Photos / Live Review: White Magic, Daniel Higgs, Zomes @ the Creative Alliance (2009.09.04)

Dan Higgs @ the Creative Alliance Dan Higgs @ the Creative Alliance Dan Higgs @ the Creative Alliance Dan Higgs @ the Creative Alliance Dan Higgs @ the Creative Alliance Dan Higgs @ the Creative Alliance White Magic @ the Creative Alliance White Magic @ the Creative Alliance White Magic @ the Creative Alliance White Magic @ the Creative Alliance White Magic @ the Creative Alliance White Magic @ the Creative Alliance

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01. MP3: Zomes – Clear Shapes from Zomes (2008)
02. MP3: Daniel Higgs – Living In The Kingdom of Death from Ancestral Songs (2006)

Creative Alliance billed an interesting line-up Friday night: two veritable forces of nature, followed by one group desperate to tap into that same well of inspiration, but still standing on the outside.

Daniel Higgs and Asa Osborne come from the same musical lineage, both working together in Baltimore-grown journeyman-punk band Lungfish. I have always assumed Lungfish were the equivalent of musical monks, on a mission searching for some deep, dark, ancient secret of the universe through their music. Music that possessed a mystical aura and was complemented by appropriately cryptic lyrics, their live shows were filled with a phenomenal vitality. The quest for enlightenment seemed to be pushing Higgs near the raging and maddening edge. I like to think that it was because his frail mortal vessel was attempting to contain and process the otherworldly messages and thoughts he was experiencing. Likewise, Osborne’s steady and scorching, often repetitive guitars in Lungfish were nearly exploding with anthemic melodies. The feeling was that both men were communicating something primal and universal, but they were often incapable of fully controlling how it came out. As their solo careers have progressed, I would say they have figured out how to control and communicate the voice of their respective muses.

It seems that both Higgs and Osborne have emerged with a mastery over a different aspect of the universe, hearing it and communicating it to an audience in all its glory and nuance. Osborne’s Zomes project expresses universal, organic melodies and harmonic progressions. Technically simple, powerfully evocative. Hypnotic tape loops and remarkably warm synth chords. The root of the project’s name is zome, a term for buildings constructed using non-rectangular geometries. He is true to etymology in the sense that his compositions are certainly super-structures built from a variety of different sounds beyond the standard bricks and mortar found in your average rock band instrumentation. Iterating units layer on top of each other in myriad ways, forming musical superstructures both longtiduinally and concurrently. Bathed in a deep green hue on stage, Osborne sat eyes closed, playing his synth melodies as if taking musical dictation from an incorporeal being, stopping only to bow graciously between each song before setting the next tape loop. Watching this, hearing this, you were enraptured by a sense of serenity. The result of his performance was transcendent in a very real, non-new agey way. A lucid hypnosis where you almost felt ascended to another plane of consciousness, where you heard the whispering music of the universe much like Osborne does.

Contrast this with Daniel Higgs, who presents a very different visual. Not unlike a preacher from a pulpit, Higgs delivers his labyrinthine lyrics and stripped-bare music with alternating fervor and humor.  Sitting in a chair shrouded in shadows cast by overhead lights, edges of his thick beard fringed with light blue illumination.  He alternates soundtracking his poetic ramble with a squeeze box and his characteristic long-necked banjo, compared to the last time I saw him at Whartscape performing a capella.  Distinct from his days in Lungfish, he is finally an effective channel for the lyrics in his mind, the words of some philosophical, universal voice. He delivers his delirious dispatches with a unique and intimate humor, interacting much more with the audience as the years go by. This sets the stage, and allows him freedom to seed listener’s minds with messages like “hoofprints on the ceiling of your mind.”  In another, less comfortable voice and approach, these messages might be dismissed as psychoses, the disturbed ravings of a madman. But couched in Higgs’ calm yet fervent, gregarious demeanor, you hear these words and think, and like great, incomprehensible tragedies, you can only chuckle under your breath, at the absurdity of having the veil lifted on a universal truism.

Period robed with accoutrements that rang almost medieval, Mira Billotte (lead singer of headliners White Magic, artist of the closing art installation) certainly dressed the part of some sort of gaian/wiccan mage or maiden.  It rang a bit hollow though, as her drummer and guitarist both failed to uphold such an involved aesthetic.   Certainly not without their moments, White Magic do hit strides.  One particularly grand song approached a lounging Americana (“Childhood Song” I believe).  Billotte’s vocals were appropriately lofty, but not truly soaring.  But with openers like Dan Higgs and Zomes, it’s hard to compete. White Magic’s experiments with looping elements felt much less successful and organic than those from the openers.  Perhaps with time, like Higgs and Osborne, they will ascend the ranks and become an effective vessel for the musical messages they so desperately seek. But for now, more often than not, Billotte and White Magic seem a group of gifted mortals, still on their journey in search of how to be a force of nature.

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