Jonathan Warren and the Billy Goats (Some of the goats anyhow) at The Red Room
Acoustic music is tough to pull off. It brings with it certain sonic and thematic expectations that artists must either choose to eschew altogether ala Ani DiFranco, or embrace in full. And if they choose to embrace it, that opens up a whole different set of issues. Anyone can write or play an Americana tune. All it takes is a few references to mill towns and lonesome trains, something about being down on your luck, strum and repeat. But as it's a aesthetic based on offering raw and earnest slices of life, what makes it sink or swim isn't the content; it's whether or not the audience believes the artist. And as there isn't much in the way of fancy production to mediocre songs or musicianship behind, it's nearly impossible to fake. If you want to sing it, you have to mean it.
Despite being down several members for their show at The Red Room, it was clear that Mr. Warren and his goat, meant it. With just guitar and cello and improvised guest drums from RevoltRevolt's Jasin Serna, they shuffled through rootsy songs about lost love and the road, even tossing in a phenomenally whimsical cover of TLC's Waterfalls. The beauty of the band is its pairing of the established aesthetic with their own flavor. Cello isn't an instrument one expects from alt-country ballads, nor is Waterfalls. But it works, fantastically, the result being something of a triangulation between Nirvana's Unplugged album, Tom Waits and Jay Ferrar.
It was good enough not only to somehow make sense in The Red Room, a space about as wrong for their sound as possible, but to suck in some of the walkby traffic down Main.
Listening to their album, there isn't what would be coined "a single." But there doesn't need to be. The music is what it is. Nothing more. And that's the beauty of it.
On a stage decorated with skeletal branches and lighting that evoked the feel of a haunted forest, Alter, made their debut at the VAC on Friday night. The band, which is essentially an augmentation of stalwart black metal two-piece Pussygutt into a full band, is best described as the stuff bad dreams are made of. The single 20-minute song was a surreal guided narrative, moving from phases of indistinct haze like consciousness filtered through a breaking fever to moments of thunderous snarling terror. There were moments when I felt I was in Castlvania in the best possible way. The band calls it romantic doom and gloom, but it could just as easily be called a bad acid trip running out of batteries. With dripping twangy guitars, breathy verbs and modes that read like a recipe for evil, the band sounded something like what Sigur Ros would sound like had they been ritually abused as children, which is f#$%ing epic.
This actually made Pussygutt's set, which followed immediately after Alter's, somewhat disappointing. Pussygutt's sound is based on many of the same memes, but less developed because of the stripped down instrumentation. Their druid robes were excellent imagery, and the kind of presentation that not enough bands bother with anymore, but it was a step back from the depth and intensity of the full band; Post-climactic, to coin a phrase.
James Orr put on a great set on the back deck of the Boise Fry Company on Thursday. Shot some footage and interview which should be posted soon....