2010.08.05 - Powerhouse Sound @ The Drake Hotel

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8 août 2010, 17h26m

Thu 5 Aug – Powerhouse Sound

Grumble about the MacArthur grant if you must; there's no denying that Ken Vandermark knows how to end a set. Every time I've seen him, he's put in a solid hour on stage and then come back twenty minutes later to do it again, and a lot of bands could stand to learn from his example. If they'd do one better and consistently go out with the kind of intensity that typically marks the end of his sets, the world would suck a lot less, too.

Anyway, Thursday night saw a ridiculously small crowd assembled in the basement of the Drake to see the Chicago-only version of Powerhouse Sound do their thing. Jeff Parker and Nate McBride got things started with some filtered, ringing strings that sounded like something out of The Conversation... and then the drums elbowed their way into the mix and started to show everybody what the band was really about. Between some early raspiness and a bit of unconvincing dub echo, it took a few songs for things to really get going, but once they had all found their footing, there was some serious thunder up on that stage.

Parker worked particularly well with McBride's bass and Vandermark's tenor, sometimes slinging meaty grooves around with the former and then dancing up an octave or two to intertwine with the sax so closely that the two were almost indistinguishable a couple of times. They made for a really effective stereo pair, even, climbing up towards the same peaks from opposite sides of the stage; not many shows make you quite that aware of the space you're in as a listener. There were moments, though, especially during the group's tribute-romp through Coxsone Dodd's studio sounds, when Parker really should have turned the effects pedals loose instead of constantly wrenching them back under control when they started to get hot. I didn't entirely get what he was aiming for at times like that, but it made me want to fish out that trio record that he did on Atavistic a few years back; I never gave it a proper listen and I'm plenty curious about the guy now.

John Herndon was the other new-to-me presence that night. I've never been much of a Tortoise fan and he tended to ride the cymbals a bit hard early on — these old ears are getting sensitive to harsh crashing, and ripping groove-prayers are more about the toms in any event — but he really got into some of the later pieces, clattering, smacking and thudding up a storm as everybody else was reaching similar heights. He was also part of The Eternals (the band that stole Tim Mulvenna away from The Vandermark 5) at some point, which makes me think that I might have to check them out before long, too.

So... good stuff, and shame on you if you're in Montreal and didn't catch them the following night. They're apparently playing the Newport Festival today, which isn't quite as mind-boggling a scheduling choice as Vandermark made it sound: Dave Douglas is on stage as I type this, and there's a set with marshall allen, Matthew Shipp and Joe Morris later on this afternoon. Here's a new sensation: Rhode Island envy!

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