Musical Musings: The Donewaiting.com anniversary party at Skully's
Between print, blogs and video, we made a pretty good ruckus about the Donewaiting.com five-year anniversary shows last week. As it turns out, we had good reason. At its peaks, the much-hyped Blueprint-Brainbow collaboration was one of the finest live sets I've experienced in this city, the kind of mesmerizing, chill-inducing show of camaraderie usually reserved for Comfest (and, for a certain sector of the music community, the Rock Potluck).
But before we get into that, let's not forget the other performers.
I regrettably missed Friday's bill at Carabar, where all reports suggest Grave Blankets, Sinkane, This Moment In Black History and Deathly Fighter were astounding. Having had a pleasant taste of all four in the past, I hope to catch up with them again soon.
That said, let's return to the beginning of Saturday's show at Skully's. Experimental musician Mike Shiflet (who used to work in some capacity at Alive long before I arrived) usually plays solo, but for this gig he recruited an ensemble comprising his sometimes partner-in-crime Joe Panzner plus members of melancholy pop bands Moviola and The Black Canary. (Sad to see Shane Mackenzie of freeform noise freaks Lambsbread go missing.) Shiflet deals in tones more than tunes, and while Saturday's set was consistent with that aesthetic, the combined harmonic effect of Jerry Dannemiller's lap steel, Kate Folmar's keyboards and all of Shiflet and Panzner's gadgets was sublimely satisfying for a straightlaced listener like myself. The pastoral sounds reminded me of a more substantial take on new age nature music, all trickling streams and wind in the leaves. At a rock show, this couldn't have worked anywhere but first, so thank God they didn't try to slip it somewhere in the middle. While Shiflet's set didn't exactly get me ready to rock, it was a purely pleasant listening experience.
The act that really stuck out on this bill, though, was Miranda Sound. The defiantly earnest indie rockers have been a big part of Donewaiting since the beginning: They played the launch party and every subsequent anniversary event, contributed heavily to the message board and released arguably the best record so far on the site's in-house label, Sunken Treasure. But listening to their set of rigid, heart-on-sleeve pop rockers was a lesson in how much the site—and the local music scene it covers, for that matter—has changed and expanded over the years. Miranda Sound has been going strong for more than a decade now, and they haven't evolved their slightly emo, slightly angular sound so much as honed and strengthened it. The band's style calls for airtight precision, and in the context of so much loose, practically hallucinatory music, it sounded like a snapshot from another era thrust in the middle of something very much of the now, like a crisply focused photograph in the middle of a mirage. They were at the top of their game, but it just didn't work for me in the context of this show.
The ideal counterpoint came courtesy of El Jesus de Magico. Beginning with their most wretched dirge and fanning out into slightly more accessible territory as they went on, they delivered an authorative take on the "post-primitive" style they call their own. I've always thought the secret to this band's success is keyboardist Tony Allman, whose drones and melodies add enough ethereal spin to separate El Jeezy from the trash rock pack. But I couldn't take my eyes off Micheal O'Shaugnessy and the joyous, maniacal look he gets as he bashes away up there. His drumming, sharp and reliable but practically primordial in all its raw splendor, made my night before the headliners even hit the stage. Then there's Jon Witzky, whose stumbling charisma translates just as well to the Skully's stage as it does in this town's tinier haunts. And in all this gushing, let's not undersell the understated touches that Dave Capaldi and Sarah Yetter bring to the guitar and bass. All these parts coincided beautifully on a slew of new and older songs, but El Jesus shone most brightly on old standby "New Moses," which still is and probably always will be their masterpiece. As cymbal crashes and bass blasts rained down like a flurry of stomach punches from an angry God, this band came off as damn near almighty.
Perhaps I should have reserved some of my hyperbole for the headlining act. Blueprint and Brainbow made it clear in our interview last week that they wanted nothing to do with rap-rock in the backwards-cap or hemp-necklace sense. They hoped to craft something unique, a show that merged both acts' styles seamlessly without compromising either's identity. For most of the set, they pulled that off magnificently. Blueprint rapped with confidence, conviction and skill as usual; surrounding him in person and in sound, the band branched out but never broke character, always routing their music back to the mystical haze from which it seemed to emerge. A couple songs in the middle came off a little Rage Against the Machine for my tastes, but so much of the set was something like I've never heard before. Check it out for yourself in the YouTube clip above.
All in all, Robert Duffy and company did a spectacular job throwing this weekend together. Now the only question is how can they top this next year?