Live Review: Whartscape 2009 Day 1 (2009.07.10)

Wye Oak @ Whartscape 2009

My Whartscape didn’t start until the third quarter of the evening’s festivities at the BMA. As far as Friday goes, some ludicrous logistical issues had me caught up until nine o’clock when the original plan was to arrive shortly after noon. Here’s a short rundown of what I caught on Friday Night.  Greg also popped in, and was there for a significant portion of the daytime.  All photos are his, and his segments will be in yellow.

The day was gorgeous on the steps of the BMA.  The trappings serene, with hanging greenery framing the walls of the museum behind the performers.

I was very excited to see Black Vatican, but they seemed a bit lost in this setting. Their music didn’t really connect for me.  Their spaced out garage jams felt small, tinny and overprocessed, like bits of metal rattling around a tin can.

Wye Oak however, performed a riveting, ascendant set while being dressed to impress.  They confidently lead off with a brand new track followedby a pair of tracks off The Knot and one from debut If Children showing off their new level of epic layering and big sound.  Keep an eye out for my review of The Knot.  I say without hesitation or reservation that it is easily one of my favorite albums of the past decade.

Air Waves started off a bit unsteady and uneasy, probably due to their rushed and late arrival.  By their second song though, they locked in and really took off.  Lead singer Nicole Shneit’s guitar melodies and vocals lilt through the air like flowers on the wind.  At times in danger of becoming too precious, the unique rawness of Sheit’s speak-sung and breathy vocals keeps things from feeling too sugar-pop and too precocious.

Jana Hunter brought things back down to the ground with her loop-heavy minimal exercises in noise folk.  Without the confines of walls though, her set suffered the similar fate (slightly less so, perhaps) as Black Vatican’s.  Her set felt more meandering than enrapturing.

Blue Leader @ Whartscape 2009Blue Leader: Behind his podium, a guy dressed in blue declared, “…and now I’m going to talk about video games for 15 minutes,” just as I walked into the BMA Auditorium. That trivial statement is going to give you the best summary possible for Blue Leader. He actually stood there in front of his video accompaniment and spoke, rather elegantly at that, on the subject of video games–old ones, and how they related to life and living.

I actually enjoyed Blue Leader more than I ever have before.  His rants about the nature of humanity weaved with threads of video game archetypes never resonated as well as it did Friday night.  His flow also seemed to sync better with his soundtrack better than I’ve seen in previous performances as well.  Still not really my thing, but well executed.

Nate Boyce: Most of the Whartscape crowd exited the room for refreshment upon the opening notes of Nate Boyce’s extended “Plasma Cube.” It was a droney, electro-fed music video, probably meant to entertain the intoxicated or meditating. Nate, reflecting cross-legged in front of the projection, had the right idea; I just don’t think many people noticed.

So Percussion @ Whartscape 2009So Percussion: I’ve spoken about my affinity for complex rhythmic structures before, and seeing as these guys put together beats so compounded that most of us could hardly comprehend was what going on, needless to say, I was impressed.

So Percussion were one of the highlights of the festival for me.  An act more typical of a night at An Die Musik, the quartet of immensely talented percussionists took us through a riveting performance of a Steve Reich piece.  The ebb and flow of various rhythmic lines undulating like a sea of snakes, individuals gradually poking their heads and rising above the writhing mass.  The stark visual was also perfect, the 4 performers standing in a straight line perpendicular to the audience, letting everyone see head-on the timed precision of their movements (one of the most fascinating things about a drumline).

Dan Higgs: I’m no Higgsian expert, but I know he’s been doing music for quite some time now. His wise-old beard alone will tell you that much. Friday night, however, he performed sans instrument. He had a series of rants prepared, sung in gospel-folk bursts; expressing stories, thoughts, observations. All of this at whatever pace he chose.

Daniel A.I.U. Higgs @ Whartscape 2009I’m used to Dan Higgs in the context of the world-weary wordsmith of Lungfish.  I have only seen him perform one solo set before.  He was nothing short of a force of nature.  He spoke-sung verses with such authority and cadence that it seemed he was channeling some millenia-old primitive folk-tongues.  Stories underlying the root of humanity.  Far removed from his recent musical adventures into hypnotic noise experiments, this was a legendary storyteller, sitting us all down and speaking of journeys and philosophies and the madness of reality.  As he spoke, he rocked and gesticulated, tapping his foot and weaving his head with eyes closed, and in his body you could almost see the music in his mind commanding him to speak and move.  An eloquent, brave, and commanding performance.  Certainly a highlight of the fest.

Mason Ross: At this point of the show, I left temporarily. Fortunately, I returned in time to catch the unlisted Mason Ross delivering the night’s most riotous moments, one right after another. He walked on as a drunk-and-still-drinking college professor, lamenting mankind’s inevitable doom. Hilarious stuff, really. Exponential growth, overpopulation, evolution, biology, technology, biotechnology, robots taking over human civilization, etc. You get the idea.

Fantastic delivery, but the sheepishly agreeable crowd that giddily acquiesced and head-nodded to all the doomsaying was irritating to me.  I guess I just fundamentally disagree with the school of thought underlying the philosophy of the bit.  Still…Mason is no doubt the best drunken professor ever.

Peter Glantz: Pete’s video, while entrancing in it’s own right, was just about chock full of secondhand drug-inspired imagery one might find on a poster from Woodstock. He included trippy drawings from the made-up forest of enchanted creatures alongside music that, to my surprise, was dumbfoundingly unpredictable. It was catchy and fully watchable, yet still completely familiar. I learned afterwards that “No More Forever” is almost certainly an anti-war piece, being that the title of the video on YouTube incorporates the phrase “The USA is a Monster.” The name of the band that performs the song.Take that whichever way you like.

Olaf Breuning: “First” never exactly let on what it was trying to do, but I think everyone will agree that it sure as hell did it. Olaf’s film spun tales about the times when he was really happy, all of which turned out to be scenes from popular movies. I still don’t know how I should have reacted.

Celebration @ Whartscape 2009Celebration: A Baltimore institution that plays so infrequently now that I am having serious withdrawal symptoms. Their set was further evidence why those feelings are validated. Celebration whipped through a fantastic set, balanced with old and new (Electric Tarot) material. Soul lovers will be happy to hear that their newest material drinks deeply from this well of inspiration, supple grooves, sweet croons and lush tones abound.

Related posts

  1. Live Review: Whartscape 2009 Day 2 (2009.07.11)Walking into the MICA North Ave. parking lot was like...
  2. Live Review: Whartscape 2009 Day 3 (2009.07.12)Photo credit: Flickr user Dorret Hunting for safety from the...
  3. Live Audio: Sick Weapons @ Whartscape 2009 Day 2 (2009.07.11)Photo credit: Dorret Sick Weapons Whartscape MICA Parking Lot (North...
  4. Live Audio: Pleasant Livers @ Whartscape 2009 (2009.07.11)Pleasant Livers Whartscape MICA Parking Lot (North Ave) Baltimore, MD...
  5. Live Audio: Leprechaun Catering @ Whartscape 2009 Day 3 (2009.07.12)Leprechaun Catering Whartscape MICA Parking Lot (North Ave) Baltimore, MD...

3 Responses to “Live Review: Whartscape 2009 Day 1 (2009.07.10)”

  1. dina says:

    fyi, Mason Ross was performing the play At the End of Infinite Rope by Benjamin O’Brien.

  2. Josh says:

    The USA is a Monster is a band.

Leave a Reply