January 30, 2007

Sunny Start Leads to Zs

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Last Saturday, Fanclub Collective hosted its first show of the semester in JAM. The intimate venue proved itself to be the perfect location for an evening that became increasingly abstract as it progressed.

Ecstatic Sunshine, a guitar duo from Baltimore, opened the show. They have a powerful yet unpretentious stage presence that can best be likened to witnessing two friends having an intense jam session. The charm of these musicians lies in the fact that they’re capable of making their highly developed and focused compositions sound spontaneous.

Pausing only to introduce themselves and later to thank the audience, Ecstatic Sunshine’s performance was intense and engrossing. Cascades of sound flooded the venue varying from highly technical passages to waves of distortion. Even more impressive was the suddenness with which one of the guitarists could shift to a radically different rhythm and technique while the other continued to play his or her respective parts. Describing this performance as a dialogue between two musicians hardly does it justice; it was more like a heated debate cased in two hypnotic tracks of sound.

Like two sets of train tracks running parallel to each other, each guitarist’s respective part remained distinct while occasionally intersecting to introduce a new musical motif. The members of Ecstatic Sunshine are masters of building musical tension and breaking the barriers they’ve built just as quickly.

Their sound is a veritable sampling of various genres juxtaposed to create an unmatched musical experience that combines the sensations of déjà vu and nostalgia. (At one point the heavy snarl of one of the guitars sounded like a cross between Iggy and The Stooges, bluegrass and The Pixies, while remaining a fresh listening experience.) While their music features minimal vocals, Ecstatic Sunshine’s music is conducive to dancing and brings a different feel to a technically impressive show.

Capillary Action, whose members hail from Oberlin College, followed Ecstatic Sunshine. Capillary Action is a four-member band consisting of vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, drums and occasionally a trombone. Attempts to capture their sound through words have included “math jazz” or simply eclectic or experimental. However, these terms fail miserably at describing their music.

The individual musicians are virtuosos when featured in a solo; when the musical elements combine, the result is a multi-faceted orgy of sound that weaves transitions, diminuendos and crescendos in every musical direction from precise passages to overwhelming abstractions of sound.

The somewhat aggressively crooning vocals complement the powerful, yet not overshadowing, accompanying parts (imagine elevator music on acid with a healthy dose of funk thrown in). Each musical element complements the others well, creating synchronized insanity that defies all attempts to express it with words. Indeed, Capillary Action had a spellbinding effect during their performance, only to be broken by dancing like there’s no tomorrow, which is what the majority of the small yet appreciative audience proceeded to do.

The members of Capillary Action proved to be somewhat confrontational, although charmingly so. Inviting the audience to come closer and scoffing when they failed to do so, the band member’s personalities came through in every aspect of their performance, from their commentary between songs to their individual facial expressions. Capillary Action truly brought an authentic aspect to the concept of stage presence, which has srecently become an environment in which the artist is completely isolated from his audience.

The final band to play was the Zs. Set up similarly to a string quartet with stands, sheet music and chairs facing each other, the Zs made it clear that they were not there to entertain but to perform. After setting up their instruments, the members of the quartet left the stage with a recording of ambient, pulsating noise reminiscent of a didgeridoo playing in the background. When the band reappeared some time later, they approached the stage to no applause and began playing without an introduction.

This placed the audience in a somewhat awkward position and almost created a sensation of being an uninvited listener to their performance. The musical elements consisted of drums, keyboards, guitars, a saxophone and intermittent vocals which resembled chanting more than anything. The saxophonist’s playing was the only consistent and clearly defined line that didn’t get lost in the nearly indistinguishable pieces that were performed.

Although the band’s sound is somewhat polished, there is still a sort of jaggedness and roughness around the edges lends itself to a somewhat pleasant listening experience. While the Zs provide good background music, that is precisely where they should stay. The Zs performance felt self-important and anti-climactic after witnessing far livelier performances earlier that evening.

In any case, Fanclub Collective hosted an impressive evening of avant garde performances that were well-received and enjoyed by those who attended.