Thursday, January 31, 2013

S.F. Bike Messenger Union Drive, late 1990's

In the late 1990's, Disaster Amnesiac worked in the mail room of a firm that received documents constantly. It was through this position that I got to know many of San Francisco's myriad bike messengers. They were a much welcome relief to me whenever they sauntered into my work space, their frank, no-bullshit manner a respite from the button down corporate passive aggressive very much on display both at the firm at which I worked and, on a more general level, City-wide. It was, after all, the apex of the Dot Com Boom, a boom that will probably be judged as wasteful, if not more so, than any other financial bubble. The messengers were literally a street-level mirror to those working in more lucrative sections of the Financial District.
The three flyers reproduced here were handed to me by one of the messengers. Disaster Amnesiac actually attend the bar-b-q that is advertised!
I am not sure if they ever got their union up and running. It seems as if there are a lot less messengers wheeling their way around downtown S.F. these days. I guess the advent of advanced digital reproduction and communication rendered many of their services moot? That said, I still see a few flying past on their cool bikes; there is one guy that's been at it so long, he reminds me of Moses or something! And, hey, the bike messengers were given that ultimate cyberpunk imprimatur, seeing as that a messenger was the main protagonist of a William Gibson novel.
Anyway, a small piece of S.F. Labor History, preserved and presented here.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet-Tabligh; Cuneiform, 2008

Disaster Amnesiac wonders, do Jazz records achieve Gold Status anymore? This session from Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet surely merits those kinds of numbers, as far a listeners go.
For proof, take for instance the band Smith assembled for this 2005 live recording. Keyboard player Vijay Iyer moves from the 1960's Modal/Fusion  Rhodes feels on Rosa Parks to post-Bop acoustic interactivity on DeJohnette, to wild abandon on Tabligh and quiet introspective sounds on Caravan of Winter. Iyer plays with creativity and style throughout. What Jazz fan would not want to listen to him here? Then there's bassist John Lindberg. Like Iyer, he switches from fat, funky electricity on Parks to subtler acoustic grooves on DeJohnette and into all-out avant abstraction and back again on the title track. His solo therein is particularly out and fun. Disaster Amnesiac was particularly surprised to find drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson on Tabligh. One usually hears him within his own group, Decoding Society, or with the balls to the wall Jazz Metal of Last Exit.Jackson is no mere sideman. Thankfully, Smith pretty clearly didn't expect him to play as such, and the payoff is great. It is revelatory to hear Jackson play within Smith's group. His signature robust style is on full display, but shows a kind of restraint. It's as if he held back a bit on his strokes. Still, his wide open beats and solid rhythmic feels boosts the tunes into spaces that are simultaneously wide open and tight. Jackson is a drummer who sounds like he's always listening to the band as they improvise. He comments, speaks with his drum set. Shannon always makes things move. Lastly, please don't forget the playing of the band leader. It strikes Disaster Amnesiac that the decision to play Jazz trumpet must be a tough one. I mean, one would have Armstrong, Gillespie, and Davis towering up above. Wadada rises up to the level of said Masters, though, playing darting, jabbing sounds a la Miles, high blasts like Diz, or primal sounds of Louis. His solos on Tabligh are sharp, inventive, and very musical. He also gives the band plenty of time to play around these tunes' structures, and one gets the sense that his conduction was vital and present in the live setting. Leo has clearly become a Master himself.
Does Tabligh warrant mass acceptance and listener appreciation? Absolutely. It, like the band which conjured up its sounds, is Golden indeed.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Chinese Whispers: the Making of Pere Ubu's Lady From Shanghai; David Thomas, Ubuprojex, 2013

Upon completing Chinese Whispers, Disaster Amnesiac has the same feeling that one might have upon viewing the director's commentary feature of a movie one may have just viewed. The curtain has been pulled back, the reality of the product's production has been shown.
It turns out that most of my impressions of the Lady From Shanghai LP were way off the mark, at least as far as its actual production and performances are concerned.What I thought were insights were pretty much mistaken, wrong, misapprehensions and mis-hearings. Disaster Amnesiac took cold comfort, reading Thomas's thoughts on failure, as regards these mistaken impressions.
Thomas also touches upon essential influences for Pere Ubu (the Lessons in Mayhem section is particularly fascinating), important philosophical underpinnings of the band, drumming/drummers, poetry vs. lyrics, rules vs. breaking rules, along with incredibly detailed descriptions of all aspects of Shanghai.
It was tremendous fun to read this100 page long liner note for the excellent album. One can never really get enough of Thomas's no-nonsense insight, his unique take on the process of writing, recording, and engineering music. Chinese Whispers makes for a fine companion to the great new Ubu LP, along with being the most concise elucidation of David Thomas's one of a kind vision so far.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Pere Ubu-Lady From Shanghai; Fire Records, 2013

There exists on youtube a clip of David Thomas, in which he compares his band Pere Ubu to a cup. It strikes Disaster Amnesiac, after careful listening to Lady From Shanghai, that what the singer was getting at is that Pere Ubu is not so much a band as it is a form that needs a band from which to spring forth.
The ever-developing form Pere Ubu appropriates contemporary and past influences, shapes them to its own needs, and then spits out a unique, current form. The fact that Pere Ubu has been doing this in four consecutive decades is pretty mind blowing to this fan.
For example take Thomas's lyrics. On Shanghai he mixes quotes from Elvis, the Velvet Underground (Mandy), the Chambers Brothers (Musicians Are Scum), and Anita Ward (Thanks) with lyrics that contain descriptions of the world which he sees, a world in which the commonplace, the bus driver (Mandy) or the sun behind the curtains (the Carpenter Sun) take on aspects of the sublime; you know, poetry. Poetry is pretty clearly vital to form Pere Ubu.
David Thomas's voice is also vital to the Pere Ubu form. It will be impossible form the form to continue its real time development once he stops his work on its invocation. His voice has lost a bit of the high end bleat of yesteryear, but his deadpan narrative on tunes such as 414 Seconds or the Road Trip of Bipasha Ahmed has grown richer and more believable with his aging. There can never be another form like that of Pere Ubu, and the uniqueness of Thomas's voice helps to ensure this fact.
The form of Rock music is generally defined by the electric guitar, and the Pere Ubu form, having sprung from the former, uses the electric guitar as well. On Lady From Shanghai guitarist Keith Moline keeps his playing quite simple, in the sense that it sticks to the melodic structures of each tune. His playing is not characterized by the heroic approach, in the sense that there are no solos; the songs are generally not structured within the traditional verse/chorus/verse/bridge/solo/chorus/verse parameters, and thus the action "guitar solo" is not missed. Moline's playing helps give shape to the form, and that seems to be enough. That's not to say he plays boring, though. His playing is expressive and unique in a way that gives support to the Ubu form.
Another vital aspect of the meta-form Rock is that of bass and drums. These two elements must be fused within a band, must lock in, in order to provide not only a ground from which the higher end treble instruments of guitar and voice provide melodic action, but also to move the tunes and those listening to them. It is from great rhythm sections that great bands spring. At the heights of its form, Pere Ubu is indeed a great band, and the current rhythm section of Steve Mehlman on drums and Michele Temple on bass are indeed a great rhythm section.  Their rhythmic lock on tunes such as Lampshade Man and Mandy evince the effectiveness of that vital aspect of the Pere Ubu form: a kind of marching beat, tinged with motorik feel, but somehow heavier. An arty stomp, and Industrial shuffle. These two have been the rhythmic stewards of the Pere Ubu form for some time now, and their experience within it shows in the easy swing of their delivery.
The Pere Ubu form has also been defined by an experimental side, almost as much as it has been by its Rock side. Thomas and Co.'s willingness to inject their songs with approaches from the music world's more experimental corners has been in effect since the band's beginnings. Lady From Shanghai features many fine examples of this feature of the form, from the thought provoking mash up of Thomas Edison's reading of Mary Had a Little Lamb with programmed beats on Feuksly Ma'am, the Hearing to the delicious electronic warfare din at the ending of the Carpenter Sun and the abruptly started percussive art on And Then Nothing Happened. Just about every tune on the LP has strange sounds jumping out from within the tunes. It is vital to the form Pere Ubu that odd sounds be present, and they always provide for interesting listening. On Shanghai, band members Robert Wheeler, Gagarin (any number of synths, keys, and whirligigs), and Darryl Boon (clarinet), along with Thomas, Mehlman, and Temple, have recorded some of their best, most concise actions of this dynamic.
The Hamann family and their SUMA Studio has long been a vital piece of the Pere Ubu form. As with almost all other recordings issued from the band, a Hamann is the engineer on Lady From Shanghai. Paul Hamann's recording job is clean, capturing the Pere Ubu form in all of its treble-ey power. The sound seems more compressed than some recent recordings (St. Arkansas), but the highs are nicely audible without spinning off into space, and the lows are nicely present. A really good, clean recording was achieved, per the usual standards of the Avant-Garage. 
Disaster Amnesiac takes continual delight in the on going permutations of the Pere Ubu form. Lady From Shanghai provides fine new hearings from this most venerable of Rock experiments. It is very much a high point in its long, stellar development.

Monday, January 7, 2013

French Radio/Thomas Carnacki-Subterranean Arthouse, Berkeley, 1/6/13

Disaster Amnesiac trekked over to Berkeley in the cold of the evening to take in a few hours of great, chilled Electro-Acoustic sounds from some of the S.F. Bay Area's premier practitioners of said form.
Opening act Thomas Carnacki and His Merry Band of Musical Miscreants played one long piece, made up of quiet tones, coaxed from any and all manner of objects: coffee grinders, earrings, torn paper, computer programs, stones, driftwood. Their sound reminded me of cave paintings, in that despite the lack of "light" (in this case, overt changes in the structure), attentive listening was rewarded with all manner of mental coloration. Much as with the reading of philosophy or poetry, the music that Carnacki's group made placed certain burdens on those being exposed to them, with the payoff being heightened perceptions. As usual, Cheryl Leonard's lovely aesthetic sense was delightful, her rig being made up of a glass bowl, sand, driftwood, and stones!
After a brief pause, French Radio began their set, playing the soundtrack to and film by Jerry Smith. Bay Area legend Bruce Anderson played really great Minimal/Maximal guitar, throughout the four-part film, sustained two note phrases washing over the listener/viewer, as the film's watery shots pulsed out. Disaster Amnesiac took particular delight in hearing his trademark sound paired with old footage of S.F.'s Ocean Beach. Vocalist AC Way seemed to be pulling from the Black Metal form, his abstract vocals taking on the chilly alienated tones of that late 20th Century Norse tradition. Their narrow bandwidth worked well with Anderson's understated, broad atmospheres. Jim Kaiser coaxed low tones from a bicycle wheel and spokes with a bow and used pedals to make sound and noise.
All told, it was a fun way to prepare for the work week, and a fine first live musical experience for the New Year!

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Scam-Issue 9, "Damaged"; Fall, 2012

Disaster Amnesiac just got done reading Erick Lyle's great evocation of Black Flag's doomed 1981 opus Damaged, and I have to say that it will be required reading for any Flag fans out there. A lot of the info therein has been covered many times before, but the reader will be rewarded by reading Lyle's insightful questioning of the Punk Rock nostalgia trip, many rare photos (one in particular, a seemingly surreptitious shot of five really young teens in Hollywood, is particularly striking for its knife-edge intimacy; did Carducci snap this shot?), and new interviews with all members of that iteration of the band, minus Robo. There is none of the finger pointing and blame assignment that had been on display a few years ago, but the principals are honest in their assessments of that period of their creative lives and the macro-societal dynamics in which they moved at that time. Lyle's best zinger of the issue: "[W]hile music mags were filled in 2011 with tributes to the twentieth anniversary of...Nevermind, the true story of that anniversary in many ways is the story of the thirtieth anniversary of Damaged".
Joe, though art avenged.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Jay DeFeo Retrospective; MoMA, SF, 12/31/12

Disaster Amnesiac first saw Jay DeFeo's The Rose in the late 1990's, when it was being displayed at SF's Legion of Honor. I can recall being blown away by its physical presence, the effect it had on my perceptions as I viewed it.
Suffice it to say, I was eager to take in the current DeFeo retrospective at SF MoMA. It was not disappointing.
The lasting impression that Disaster Amnesiac took away from viewing Jay's collected works is that of the deeply spiritual nature of them. It seems to me she was tapped into deep wells of perception and spirit. Her work exudes the kind of vibes that one can get from cathedrals or illuminated art. There is so much going on below the surfaces of work, from those of the mid-1950's to her later efforts from the 1980's. When one lets their perceptions become immersed in her paintings, her sublime use of painterly techniques, the way she blended shades into sheer patterns of light, the architectural weight of pieces like The Rose and The Jewel, one must surely feel something. I was also struck by the ways in which her paintings from the early 1980's seem to prefigure work being done by post-Graffiti Writer artists in the 2000's.
If this show comes to a gallery near you, allow yourself some time be illumined by its VIBRATIONS.