Saturday, July 26, 2008

Toiling Midgets, 7/25/08, Bottom of the Hill, SF

Despite being very tired on a Friday evening, I managed to drag my ass over to SF from Oakland to catch the reunited Toiling Midgets at the Bottom of the Hill.
The two opening bands, Vir and Index of Clouds, played atmospheric, droney music. Vir was better when the singer stopped singing and played his reverb, chorus, and echo slathered guitar. Index of Clouds reminded me a lot of Painless Nights era Sleepers, minus vocals. Both bands played ambitious, long songs; this can sometimes feel a bit boring in a live setting, so I drifted in and out of appreciation.
The Midgets set seemed pretty ramshackle at times, and Craig looked to be going through some serious tech problems with his pedals. When they did hit their classic interlocked Hood and Gray guitar lines, though, it was glorious. I can't think of band that uses guitars as ethereal voices so well. For me, Toiling Midgets conjure up one of the best soundtracks for San Francisco's weirdly opaque environment. I guess they're not really a functioning band that rehearses a lot, so I chose forgive the occasional lapses and hold out for their shining moments, of which there were several. Their music pretty much requires this from a listener. They're not going to solicit for approval, so one has to take the music in on it's own terms. I bet they make their best music when no one else is around. I don't hold that against them. I woke up this morning with that sound still careening around in my head. The music had it's intended effect. I hold them in high regard.


Michael said...

Did they have any vocals? Did Craig still have long hair? Did you note any Mick Ronson gtr licks/quotes? I'm totally jealous.

Disaster Amnesiac said...

Yeah, Craig's hair is a shag, not as long as early 1990's but still pretty long and red. Ronson's stuff seems like such an integral part of their sound, heard some for sure. At one point I swear there were almost Glenn Branca-like voices going on. You know that song Cracked Actor, Michael? I swear, it seems to me that in a way the entire TM guitar template is contained therein, during the first four bars. Oh, yeah, the only vocals were snarky comments from Nozmo. My pal Matt C. actually tried to talk to Craig after the show, and all C said was "I don't wanna talk about it." At one point I feared he was going to smash the guitar up or kick out with one of his boots into the front row. He was bummin! I asked Paul for a set list, and he gave me one and then stared at me like "ok, now what?" Those guys.....

Harold Philby said...

I was not part of the later 70’s & early 80’s SF music scene as to the punk/art bands but almost 30 years later I have come to learn and see many of those bands. The first of the well known bands I saw was Flipper, but by now I have seen Negative Trend, Toiling Midgets, Contactions, Avengers, Mutants, and others.

I did my homework and by reading and also by receiving some history from some of the musicians from that era I came to know that from the end of Negative Trend came Toiling Midgets and Flipper. That was around 1979 or so. It’s a tribute to the musicians in Negative Trend that Toiling Midgets and Flipper are still with us after almost 30 years.

There was quite a big show at the Fillmore on July 26, 2008 and the crowd looked big to me and Negative Trend returned in an abbreviated form, and the Mutants, Avengers, and Flipper all showed why they have managed to survive the 30 years and continue to have fans.

But less noticed, the night before, at the Bottom of the Hill, the Toiling Midgets toiled through about 14 or 15 songs that managed to leave a bigger impression on me. It seemed that one of the guitarists Craig Gray had some difficulties with an amp or something in the last 10 minutes but after watching the show over and over it would appear he was struggling with equipment for most of the show, unless the knob twisting was accomplishing some other purpose.

Difficulties or not, on the 6th song at the 18:05 mark, Mr. Gray gave a real guitar lesson to all who were paying attention, and the band hit a poignant moment at the 25:05 frame of the 7th song as the guitars/bass/drums came to a halt and Mark on keys plinked out one-finger notes that actually brings tears to my eyes (what a wuss I am).

Craig, and other guitarist Paul Hood, spend much of the time playing with their backs to the audience as per a review of many many clips going back even to the early 80’s, and that style continues to this day. Its their moody, melancholic sound that attracts me, and they manage to evoke a lot of mind meandering for me, and without a lyric. I feel that its almost an intrusion to film them. Is it shyness that causes the back turning? I guess it doesn’t matter, if they are shy, they are still on stage displaying their thoughtful work so then it would mean that they must have a very strong desire for us the hear them….

It was interesting that the Toiling Midgets would be playing in SF again, and then Negative Trend returned after almost 30 years and played in another part of SF the next night…..its similar to sports, the good athletes who are dedicated to their sport stand the test of time, and these musicians most assuredly represent the best of the SF era of 1975-79 and thankfully they continue on into a 4th decade.

Harold Philby said...

in my comment from yesterday, there is an error in the 5th paragraph, the mention of the 18:05 mark should read 20:05 mark, just in case those that saw the show actually see things with a frame counter, you will know what I am referring to.

3rdbase Midget said...

Someone sent the link, i followed.

Thanks for the people who get it.

We for so long have been criticized for turning our backs to the audience. Some thought we were somehow insulting the people who came to listen, but far from it!

We circle around the drummer, because that beat is what gives us the energy and inspiration from one verse or chorus to the next. It's where we tap into the power. When we tap into it, where and who we are disappears, and all there is is the music. That's the goal, and we know when it works and when it doesn't.

I had a lot of fun that night.
We drove down from Seattle, and rehearsed both Neg Trend and Midgets the 3 nights before the show, and it sounded and felt pretty good.

There will be more shows. There are new songs and Tom, Erich, Mark, Craig and I continue to rehearse--I am just a little farther away from the others.

Thank god for computers.

We will never quit playing music. It's saved my life on many levels.

Thank you again for being there, and your kind words, Disaster. I hope you will be listening to more NEW Midgets soon!!

Paul Hood

PS - Craig's hair only looked red from the stage lights.