Arbouretum, Pontiak, Blake e/e/e @ the Talking Head

Live audio is up for Arbouretum here and Pontiak here, presented by Jeff the Baltimore Taper in association with Aural States.

Coming in late, I apparently missed a great set from Television Hill, another project of Dave Heumann from Arbouretum. But honestly, both Arbouretum and Pontiak ended up killing it so much I didn’t need another great set.

Blake e/e/e were still set to open though. They proved very perplexing to me with a curious brand of experimental folk. In their music, there is an almost constant strain of something mysterious, je ne sais quoi, that pulls me in an appealing direction. Their recorded material delivers, but unfortunately, through the live execution and follow-through on that initial attraction, there is a lot left to be desired. The set ended up as an average experience for me, though not necessarily an unpleasant one. I tried desperately to put my finger on what that was and the only thing I have come up with thus far is either bad pacing on their part or low attention span on my part. Other than that, the only thing I found disappointing in their set was that there was never a real pay-off to any sort of slow-mounted tension. They should probably take some lessons from Pontiak and Arbouretum on that point.

Pontiak mounted the stage and proceeded to rebuke my growing perception that the most engaging things going on in music right now are the products of excessive style/genre fusion, musical alchemy.

They steamed straight into some spectacular psych-rock jams and I swear I haven’t wanted to out-and-out headbang so much (devil horns and all) in months, if not years. Pontiak seem to have perfected the pacing and tension-building within each of their songs, laying down heavy grooves and building upon them with purposeful and relentless momentum, looking towards the big payoff riffing bridge. Scale-riding guitars riffs emerged as if giant Babylonian towers that spiral skyward being approached in a thick fog. Details slowly coming into focus from the fuzzy din of feedback, burnt-out guitar wails and bass, punctuated by explosive, occasionally syncopated, and always lenghtily-phrased fits of percussion.

The final product is impressive and inspirational.

Adding to the energy were the stellar, anthemic stoner vocals growing from listless strains to battle cries. The other, crucial and refreshing talent of Pontiak seems to lie in their ability to create heavy rock without resorting to the blatant chugging and growling most use to signify it is, in fact, time to rock out and get heavy. This is artistry, and they use paint brushes instead of rollers. The set consisted of a number of tracks off their 2007 album Sun on Sun including the fantastic track “White Hands,” and “Shell Skull.” The audience seemed receptive as they got an uproar that led to an almost immediate encore song.

There is little doubt that Arbouretum and Pontiak are a perfect, musical match-in-heaven. Pontiak brings a bit heavier, more aggressive psyched-out jams while Arbouretum spins more subtle psych-laden yarns. This was my first time seeing Arbouretum live and they stray quite far from the sound on their first album Long Live the Well-doer, leaning more towards the psych rock of their second LP Rites of Uncovering. The folk and rootsy aspects of their music take a back seat to full-on rock. Arbouretum’s sound, while unquestionably psych rock, had a more spiritual, ethereal feel compared to Pontiak’s visceral nature. Arbouretum revealed more of their folk-drenched early sound through their vocals. Wye Oak’s Jenn Wasner assisted with vocal duties for a few songs in the set.

Pontiak’s guitar solos tend to soar higher than the rest of the instruments, giving a more overt and raucous feeling of release and freak-out while Arbouretum’s tension tends to be more measured and released more gradually, with guitar solos blended in much more evenly with the rest of the mix and leading to a more grandiose and brilliant end-product that works more as a group and less highlighting the solo. Both approaches are valid and the contrast in feel and approach complemented each other well. Two phenomenally good bands, one of which doesn’t play nearly enough in this, their hometown, to sate my demand.

This show was refreshing as this was one of the first in a long time that a show consisted squarely of rock, no real bells and whistles, no overt and gimmicky fusions, no real performance art to speak of. Just solid, no-nonsense killer rock built on strong instrumentals and clear stylistic focus, resulting in a boat-load of quality songs. I was beginning to think this was a dying breed of artist, what with all the Death Set, Dan Deacon, dance shows I’d been to in recent weeks (obviously great in their own right). Sometimes, a bit of no-frills rock does wonders for your aural palette, and can reinvigorate your love of music.

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One Response to “Arbouretum, Pontiak, Blake e/e/e @ the Talking Head”

  1. Jeff says:

    Definitely no bells and whistles from any of these bands!

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