Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Live: Asa Ransom, Shilpa Ray

When: 2/28/10
Where: Cameo Gallery

It's insane to think I haven't checked in with Asa Ransom in almost a year and half, especially given how much I was impressed by them the first time around. But unfortunately, our schedules just didn't align until a few weeks ago, when we crossed paths at this Shilpa Ray-headlined show at Cameo Gallery.

Asa Ransom have certainly changed over the last year and a half. Many of their punker impulses have become slicker and cleaner while their dancy grooves have expanded exponentially. The band has also come of age in the way in which they present themselves. While before, they were just some guys playing pretty good music, now they have an image - five images, in fact, that assert five individual personalities but that also form a cohesive front of dark and somewhat anachronistic stylishness. This not only makes them interesting to see but also indicates that the band has a sense of their identity and purpose - that is, what it is they have and want to offer the music scene.
Asa Ransom (picture from myspace.com)
Asa Ransom (picture from MySpace)

But what exactly that is is a little hard to describe. In my original review of the band, I compared them to Pere Ubu in their mental-ward approach to dance music. Since then, Asa Ransom have smoothed it out a bit, coming closer to the target than Pere Ubu ever did. Still, their music is something of an impressionistic take on dance music - it's identifiable, but it's out there. For those who are up on their contemporary dance punk, a comparison to Liars would certainly not be out of line.

The band is percussion-focused, with the jerky grooves of the drummer and auxiliary percussionist an oft exposed skeleton to which bits of guitar, synth and vocals adhere. As they play, the entire band bobs in time with the songs, though again, each in his own way. The music is a pulse against which frontman Jacob Bills throws truncated bursts of lunatic energy.

There may be something lacking here in sincerity - I can't tell - and I wouldn't consider this a shoe in for being an important or successful band. But they could be and I'd like that. We'll see. [myspace]

Shilpa Ray headlined. Talk about your nutcases. As always, she attacked her hand-powered harmonium with admirably boundless energy, growling her bluesy vocals with the punk rock spirit they deserve - the melodies may take a page from an older book, but the lyrics are pure punk in their self-deprecation and their fuck-you attitude.

Sadly, Shilpa Ray's backing band, her "Happy Hookers" were not as good as I've come to expect. She had a different crew on stage this time around, except for her outstanding bass player Nick Hundley. These Hookers are were adequate, I suppose, but compared to the top-of-the-line musicianship to which Shilpa Ray fans have grown accustomed...well, they aren't quite there. [myspace]

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