February 17, 2013

Quilt at Lot 10: Nostalgia Psychedelia

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When Lofts, the opener, crashed through Ithaca’s Lot 10 last Tuesday with aggressive drums and indistinct everything, I knew right away that I liked them: a two-piece local punk outfit, they played the sort of music that makes you want to push someone. Their lyrics are, with rare exception, perfectly incomprehensible, as the best punk vocals always are. There’s not much dancing, of course, or even pushing and shoving as you’d see at a real punk show, just a bit of bobbing and swaying, but I guess that’s what happens when the 20-something crowd gets tied down by the drinks in their hands. No fault of the band, as they’re blasting rebel ecstasy with all due angst and viscera and solid musicianship, but just an unfortunate fact of the matter, Lot 10 being, after all, a bar scene more than a music scene.Then the main act, Quilt, got up there, and even their sound check was enough to make my jaw go slack and my third eye go milky — and I mean that in a good way. From the first note they were pushing out a big cosmic pillow of sound, large and complex for just the three of them, grooving out of Boston, Mass. without missing a beat, moving with an enthralling easy grace. The crowd started metamorphosing, by tiny measures, arms getting a little wavy-er and smiles a little easier, and Quilt kept us smiling all through their set.I’m not the first, and I won’t be the last, to trace a musical lineage from Quilt back to the likes of Jefferson Airplane, The Doors (at least in Jim Morrison’s more self-indulgent moments) and even the Beatles in their faux Indian days. Quilt bends any note that can be bent, like an effects-pedal echo of an age when sitars and their players braved the long journey West. Pitchfork called them a “ramshackle blend of 1960s psychedelia, mantric blues and folk.” And if you ask iTunes, Quilt’s pigeon hole is one word long: psychedelic.In the days following Quilt’s show at Lot 10, I found myself listening to their record over and over again, trying to figure out if there’s more than that going on in Quilt’s sound. I’m generally opposed to the practice of reducing bands to a mortifying taxonomy of genres and sub-genres, but if you’re looking for a textbook example of psychedelic rock, Quilt is a pretty good reference point. Some critics have written about this as a long-awaited psychedelia revival, while others are a little more skeptical, and see Quilt’s style as largely derivative.If you just listen to the music, the skeptics have a fair point. Musically, I don’t think Quilt is exploring much territory that hasn’t thoroughly been explored before I was born. But I don’t get too hung up on it, since they play the genre so damn well. Admittedly, though, much of my love for Quilt can be attributed to a sort of nostalgia for a psychedelic rock scene which I’ve never known, which has been gone for decades. That is certainly not to say that it’s back now.Looking around Lot 10 on Wednesday night, I couldn’t help but feel that the moment had passed. For one thing, I was willing to bet that hardly anyone in the bar was actually on psychedelics. Maybe this shouldn’t be a relevant observation, but I think it’s worth pointing out, if we’re going to keep using the word “psychedelic” to describe what Quilt does. After all, they call it psychedelic music for a reason, in reference to a particular state of altered consciousness very different from what Lot 10 is selling.It’s not just that we’re on different drugs now than we were in the ‘60s, though. Ravi Shankar’s jam sessions with George Harrison (if my inter-generational cultural memory serves me correctly) carried a sense of hope, a sense of possibility created by, among other things, what we might call the East-West encounter. The expansion and exploration of consciousness (with or without psychedelic assistance) was still something new and exciting. Or at least, that’s how I like to imagine it.There might still be thriving subcultures that get excited about altered states of consciousness, but they certainly won’t be found at Lot 10. All this made Wednesday’s performance a puzzling cultural moment, but no less beautiful a show. I, for one, let my mind wander along with those indulgent melodies, and I thank Quilt for a wonderful trip.

Original Author: Tom Moore