Live Reviews

Live-GaryHoey-webTHE JAMES MONTGOMERY BAND with BARRY GOUDREAU/ 

GARY HOEY

Rock-N-Blues Guitar Summit

The Larcom Theatre, 

Beverly MA           

3/15/14

This North Shore venue is an old movie theater and has a great sound system; I always enjoy seeing a show at the cool club and tonight is no exception. A good description of Gary Hoey, solo for tonight only, is “one man, one acoustic guitar, and 20 guitar pedals.” This Lowell legend CAN PLAY. His set contains a nice mix of covers from his new CD Deja Blue including “Born Under a Bad Sign,” “Bootmill Blues,” a great version of “All Along the Watchtower,” “Ohio,” and even Elmore’s “It Hurts Me Too” on dobro. His original song “Illinois Strong,” also done on dobro with a slide, is killer too. Note for note, Gary’s  is much more Jimi then Eric; even without the many effects he incorporates during his set. Basically, he uses a pre-recorded rhythm and second guitar part and just plays over it magnificently. There are A LOT of notes and sounds coming from the stage. Every few minutes Hoey bends over to turn on or turn off one of the many effects he uses masterfully too; so there is much movement going on as he plays. Standing up with the acoustic strapped around his shoulder Gary talks to the crowd and introduces all of the songs with a short story. Everyone just loves the verbal interaction and his SCHTICK accompanying the virtuosity too. Did I mention that this cat PLAYS?

James Montgomery is the classic showman. His great band, including guitarist extraordinaire George McCann and bassist David Hull (Farrenheit/ Aerosmith/ The Joe Perry Project), starts the set with a rollicking instrumental before Hull announces the legendary blues harp player. As James walks onstage, and the music accompanies his entrance, he looks out at the screaming crowd with bemusement. Then with his hands at his side, he signals “come on” by wiggling the fingers of both hands now close to his waist: and the crowd goes nuts. I really dig when they ZZ Topp Muddy Water’s “The Same Thing” mid-song with guest guitarist Barry Goudreau from the band Boston adding his screaming leads to the mix. During “Crossroads,” “Goin’ Down,” and “Red House,” Gary Hoey steps up and a few times all three guitarists stand stage right together and duel away. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen onstage in a long time and during one of these moments I smirk when I realize: the name of tonight’s show, Guitar Summit, is both apt and understated. Other toxic tunes featuring James’ hot harp include “Delta” from the band’s latest release From Detroit to The Delta, Bo Diddley’s “Who Do You Love?,” and the best encore I’ve heard in a long time, a rocking R&B version of Chuck Berry’s “You Never Can Tell (C’est La Vie).” A great night with a great band at a great venue. They don’t have shows like this in North Dakota, folks.   (A.J. Wachtel)

LORI McKENNA & MARK ERELLI/ 

DIETRICH STRAUSE 

me&thee coffeehouse, 

Marblehead MA  

2/28/14

Some fans find their favorite performers to follow—I’ve found me&thee, with the best-booked talent to further educate me in the wide world of folk/acoustic music. The place is jam-packed and buzzing tonight—the most people I’ve ever seen in the place. Phillip Murphy’s evil twin brother supplies the “We Got You Covered” rap that informs us of the fire exits and then it’s showtime—Dietrich Strause is introduced. The young man enters with an old, clean-sounding acoustic guitar and goes right into “Song for Alice.” He’s got a gentle but deliberate style with signs of delicate guitar work. His minimal scruffy facial hair gives him a look of a 20-something Ron Howard. Next is the lamenting “In the Well” with its refrain of “Ain’t nothing I said today I wouldn’t say tomorrow.” He’s dressed a black shirt, dark vest, and toned-down tie, but the lack of color isn’t in his songwriting. He’s a fine lyricist that settles into a toned-down performance that could use a little shaking up. Mark Erelli (whose talent once scared Dietrich out of performing at an open mic at the Cantab) joins him on “Annie Dear” from Little Stones to Break the Giant’s Heart and ignites a needed spark that continues to flows into the final song. Before that last song starts, Dietrich quips that Lori McKenna just told him that he wears his guitar like a sports bra. The audience giggles as the more uptempo “Tell Me Mary” lifts them to a new height before he’s headed back to the green room. 

It’s coffee and treat time and… What?! I forgot my wallet!  I cold-turkey the break, sharing good conversation with a big Lori McKenna fan, guitarist Steven Silbert. When I get back to my seat, without mentioning my forgotten wallet, the nice woman sitting next to me insists that I take part of her streudel and hot cider. Was my cold-turkey state that obvious? 

Lori McKenna comes out and the un-billed Mark Erelli is with her. Lucky for us, his gig in Kansas for tonight was cancelled due to snow. “You Ain’t Worth” wakes up the audience with its biting lyrics of what someone isn’t worth. The vocal harmonies are tight and the musicianship earthy and sharp. Lori’s girlish black dress, with curly white patterned short sleeves, and black leggings gives her a regular townie-mom feel. She tells a lengthy funny story of how she wrote the next song based on words from a TV show. The song, “My Love Follows You Wherever You Go,” came out well enough for multi-Grammy winner Alison Krauss to record it. And the disc it went on reached Billboard’s Country Albums #1 spot. Lori never feels guilty about watching bad TV anymore. A strange looking wooden box sits on a stool center stage and during “How Romantic is That” Mark pulls a door on the box and it breathes a sustained accordion chord sound—but the box crashes to to floor mid song, only adding to the fun between the two players. Lori’s song writing group in Nashville, The Love Junkies, drink when they get together and managed to write “When I Die I Don’t Want to go Sober”—Mark, with his consistent serious player face, embellishes it with slide guitar. They play “Shake,” the first song destined for Lori’s new CD Massachusettsis about the inability to shake one’s from you. Lori’s a mom five times over and finds herself in mom situations that you wouldn’t think would bring out songs, like dropping the kids off at school and getting stuck at a 4.5 minute stop light in Stoughton center. That’s how “If I Could Buy This Town” was born. She explains why she doesn’t write happy songs—it’s because her voice does not lend itself to happy. She shows by example, playing Cindy Lauper’s “Girls Just Want to Have Fun”—her lilting voice colors the joyful lyrics sad. At the end of the show, the audience explodes with thunderous applause insisting on an encore that brings Lori, Mark and Dietrich (on trumpet) back to end with Tom Petty’s “Room at the Top.” A lot of people visited that room at the top of the world tonight.       (T Max)

KBMG 

Jalapeno’s, 

Gloucester MA  

3/18/14

I’m drawn into the back room of the Mexican restaurant Jalapeno’s on a Tuesday evening by the rousing guitar-driven voice of local singer-songwriter Dan King. He’s belting out his own  folky-bluesy “Blue Sky Sundown,” the title track of his group KBMG’s newest album. I grab an empty seat at a table among the folks I see there almost every week—young families with kids, older couples, groups of singles, women who knit while they visit, friends, and even parents, of the musicians—and let the rollicking feel-good evening unfold. If it weren’t for the huge margaritas and the plates of nachos on the tables, I may as well be in a pub in an Irish village for all the relaxed and welcoming atmosphere.  

Singer Dan King on lead guitar, with his long-time friends Dave Brown on dobro/slide guitar,  Dave Mattacks on percussion, and Wolf Ginandes on bass guitar, has been offering these evenings of genuine American roots music at the downtown Main Street Gloucester venue for 10 years running. Billed as simply Acoustic Tuesdays with KBMG, the foursome were brought together over a decade ago, according to Ginandes, through “dumb luck,” but there’s intelligence in their set lists and in their combined musicianship.  

As they roll out classic tunes such as Doc Watson’s “Don’t Let That Deal Go Down,’’ Buck Owens’ “Together Again,” Eric Clapton’s “Tupelo Honey,” The Rolling Stones/ Norm Meade’s “Time Is On My Side, ” The Kinks’ “Sunny Afternoon,” friends call out requests, harmonize on the lyrics and clap out the rhythms. No one sits still.  On this night, local favorite singer/songwriter JB Amero is persuaded to sit in to add his rumbling vocals and lead guitar for Willie Nelson’s “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die.” 

During the break, King, Brown, Mattacks, and Ginandes don’t disappear into some private back room; they join their friends for a meal or a drink.  I would never know, from the friendly style of KBMG, that each of these musicians is an accomplished performer in his own right.  Mattacks describes KBMG as “not just four great musicians playing together but a real band with a strong and moving sound.”

King seamlessly manages the evening’s two sets in a way that gives each performer the opportunity to showcase his talent, and he never refuses a fan’s request for a favorite.  The band makes time to don silly Mexican hats, surround the table of a young woman and her friends, and serenade her with a rousing salsa-flavored “Happy Birthday.” The only thing lacking at the end of the evening (7-9 PM.  No cover.) is “just one more” crowd-pleasing tune from KBMG. But that’s what next Tuesday is for. 

    (Lois McNulty)

WHAT TIME IS IT, MR FOX?

Old Sloop Coffeehouse, 
Rockport MA   

3/8/14

I get to the Old Sloop and the fresh blueberry pie is already out. I usually wait ’til intermission, but I’m afraid they might sell out of these beautiful- looking specimens. 

Mark Woodbury takes the stage to let us know that What Time Is It Mr. Fox was their first act of 2009 and they sold out the show. The seven-piece band enters—they have an acoustic guitar, violin/trumpet, upright bass, two keyboards, drums, and backup vocals. Their look hints of steam- punk, but it’s more like a touring folk/cabaret with outstanding songs. They start off bouncy with “Decoder Ring” and one of their catchiest funky and soulful tunes “Humpty Dumpty Girl.” Leader of the show, Brian King, has this wonderful ability to share just enough of his stories to keep you on the edge of your seat listening to every word. He’s funny, interesting, friendly, and knowledgeable—a very likable person. He throws in a song (“Fiddler’s Change”) he wrote earlier this week, accompanying himself on the piano (he’s on acoustic guitar more often), sounding like he’s performed it 100 times already.  Nathan Cohen’s violin solo festively opens “Fisher King” and transports us to a Russian opera. Then the background gals, The Furies, Shana Cahill and Elizabeth Bean, blow up balloons to give the audience something to keep in the air while the band plays “Helium.” Not that we need a distraction—there’s plenty to look at on the stage. Top hats/ bowlers are the norm and Brian always dazzles us with his wonderful foot- ware collection. He can play a guitar so gently while keeping it effective—harder than it seems, but that’s how he handles “Cold Rain,” and I can almost hear Otis Redding singing this one. They end the set with a cover—and I have to say their own material flies higher than when they’re doing other people’s tunes. It’s intermission time, so since I already snacked, I make it a point to talk to the prettiest gal there.

Back to my seat and the band enters the stage traipsing down the center isle with “Little Bit of Blue,” incorporating French background lyrics, while Brian gets soulful. “Deep Waters” ends with Mike Leggio’s deepest bowed note from his upright bass. The explanation and execution of the next song is one of the night’s highlights—”Ladies Tree” is about Joan of Arc being condemned. The piece, if expanded upon, could easily become a rock opera on her life. Drummer Dennis Monagle bounces rhumba style in “Scribble.”  The potent lyrics in “Gospel of Beauty” reminds who it was written about: “you almost killed me, and I won’t forget the price I had to pay.” Brian announces the final song and the audience sighs. Then he jokes with an impersonation of Edith from Downton Abbey. The laughing audience eventually ends up singing the chorus of “Spy in the House of Love.” The people refuses to let Mr. Fox leave the house, and a double encore follows with “Angel From Montgomery” and Lori Perkins’ tapping the familiar piano riffs of “Feelin’ Alright.” Quite a night at the Old Sloop.                     (T Max)

COMANCHERO/
GRADE “A” FANCY     

Toad, 

Cambridge MA   

2/22/14

Some nights everything is in sync. I’m not sure if it’s because the planets are aligned in such a way or if it’s just part of some omniscient being’s grander plan, but tonight was one of those nights.  My brother and I arrive just in time at Toad, (which incidentally never charges a cover, which also made us quite happy) to see Grade “A” Fancy display some stellar roots and country music. The band is twanging away and the crowd is hooting and hollering along with them and with an ice-cold beer in my hand, I just sit back and smile and take it all in. Grade “A” Fancy with their boot-stomping honky-tonk blues are the perfect recipe for a good time.

Comanchero takes the stage next and brings the night to a new level. The musicianship is stellar. Andrew Kramer on mandolin/ bass and vocalist Sam Margolis light up the stage.  They also aren’t afraid of trying new things as well. Greg Moon uses an inverted kick-drum pedal on his modified drum set, that turns his floor tom into a bass drum that sounds nasty good. The lads in Comanchero are exactly what the doctor ordered.  Their music is one part roadhouse jam, one part backyard barbecue, with a just the kick of a shot of single-barrel bourbon. They close with a cover of Cake’s “Mexico.”  What an amazing night at Toad.             (Kier Byrnes)

CARTER ALAN

Tatnuck Booksellers Cafe, 

Westborough MA   

2/23/14

Carter Alan has a hit book on his hands. In the past six months since its release, Radio Free Boston: The Rise & Fall of WBCN, is now in its sixth printing, having sold over 10,000 copies. And in each public appearance and book signing, the legion of fans continues to grow. The scenario is simple: the current WZLX DJ/program director chats informally about the four-decade history of WBCN, reads several intriguing selections from the book, mostly focusing on the storied early years, and then answers questions from the audience. But today, real magic happens because he is joined by his two former radio buddies, the legendary Ken Shelton and Mark Parenteau. The room is packed with over one hundred people, and the stories, the humor, the rapport, and the memories pour forth in a shower of anecdotes, commentary, in-jokes, and witty banter. The room is ebullient with applause, cheering, and whistling. And just when the fun is cresting—in typical ’BCN fashion—Mark decides to call up the renowned and retired Charles Laquidara (in Hawaii) for a chat, which enchants the crowd. The two hour session disappears in a flash and the audience lines up to take pics, purchase, and get autographs for their book. Within minutes, the store’s entire stock is SOLD OUT. Well done, gents—keep it up and please do it again!              (Harry C. Tuniese)

PREACHER JACK

Atwood’s, 

Cambridge MA    

3/16/14

This is the Preacher’s first gig at Atwood’s and he gives the appreciative crowd everything they came to hear: boogie-woogie, gospel, R&B, and early rock ’n’ roll.  Jerry Lee Lewis is covered with “Whole Lotta Shaking,” “Crazy Arms,” and “All By Myself.” Boogie-woogie tunes by Albert Ammons and even a great version of the classic “Down By the Riverside” keep the crowd dancing and singing along. One after another, a single set for an hour and a half, we hear a bunch of Hank Williams including “Hey Good Lookin’ ,” Fats Domino’s “Blueberry Hill,” and tons of stuff by Elvis including “Mystery Train” and “One Night With You.” I really dig Bob Dylan’s “She Belongs to Me.” New England’s unique local legend keeps getting better and better; and I am positive the woman sitting at the bar swaying to his music with her eyes closed is loving every minute of his set. So am I. Join the crowd.      (A.J. Wachtel)

SETH GLIER/ 
KAYLA RINGELHEIM

me&thee coffeehouse, 

Marblehead MA   

2/21/14

Okay, they’re starting to joke about me living at me&thee. What can I say? I like the place—maybe because of the vibe of all the wonderful musicians who have played here over the last 44 years. Plus the current talent is always 100 percent. Tonight I’ve come to see Kayla Ringelheim since I share this stage with her at the last Beatles Benefit night. Kayle is a pretty gal with a gentle way of performing at her Yamaha keyboard. After “It’s Time We Let Go” she says the only other reason she’d travel to Marblehead is to visit her favorite dentist (she’s from Providence, RI). She sings “Smiles and Polaroids” about a guy she met, continuing her sweet, calm approach to performance that allows me to follow the visuals of her brown ringlets falling on her dark open sweater, over her muted color/small-pattern print dress, with black leggings, and tall earthy brown boots. She’s child-like in her version of James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James.” Not even titled yet, a song about suffering pain from a distance, repeats, “We are stray dogs/ our love only goes so far.” She ends with “Magic,” and hers is soft magic… different than a lot of other performers.

The youthful and energetic Seth Glier from Shelburne Falls, MA, graces the stage next with his sideman, Joe Nerney. The two contrast each other; where Seth has this antsy energy, Joe is firm, like a rock. Seth has the hair gel going, a cranberry velvet jacket and jeans—Joe has a vintage black tuxedo and red shades (he’s blind). Seth plays a Martin acoustic guitar, Yamaha keys, and sings, Joe’s on the keys, saxophone, harmonica, and backup vocals. When it comes to the music, the two complement each other. Another cool thing Seth makes use of is a floor effect that lets him pound out the sound of a bass drum. Before he plays “Our Song” he explains how hard it is to write a song about his girlfriend, because they haven’t broken up yet. But he does quite a job with a normal, active relationship. Next he stomps out a beat and without music sings “Darkest of Skies” about slavery. Seth and Joe just came from a singer/songwriters cruise ship and Joe got to play harmonica with Kris Kristofferson. Seth dedicates the next song, “The Man I Used to Be” from his 2013 CD Things I Should Let You Know, to his miniature pot-bellied pig, Pork Chop. You see, earlier in the day they stopped at a Starbuck drive-up window and when they went to pay Pork Chop set his head on the sill—the Starbucks employee turned around and froze in shock—in exchange for the surprise, the coffees were on the house. They’re hoping it will work again at Wendy’s. Seth leads Joe down into the center isle between the pews and performs “Love Is a Language We Hold Onto” with his acoustic, Joe on harmonica, and the heavy foot rhythm grows louder when Seth positions himself over the heating grate to add a bit of pounding metallic high-end. Back on the stage they get the audience singing background “woos” in a song about a girlfriend that was a body builder. Ani DiFranco once gave Seth advice—“It’s your duty to write the songs that need to be sung” and Seth follows through with “Plastic Soldiers” that questions what we create with war. After “Walk Katie Home” from his 2010 CD The Next Right Thing the audience quickly rises to their feet in hopes of bringing the duo back for one more. They succeed and Seth goes into “Wild Horses” and something happens that I love—outside an emergency car horn goes off that screws around with the rhythm of the song, and instead of ignoring it, Seth plays with it in the song. The guy thinks on his feet. It’s a show worth your money.                  (T Max)

HOT TAMALE BRASS BAND  

Northeastern University, 

Boston MA 

2/25/14

Fun is an often overlooked quality in modern bands but not so with The Hot Tamale Brass Band. Their down home New Orleans vibe is perfect for the Mardi Gras party that Northeastern has put together tonight.  There are all sorts of contests and beaded decorations, as you’d expect with a Mardi Gras celebration, but what’s got my attention is the slick trumpet playing from the brass band that echoes through the whole room over the laughing, screaming, and generally enthusiastic co-eds. The trombone of John Ferry and the tuba of Josiah Reibstein are flawless and take the celebration to another level. New Orleans here we come.    (Kier Byrnes)

FIVE O’CLOCK SHADOW/ 

LUMINESCENCE

me & thee coffeehouse, 

Marblehead MA  

2/14/14 

It’s a cappella night at me & thee on Valentine’s day and the crowd is humming with anticipation. Phillip Murphy dims the house lights and rolls into his fire exit hiku. Then it’s 13 girls from Marblehead High School who make up the award-winning Luminescence. They’re neatly dressed in black tops and jeans and start with “Someone Else’s Sugar,” displaying about five vocal parts and fun choreography—no microphones for these gals. In honor of Valentine’s Day they include “Make You Feel Love” by Adele… or Bob Dylan, making sure they connect to two different generations in attendance. The members are in all shapes and sizes and everyone exudes a breath of confidence. I swear they have some kind of digital snare drum track keeping time, but it’s one of the gals voicing it.  Without any mics, the only part that could use a boost is the lead vocalist in each song. They display a hip attitude in “Miss Independence” with dance poses and an ending where the pitch slurs down as all their heads drop like the electric plug has been pulled. A very fun lively presentation.

Five O’Clock Shadow jumps up on stage before the tradition coffee break—making sure to keep all the parents of the high school gals in their seats—and the plan is successful. These six guys work like an older “boy band” with each guy showing off their talents and keeping a constant volley going with the audience. Unlike Luminescence, all six members have their own microphone, so you don’t miss a thing. They’re dressed casual to hip depending on their personality and they get things rolling with “Hip to be Square.” These guys make use of digital effects on voices, so when one mimics a guitar solo—it takes on a different tonal flavor. They take on the hard driving “Without Love” by the Doobie Brothers and the lack of instruments zero difference—and it includes is a fake harmonica solo. Scott is the main drummer or “spitter” as I have picked up the a cappella lingo. Judd handles the bass and wow—what a deep bass it is—I later visit the soundboard to see he’s getting a little lower octave enhancement. Gary is a new guy from New York—he wears cool two-tone vest, rivaling Kalib for the good looking leader position. “God Talking in a Grocery Store” is fun with the guys walk in a circle while they mime picking items off the shelf to drop in their cart. “Oren” is another character who gets into his dance moves wit the twist of his head. Another new guy, Dan, joins them for their second set. The guys let us join in on the fun, teaching sections of the audience to do separate vocal parts on “Tainted Love.” My favorite part of the night is when the boys put their mics down, and have bass-man Judd sing lead on the gentlest number of the night—Mumford & Son’s “I Will Wait.” (T Max)

QUILT/ CREATUROS/ DOUG TUTTLE/ WEYES BLOOD

Great Scott, 

Allston MA   

3/11/14

Upon entering Great Scott on Saturday night I find Quilt guitarist/keyboardist, Anna Fox Rochinski and drummer, John Andrews sitting at the merch table plying their wares. John hustling copies of their fantastic new LP, Held in Splendor, Anna hand stitching band tee shirts. Neither artist hints at the musical force that will hit the stage in just a coupe of hours.

Opening act, Weyes Blood starts the night off on a strange and not altogether pleasant note. A woman, her guitar, and a tape player. In some cases this might be a winning mix—unfortunately this is not one of those cases. Natalie Mering pulls her hair over her face, strums her guitar, and pops loops and background noise in and out of her tape deck. It’s an uncomfortable performance by a woman with a stunning voice. Mering’s vocals lie somewhere between Joan Baez and Sandy Denny and evoke haunting sixties-era folk. What’s unfortunate is that her performance is better suited to the coffeehouse environment of Club Passim than the rock-club stage of Great Scott.

I’ve been watching Doug Tuttle evolve over the last couple of years with his former band MMOSS. It was a pleasure to hear his first solo album, and a treat to see him open this show. His brand of Piper at the Gates of Dawn-era Pink Floyd-inspired psych-pop is incredibly refreshing. He and his bandmates all look the role of Summer of Love hippies—Doug with his single-length strings of brown hair and his bass player, looking like a strange combination of Davey Jones and Michael Nesmith.

The only unfortunate part of Tuttle’s set is the fact that the gorgeous on-record harmonies don’t translate in the same way. Slightly thin and off-key, they lose their poignancy in the live environment.

The surprise of the night is Creaturos—a Boston-based garage-rock group that haven’t heard of before tonight. They play a frenetic combination of early-Hives-style garage rock crossed with Damaged-era Black Flag. I would never have guessed that such a combination would ever exist, let alone guess that it might be as smile-inspiring as this. They bring a sloppy, angry energy to the night that juxtaposes nicely with the otherwise hippie-dippy vibe of the night. It’s a bit like having The Stooges open for The Byrds. At first glance the combination seems at odds but in practice they vibe nicely agains one another.

Quilt’s mix of sixties British folk and middle eastern rhythms evokes a dark psychedelia when committed to record. It’s refreshing to see the joy on the band’s faces and the positive chemistry between band members. This foursome clearly enjoys themselves onstage. Instead of the gloomy, over serious demeanor of many proto-psychedelic bands, the members of Quilt are completely at ease — goofing amongst themselves and with the audience.

The four-way vocals translate beautifully to the stage. Each player, including drummer, John Andrews, adding their part to the mix — sometimes the results sound like Hurdy-Gurdy Man Donovan, other times like Christina McVee Fleetwood Mac, and yet other times like Slick/Balin Jefferson Airplane.

Each player attacks their onstage role but it’s clearly Anna that rules the day. In her dark/sexy pixie persona, she transitions seamlessly between keyboard and guitar, swaps lead guitar licks with Shane Butler, and banters skillfully with the audience.

Anytime a band can make the notoriously atrocious Great Scott sound system sound like a multi-million dollar studio you know that you are in the presence of true talent. Somehow Quilt make the dingy club sound like symphony hall—perfectly tuned instruments, pitch-perfect harmonies.    (George Dow)

FROM HERE TO EAR (65 ZEBRA FINCHES)

Célests Boursier-Mougennot (creator), 

Peabody/Essex Museum, 

Salem MA 

2/25/14

This isn’t your typical live review. I went to the PEM on this chilly winter day with photographer Ray Dollard specifically to see an installation I heard about with birds and guitars. The title of the show could have been a little more revealing—in that I couldn’t connect it to a bird and guitar show. So, Ray and I enter the museum and take the elevator to the third floor. We pass through multi hanging chains covering the doorway and enter a light beige room with cute little grey and white birds with bright orange beaks. These Zebra Finches fly around the room and land on horizontally placed white Gibson Les Paul “Studio Electrics” guitars. I count 14  of them, but then realize four of them are black Gibson Thunderbird IV basses. Each guitar and bass is hooked to it’s own amp (Fender Mustang IIIs for the guitars and Roland Cube 60XLs for the basses). Each amp has it’s own setting too—with digital effect on board—the one I inspected was set for pitch shift, tape delay, and large hall reverb. While on the instruments the Finches small movements or a beak tapping triggers the strings to ring, sometimes like a power chord if enough strings are hit on a rough take off or landing. The results is an ambient sound-setting that changes randomly combined with the visual streaking of a bird past your head or nibbling on your shoelace. The birds seem comfortable in this atrium as only 20 people are allowed in at a time—and it’s a pretty large room. The birds also have three bunches of little straw-like condos to hide in if they wish. Oh—and there are seven Zildjian cymbals on the ground, upside down, holding bird seed. Ray suggested bringing in woodpeckers if they really wanted to create a racket and increase the bird/instrument interaction. Woodpeckers would be like Pete Townsend beating the guitars to heck. The Zebra Finches continue their residency ’til April 13, if you’d like to experience music that a member of the Captive Animal’s Protection Society may think is “for the birds.”  (T Max)

 

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