Halloween is a holiday for children. I haven't been "trick or treating" or dressed up in costume in almost 20 years, so what am i gonna do on this holiday? Try to find a decent show to go to, in order to get out of the house and have some fun. Fortunately, this year The EARL had me covered.
Arriving at 8:30, the music room was empty. There was band gear set up in the middle of the floor (drums, theremin, keyboards, pedal steel, and upright bass) as well as on stage (drums, guitar, electronics). The floor setup took up as much room as the stage itself, thereby limiting the amount of people who could fit into the club. I don't think that there was any real risk of this show selling out, however.
At 9 P.M. the five members of Hank Booker came out and, well, took the area in front of the stage. The various individuals making up this band are people that i have seen around Atlanta, at shows and whatnot, for several years, although i have no names to go with the faces.
These scenesters proceeded to play a half hour set of tedious
free jazz. Now, i can and do enjoy jazz, but this was that type
of jazz that felt like the band was just jamming, with no real
focus. At one point Tracers (who dislikes jazz) went to fetch
a round of beer, and when she came back she asked, "So have
they found a melody yet?" Sadly, i realized, they weren't even
looking for one, and that's what makes this music so darned
hard for a non-musician to enjoy. Sure, it was interesting to
watch these people experiment, and there were even some really
cool parts (such as a nice long drone made by both the pedal
steel and the upright bass, or lovely bass solo followed by
some be-bop saxophone), but for the most part the music never
jelled into anything recognizable.
So i dunno. Personally i don't get it, but that might just be me. I can't tell if these people were even good at free improv. All i know is that their 30 minute set seemed like an eternity... But eventually they were done, and we sat there, sipping our beers and wondering if the night had been a mistake. If the opening band is there to set the mood, the mood that Hank Booker set was one of deep uncertainty. However, more and more people showed up, until there was a decent little crowd gathered at 10 P.M., when Dave Thomas and the Two Pale Boys took the stage. (The actual stage this time.)
A word about this band: they are some sort of avant-garde supergroup.
Dave Thomas was, of course, the founder of Wendy's Hamburgers,
home of the Frosty. No, i kid: this Dave Thomas was the founder
of Pere Ubu, and has been
its sole consistent member and its vocalist for almost 30 years
at this point. Also in the band is trumpeter Andy Diagram, who
plays with jazz/electronica fusion act Spaceheads.
Rounding out the band is guitarist Keith Moline, who is apparently
involved with another project called They Came From The Stars
I Saw Them, at least according to their
website. I had never heard of Moline before, but both Thomas
and Diagram have made music that i rather enjoy, so the chance
to see them work together is what brought me out this Halloween.
As they took the stage, Diagram began making strange drones from his trumpet
and his table of electronics, while Moline laid a sparse, distorted
guitar bit, and Thomas spoke wacky beat poetry. The music jelled
together remarkably well, and of course, Dave Thomas has so
much charisma that he can be entertaining on stage simply looking
through his notebook for another song to perform. (I have ranted
on here before about how Dave Thomas is so charismatic,
so i won't go into it again.)
Thomas looks healthier than the last time i saw him, but of course, just as soon as i wrote that in my notebook, he slammed two beers, drained his flask, then slammed two more beers (all in one 5 minute instrumental tune)! Sheesh! What's even funnier is that a few songs later he stumbled a bit on stage and he said to Diagram, "I think that alcohol is kicking in!" Indeed.
Thomas seemed to be disturbed this night. He kept ranting about women, and at one point he said, "I love making money off of misery." I guess he had a terrible breakup recently. Further evidence of this is that, during one of the last songs, Diagram was singing into the pickup of his trumpet (it makes an eerie, otherworldly sound when he does that), and he wandered off stage into the crowd ... where the wireless mic refused to cooperate. Afterwards Thomas said, "What did you go down there for? There are women down there..."
I have often theorized that suffering makes great music, and performances are often at their best when the musicians have some angst. (On the other hand, angst doesn't help one write reviews....) Dave Thomas had some angst, and the edginess of his performance tonight benefited from that. I hate to say i enjoyed his misery, but heck, he made money off of it, so i guess it's okay for me to enjoy it....
Overall, i thoroughly enjoyed their performance. They played for about 70 minutes, and the music was unique and often catchy. Thomas did what he does best: stand on stage flailing around and singing/speaking his existential lyrics. Diagram also performed much as i anticipated he would, crafting luscious drones from his instrumentation. I was unfamiliar with Moline going in, but he did a fine job on the guitar.
I think that Tracers summed up the show perfectly as we were
leaving: "If there was any justice, this would be pop music."
Indeed -- Dave Thomas and the Two Pale Boys create music that
is beautiful and heartfelt and deep and challenging. It is everything
music should be, everything music could be
if all musicians were actually sincere. Why isn't everyone listening
to this stuff?
At any rate, i cannot urge this enough: if Dave Thomas comes through your town, with any of his numerous projects, go and check him out.