Thursday (Jan. 28) was a night of instrumental and mostly mellow music at the Empty Bottle. All three acts on the bill played slow-moving, ambient music, the sort of stuff that makes you meditate more than it makes you dance. It was a fairly cool evening of chilling out (with frigid temperatures outside).
The headliners were Sweden’s Tape — four musicians playing a laptop, guitar, drums and keyboards, with a bit of harmonica thrown in. Despite the electronic elements, the music sounded almost organic, with some bits that were almost like folk music mashed together with washes of electronic texture.
The show also featured the Brooklyn ambient duo Mountains. Playing without any pause during their set, Mountains played acoustic instruments like guitars, harmoniums and melodicas, processing them through a mound of electronic equipment until they were virtually unrecognizable, making waves of echoing, reverb-heavy chords.
Appropriately enough, the first act of the night was the Chicago duo David Daniell and Douglas McCombs, whom I’ve seen numerous times and written about here previously. This time, they played without any percussion, but they still created beautiful, glacial sounds with their two guitars.
Photos of Tape, Mountains and David Daniell & Douglas McCombs.
Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley was in Chicago last night (Dec. 16), sitting in with three great local performers for an improvised set of instrumental music. Guitarists David Daniell and Douglas McCombs have been doing similar sets for a couple of years now, and they recently released a cool collection of their work called Sycamore on the Thrill Jockey label. They’ve played with various drummers, and each percussionist adds a different sense of rhythm and texture to their layers of guitar. For this show, in addition to Shelley, they were joined by Jeremy Lemos of the Chicago drone group White/Light.
Lemos played electronic stuff for part of the show, and then he unplugged one of his equipment cords and pushed the live end of the plug against his amp, creating small crescendos of feedbacks. In an interesting way, it was almost as if Lemos was providing the sort of distorted noise you’d normally expect to hear from the electric guitars, while the two guitarists were making more subtle shades of sound.
The set began very quietly, with Daniell and McCombs making tick-tock clicking sounds and tiny notes with their guitars. Some people in the bar did not seem to realize the performance had begun, chatting over this understated music, but the club quickly fell quiet as audience members concentrated on the music. For the first 10 minutes or so, Shelley was also listening intently. He sat at his drum kit without making any beats at all for a while, and then he cautiously felt his way into the music. At one point, the music took an unexpected country-folk lope, reminding me a bit of something Souled American might do, but channeled through the more ambient music of Daniell and McCombs. Later, the ensemble slid into more of a rock-music groove, giving Shelley a chance to stretch out on the drums. After cascading and falling a couple of times, the uninterrupted performance faded down. One by one, the musicians stopped playing until it was just Lemos, making some low squelches with his table of electronic gear.
Daniell tells me the four musicians did not get a chance to rehearse together before sitting down at Wednesday’s concert, which makes the performance all the more impressive.
Photos of David Daniell, Jeremy Lemos, Douglas McCombs and Steve Shelley.
Chicago musicians David Daniell and Doug McCombs have teamed up for a beautiful new album on the Thrill Jockey label called Sycamore. This is the sound of two guitarists playing off each other, building lovely sonic sculptures. There are touches of jazz rhythm, some ambient texture and dramatic rock flourishes, but it’s really uncategorizable instrumental music. Daniell and McCombs played a CD release party Thursday (Sept. 24) at the Hideout, but unlike the typical CD release party, these guys weren’t just playing songs from their new album. The music seems to be part composed, part improvised, so what we heard Thursday night was one continuous performance without any pauses, featuring all three drummers on the album. John Herndon (who plays in Tortoise with McCombs) drummed during the opening part of the show, then Steven Hess sat down at a second drum kit. For a few minutes, Herndon and Hess played together, then Herndon got up and let Hess take over. A similar transition happened later when Frank Rosaly took over on drums. Each drummer brought his own style to the mix of sounds, as Daniell and McCombs dueted, interweaving the sounds of their two guitars.
Thrill Jockey is offering a free download of the Daniell-McCombs track “F# song.”
The opening act, Jack Rose, was well worth seeing in his own right, playing some very impressive solo acoustic guitar compositions. Rose plucked fast arpeggio chord patterns, but his songs were anchored by slower, more distinctive melodies, sometimes played on a single string. It made for some hypnotic listening.
Photos of David Daniell and Doug McCombs and Jack Rose.