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  ROBERT RICH w/ Lanterna and Envie  
  Atlanta, GA  
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I listen to Hearts of Space late Sunday Nights. I find its tranquil ambience to be the perfect thing to drift off to sleep to in order to awaken energized and ready for another demeaning week in Corporate America. There are several artists that i have discovered through this show, but i never thought that i would get the chance to see any of them perform live.

So let's just say that i was anticipating this show a lot.

I got to Eyedrum at about 9:30, and found a seat just as local band Envie started to play. Envie's lineup has been a little fluid, so when i saw that the bnad on stage contained only leader Renee Nelson, violaist Carol, and The Drummer Whose Name I Keep Forgetting, but no cello, i was worried. Had Deisha Oliver left the band? Fortunately Nelson soon calmed my fears by informing the crowd that Oliver was in a play, and would merely be late. Whew! I love the rich cello sound, and i think that it really adds to Envie's depth.

Overall: Envie fuse classical music and rock into a sort of chamber rock ensemble. Nelson sings and plays harp or keyboards, backed by viola and cello (usually), and with a drummer who rocks out behind the chamber music. It is an interesting juxtaposition, and one that i have never heard before.

Two of the pieces they did tonight really stood out to me. First was their version of the R.E.M. song Feeling Gravity's Pull. I have seen various Envie lineups perform this many times, and it always impresses. Tonight the viola was mixed a little low in the sound, as was Nelson's harp. The overall effect was that her voice carried most of the song, with a slow buzz of stringed instruments underneath it, and sparse drumming. It seemed eerie, with a hint of menace. Not how they usually do it, but in this one instance the Eyedrum's somewhat spotty sound worked to their advantage.

The other song i liked is one i have heard them do before, although i do not know the name. It starts with a cello solo, Oliver sawing away creating a nice deep drone. Then Nelson takes over and solos on the harp. (I would wager that most readers have never heard nor seen a harp solo, given the rarity of the instrument. Trust me when i say this: it is something to behold. Really.) Then the drummer joins in, hitting the toms in an odd way that reminds me of the drumming that Peter Ulrich did with Dead Can Dance, and the viola and cello join back in for a fast-paced romp. The drumming gives this piece a bizarre, timeless yet otherworldly feel. This is really unique stuff, and tonight it transcended the sound problems.

Overall, Envie put on a very enjoyable set.

After a short intermission, Lanterna took the stage. I think, that is. You see, Henry Frayne, who is Lanterna, asked for all of the lights to be turned off, and it got remarkable dark inside Eyedrum. Frayne had two really cool lava lamps (little pieces of glitter suspended in the oil along with the wax to produce a sparkling effect), and he played to those plus the light of his sequencer.

He had sequenced drums and bass parts that he would play, and then he would accompany with live guitarwork. It was an amazingly beautiful set: Frayne is a real virtuoso, and his playing is fascinating. I listen to a good bit of this type of guitar drone music, and i think that Lanterna are unique in that the music comes across as upbeat. Which is not to say that most of this music is depressing, it is just that much of it is so intellectual that it really doesn't convey an emotional mood. Lanterna, on the other hand, do. I don't know how he does it, but somehow Frayne is able to take a few simple elements and craft remarkably toe-tapping happy melodies.

My only complaint is that i wish he had a live drummer. I have ranted about this here many times, but really: the sheer power of live drumming should never be underestimated. You just don't get the same effect off of a tape loop.

However, that's a minor complaint and Frayne really did use his tape loop to good effect. I went into this show only familiar with his first 2 albums, both of which use pretty straightforward drumming. (I think he has a drummer on the albums, but that individual doesn't tour -- hence the loops.) However, tonight Frayne played a few tracks on which the drums were more electronica-style cut-up breakbeats. These really worked well, and i hope that these tunes are included on his new album, Sands which i picked up at the show.

Overall, Lanterna put on another stunning set. I wish that he played Atlanta more often.

And then it was time for Robert Rich to perform. Rich had a complicated set-up of keyboards and electronic thingies (he had something that looked like an old-timey phone switchboard back there) and various flutes. To get into his performance area he has to duck under a huge tube light, and he performed standing the midst of this gear.

He introduced the set by saying he would play from across his catolog, and that he would play straight through for an hour with no breaks.

And then he played straight through for an hour with no breaks. It was impressive to watch and hear.

Visually, Rich darts around tweaking nobs and playing various flutes and keyboards, and even something that looked like a pedal steel guitar but which appeared to make a strange synthesized sound. He was really busy back there, which is strange to think about because so much of the music, the really cool tribal drumming that makes the foundation of his music, was pre-programmed.

I normally complain about how boring it is to watch people make electronic music, but Rich wasn't boring to watch at all. In fact, every time he moved around i found myself watching closely to see what keyboard he would move to (he had at least 3) or what flute he would pick up (there were many different kinds). I guess that he is really more of an electronic/analog fusion artist. Still, it was interesting to watch.

Musically, Rich's work is all over the place. He started out playing bamboo flute over some new agey sounds, but moved on to space rock, some almost Orbish dub, and even played a piece in the middle of the set that featuring loud dark drumming reminiscent of the Lifeforms-era work of Future Sound of London.

I admit that the more new-agey portions of his set (the beginning and end pieces) seemed kind of dull to me. Then again, i burnt out on New Age in the early 90's, so your mileage may vary. Overall though, his music displayed an amazing degree of variety.

I only have one real complaint: listening to spacey electronic music at 1 AM is not the wisest thing to do if you expect to drive home. I had one beer the whole night, but after Rich was done performing i felt out of it. My mind was reeling and wandering from the strange musical journey he described, and i found that i had to spend a half an hour wandering around and chatting with various musicians just in order to ground myself enough to drive home.

Overall this was an amazing night. I enjoyed all three performances tremendously, and i recommend these artists to anyone who might be interested.

Related Links:
  Lanterna at the last night at the old Eyedrum space on Fri.28.Sept.01.
Envie earlier in 2003.

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