This’ll be the first of two posts on my Memorial Day weekend for this year attending Bottled Smoke II, which (as the name gives away) replicated in part a Memorial Day weekend three years ago just a couple of months before I started this blog — a wonderful three day event at the Echo Curio in Los Angeles, Bottled Smoke.
Bottled Smoke was actually the name of the concert series done as a counterpart to an exhibition at the Echo Curio, Bottling Smoke, which is why my collection of photos from that weekend has that as the overall title. I actually recently found my scribbled notes from that weekend which I had taken to set aside probably for a piece in the Quietus (I think), but which served as a predecessor to what I do now at many multi-act shows or mini-festivals like this one, namely swamp people on my Twitter feed with thoughts about it all.
I don’t see this as a replacement for the kind of concert reviewing we’re all familiar with, the polished pieces (admittedly often subject to deadline) that are put together away from the show and which draw on memory, notes at the time, photos or whatever else may be to hand. But over time I’ve become comfortable with my own in-the-moment thoughts as being just that, and also being reflective of how I often think about live shows to start with anyway. A friend understandably wondered why I wasn’t just enjoying the music over the weekend; in response I noted that this helped clarify those thoughts and descriptions running around my head, and where in the past I would have felt maybe a little foolish or strange simply just taking notes at shows in a notepad given that I rarely had a specific commission to review a show to start with, now it feels much more commonplace since cellphones and smartphones and what have you acting as the de facto equivalent.
Receiving feedback from others that this approach has been appreciated in turn does help — one friend said “As I arrive home from a tough late shift, this stuff is a joy to read.” Again, it’s merely an approach, a very public one but one that I hope has its place, though of course not every Twitter follower of mine would care for it! If nothing else I hope as always, with all my work, to catch the interest in something I find valuable or worthwhile, and the chips will fall there as they may, as they always will. You can’t force interest in the end, something I think is one of the key points that any critic — or any enthusiast, really — needs to have some sort of self-awareness about.
But if the posts there did turn people on to the work that the Echo Curio — and its co-presenting venue syncSPACE — were doing this time around, and if this will further prompt people to check out things like Stunned Records and Abbadon Records, then hey! Glad to have helped.
Some more thank-yous and pointers in my Sunday afternoon wrap-up; what follows are the collated Twitter posts I made on each artist along with a featured photo and a link to a band or musician webpage — the full set of photos from Saturday afternoon can be found here. All these Saturday sets were performed at the Echo Curio.
Headlight — “Headlight are a one person electronic act, flowing from one queasy/serene composition to the next, sometimes beatless sometimes not. Suggestive of recent electrogaze but not out to completely soothe, it’s perfect for the hot clear Saturday. Shifting into some full on spacerock/synth grooves from 1978 is a nice touch, combined with a lot of howling echo. The stop start melodies are a very nice touch too from Headlight, a sense of ‘sense’ constantly thwarted and changed.”
Dead Line Connector — “…now starting up with some scraggly noise pedal rumble and crunch. There is quite literal electroclash happening, what sounds like shards of sheet metal rattling and crashing. Nate’s setup reminds me of when I saw Aube live on air at KUCI years back, but without the aggressive fury in the playing. The source of the metallic noises now clearer — looks like a thin copper plate that he is essentially playing via contacts. For all that this is louder and more earpiercingly harsher, the background rumble’s serenity creates more calm than Headlight.”
Swanox — “Swanox may or may not have started his set yet. I’ll say he has, because it sounds very nice. The combination of more background crumble, some just-created flute samples in a looped collage and his deep chanting is suggestive of White Rainbow’s approach but sonically differs from what Adam Forkner does, more ‘instant’ in a way. The sudden switch to a slow keyboard melody/drone is also inspired, a full shift in the sound while retaining the feel. The longer Swanox continues this keyboard/pedal combination the more visibly entranced he seems. Lost in music, indeed.”
Queen Victoria — “And now the highly spoken about Queen Victoria kicks in with bowed guitar loops and more besides. Kinda nice to see/hear a guitar/drums duo that’s not following blues/garage tradition as such; while possessing clear roots they are more derived from Spacemen 3 and Opal/Mazzy Star, a touch blissed out but more often politely skronked. Also, I like Nick the singer’s two guitar approach, one played strictly to set tones, another then more conventionally played. Also hints of Thurston Moore as understated psych guy, one of those odd touchstones that is present but not always noticed. Using the bow as a percussive instrument as much as anything else: also grand, builds to solid conclusion! Good stuff.”
Dan Brown — “Dan Brown (not THAT one) now begins his all percussion set, mouth organ and all. The problem with the ‘drum solo’ as wankfest is all too ingrained but Dan is clearly out to avoid that by emphasizing possibilities with the drum set as starting point, and using other instruments in concert with it. The use of gongs and other hand percussion instruments furthers this, also creating a sense of slightly chaotic ritual. Also well taken with his use of drumstick on cymbal almost as a stylus. One gets the feeling this should only be seen live. Haha and out of nowhere he says “I was going to do the 1987 Lakers song ‘Say No to Drugs, Say Hi to Life’ but I didn’t have time to learn that!'” And back to the music with bowstrings on cymbals and more.”
Pedestrian Deposit — “And with a hush, the duo Pedestrian Deposit begins their set with bow on hand cymbal. I like the sense of implied power so far — all the pedals et al suggest future noise but right now it is eerie calm. Plus, sudden silence after it seems about to explode and then treated cello adds to a chilled, mournful state. As it develops, the cello/crackle combination further suggests Bryars or Eno with Bowie while not cloning either. Instead it’s a tactile sense of beauty refracted, something where the form is not played but softly warped.”
M. Geddes Gengras — “Ged Gengras setting up for his solo turn, Rogue Moog and plenty of wires and more. Describing this set so far is actually a little hard — while on the surface ‘just’ a series of drone loops there’s almost a wonderful 50s-into-70s space music sense as the core feeling, something ‘out there’ from the aliens. More serene keyboards coming in add to this feeling rather than counteract it, a message of strange peace. Ged’s ability to do different things each time I see him play is one of his best qualities and this is a strong set a sense of evolutionary transmissions that develop unexpectedly, new elements and spikes of noise now appearing.”
Rangers — “Rangers now setting up for the final set of the afternoon — been a great day all around! Not what I expected, this set — a five piece band but defiantly avoiding much in the way of riff or groove. Halfway between drone and a fairly cryptic jam; it’s not shockingly new, but the expected clatter and echo makes everything more of a howling mess than I would have first guessed. Reminds me a touch of Crescent as a result. Though now some steady open ended riffing is definitely starting to kick in big time, Spacemen 3 meets shimmer. In fact it’s definitely becoming big postpunkgaze almost in spite of everything before it! A nice transition. The shift the band does between open-ended but rich murk and the instrumental epic charge, constantly shifting in both directions is ultimately the group’s secret weapon, they seem content to avoid being one or the other. I also admit to being amused in a good way that one of the guitarists is wearing a shirt/short combination that reminds me a lot of what my friend Jake Anderson would wear about ten years back. Keyboardist now on cymbals and the mood is almost celebratory. In all a really nice surprise of a set by Rangers.”