Wednesday, May 5, 2010
Post-rock night in Tucson
Last night we went to see a post-rock twin bill, Balmorhea (from Austin, Texas) opening for Mono (from Tokyo) at the local club Plush. In general I feel fortunate to find local concerts from groups I admire, and unfortunately last night there was a serious conflict. The Solar Culture Gallery had the drone rock group Growing, which I'm sure would have been great. But we picked the post-rockers, for which we have no regrets whatsoever.
Actually, it's almost a misnomer to call Balmorhea "post-rock," brought about in this case by their concert association with emblematic Japanese tour partners. Balmorhea's instrumentation, especially on their studio recordings, is nearly all acoustic, and their music would fit more comfortably with post-classic musicians like Max Richter or Nils Frahm (recent European tourmate). The two head men, Rob Lowe and Mike Muller, played acoustic and electric guitars, keyboards, banjo, percussion, with a three-piece string section (violin, cello, bass) and a drummer. I'm not familiar with enough of their music to say what they played, but the set was quite varied, from quiet acoustic fingerpicking to energetic, minimalist music with a strong rock beat. The strings provided a great set of drones, with the violinist arpeggiating the high overtones. There were still seats at the back of the bar when we arrived. But as the floor filled up our view was occasionally and variably blocked, so I'm not entirely sure what everyone was doing at any particular moment. We had a beer with Muller for a bit during the break between sets and talked about a wide range of topics, and of course I picked up their latest CD.
Mono, pictured above, took the stage with little fanfare or announcement, progressing from tentative melodies to a full onslaught of sound, immersiv, ecstatic, loud. We abandoned our seats back by the bar and came forward to the stage. The two guitarists sat on stools, so the only one moving was Tamaki, the slender bass player who eyed the audience deadpan, swaying gently with the music and in complete contrast to her increasingly frenzied partners. There were no vocal microphones on stage at all. The two guitarists had banks of foot pedals, set on a board in rows. The pieces seemed long, slowly building up tension and volume, layering melodies on top of shifting harmonic drones. When I thought that they had reached a maximum, they kept going deeper and louder, making them nearly cathartic. One of the pieces climaxed with one guitar in squalls of feedback, finally setting the guitar on the stage and manipulating the foot pedals manually. I have several Mono albums, but it's exhilarating to hear them at the proper volume.
Since this was our first visit to Plush, let me mention a quick endorsement for the club. Sometimes rock shows can be found in real dives, but Plush was classy, with a well-stocked bar, a couple of patios, and good parking. Mono was touring with Pelican the night we arrived in Tucson, nearly four years ago. I missed them that night, so I also get a certain symbolic grounding from last night's tremendous show. Now if only my ears would stop ringing….