The Chicago band Disappears’ new drummer — possibly just a temporary fill-in — is Steve Shelley, more famous for his work with Sonic Youth. Shelley’s been spending a fair amount of time playing gigs in Chicago over the last year or so, and there he was on Tuesday evening (March 22), when the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago hosted a free show by Disappears. Making the gig extra special was the addition of the two musicians who make up the Chicago band White/Light, Matt Clark and Jeremy Lemos. They’re the curators of this “Face the Strange” series of free concerts at the MCA, and for this show, they sat in with the band, adding a couple of extra layers of humming noise to the proceedings. Disappears easily shifted between those experimental stretches of elongated chords into crunchier rock songs with vocals, and Shelley helped to tie it altogether without ever getting flashy on the drums. Only complaint: The band played too short, clocking in at barely more than half an hour. More music, please!
A museum gallery is an apt place for some drone music. As I’ve mentioned before, Chicago has a pretty active scene for drone music, which is a catch-all term for music with sustained notes or chords. The Chicago duo White/Light has an installation all this month at the Museum of Contemporary Art: a dark room filled with cabinet speakers and a couple of old tape machines. The tapes spin around, creating humming sounds that come out through the various speakers. If you spend a little time in the room, listening closely, you’ll notice different noises coming out of the various amps.
It’s a great spot for a little meditation. You’ll think that you’ve seen and heard everything there is to experience in this room after about 90 seconds, but linger for a while and let the sound wash over you.
That’s also the best attitude to take when experiencing a live performance of drone music. At various times during the month, White/Light’s Matt Clark and Jeremy Lemos and guest musicians have been performing in this space, improvising off the room’s droning vibe. The most famous of the guest musicians, Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley, played with the duo Saturday afternoon (March 20). Shelley’s thumping mallets added throbbing rhythms to the abstract guitar and keyboard sounds, giving the music a bit of the same feeling as Pink Floyd’s “Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun.” The music built from a quiet intro into loud thump — loud enough that I saw one parent exiting the room with a young boy who was grimacing with his hands over his year. Ear plugs, folks — wear ear plugs!
Upcoming performances: March 23, 7 p.m.: Lucky Dragons. March 27, 3 p.m.: Félicia Atkinson: Saturday. March 28, 3 p.m.: White/Light.