists overlaid some sweet, grooving polyrhythms. They did seem a little underrehearsed and definitely lost track of each other a few times, but they covered it up well - you'd only know it by their facial expressions.

The rest of the band were less notable in musicianship, but not half bad either. As I mentioned before, they played a pretty wide bunch of instruments, mostly in a noise-rock kind of way - I don't think I heard a single tuneful line. Despite my limited tolerance for this sort of "experimentalism" and my extremely limited tolerance for saxophones, I rather enjoyed the noise coming from the front half of the stage.

The band definitely drew from influences around the world. On one song, roto-toms resemble tabla drumming and as "Jasper" pointed out to me, one of the instruments in the front was making a sound like a heavily distorted sitar. While the beats remained largely in the realm of generic "tribal" (am I the only one who finds use of this term offensive?), there were hints of West African and Latin inspiration scattered in.

However, overall, the songs weren't much different from one another and within each song, repetition was the dominant force. That sort of repetition doesn't hold my attention, though I recognize some people are into it. I ended up feeling bored and disappointed, but if you do like hearing the same two bars over and over again (and trust me, I know a lot of people who do), this is one of the best bands you'll find in the scene today. [MySpace]

Of course, I, like everyone else, was really at the show to see the legendary Lightning Bolt, a drum and bass (not drum'n'bass!) duo from Rhode Island. Despite not having a proper guitar in their ranks, Lightning Bolt makes amazing guitar music. How? Well, quite simply by playing the SHIT out of a bass guitar.

Bassist Brian Gibson plays his guitar in an alternate tuning which allows for a greater range in pitch, and is known to string his high A (a G in normal tuning) with a banjo string. Everything Gibson plays is heavily distorted, which gives weight to overtones and further expands the range of frequencies blasting out of his amp. (I also thought he had an octaver, but I might just have been hearing that banjo string's tone. If anyone knows, I'm interested.)

Moving smoothly from riff to chord to bassline, Gibson never rests. He even often plays frenetic, crunch-metal guitar riffs in the highest registers while simultaneously hitting bass notes on beat one of each bar. I'd guess you'd need about three typical bass players at least to cover the ground Lightning Bolt covers with one.

Lightning Bolt
Lightning Bolt (picture from

But that's not even the highlight. The drumming is. Brian Chippendale's noise drumming is relentless sixteenth and thirty-second notes, polyrhythms and fills at about 200 BPM (that's fast). If you're prone to headaches, I'd warn you to skip this band. Actually, Chippendale's incessant rimshots on a very, very tightly tuned snare were giving me a bit of a headache myself. I'd love that to drop a little in pitch, but it's not Lightning Bolt without that particular snap.

The band performed amazingly - given the sheer intensity of the music, they don't really have the option to be average. Chippendale appeared as usual in a mask holding a small microphone in place against his mouth. His yells into this microphone are then fed through some serious effects and the result is a series of unintelligible cries punctuating the music. At times the band seems to overuse their vocals when they are more distracting than productive, but if they insist on having vox, this is the way to do it.

The crowd went wild (obviously), with a mess of a pit in the front and a steady stream of stage divers taking particularly adventurous spinning leaps off the stage. The long set undoubtedly left the moshers exhausted, but well satisfied.

I've got some respect for Grizzly Bear, but c'mon, they couldn't hold a candle to these guys. Lightning Bolt is what rock music is meant to be. [MySpace]

I should also mention Lightning Bolt is coming out with an album this fall. I don't have a copy yet, but I'll definitely try to get one and write it up before the release. I'm pretty sure it's going to kick ass.

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