Composers aren't supposed to have mohawks. Or tattoos. Or play cello. But Pat Muchmore had/did all three last night, at a concert of his music by convention-busting new music group Anti-Social Music, which Muchmore helped co-found back in 2001. This was my fourth ASM concert, and they've all been hoots: one was a "CD release kegger" held in a gallery on 42nd St; another, at BAM Cafe, erupted into near-anarchy after some of their fans started talking back to the stagehands.
Last night's show was deep in the bowels of the Ukrainian National Home: a turn-of-the-century banquet hall in the East Village which got an unfortunate update sometime in the 60's, complete with wood paneling and cheap brass lamps. Audience members sat at folding tables and drank from Dixie cups. A throbbing beat from an upstairs dancehall threatened to overpower the musicians. But, add on a 24 oz. Obolon beer and the Ukrainian platter (a massive plate of stuffed cabbage, sausage, pirogies and kasha), and you've got all the makings of a brilliant evening. Besides, what do you expect for a $4.99 cover?
ASM strictly adheres to an indie ethos: there are no programs, no stage, no special lighting. The friendly, sarcastic audience shouts things like "Boring!" when players take too long to warm up, or "Freebird!" in between movements. The musicians - including accordionist Franz Nicolay of The Hold Steady and sax player Ken Thomson of Gutbucket and Bang on a Can - absolutely refuse to take themselves seriously, and are often less-than-sober by the end of the night. It's all very charming. refreshing, and just a little bit geeky.
Muchmore's music feels more like punk than classical: string players sawed away relentlessly and brass players turned beet red. Some of the pieces had conventional titles ("String Quartet No. 2") while others had names that were...well, unprintable. (Muchmore is working on a PhD thesis called: "Humanity and Mechanicity in the Music of nine inch nails") There was even a "world premiere" on the program: a piece for trombone and iPod, commissioned and performed by Californian Jen Baker. In most of the selections, there were occasional moments of brilliance, but Muchmore couldn't quite sustain them, eventually reverting to a kind of aggressive, grating noise. Still, his music is face-forward and fun - not to mention he's by far the most down-to-earth composer I've met, the kind of guy you'd shoot a round of pool with at your local pub.
No word on when or where the next ASM show will be, but you can bet there'll be a bar close by.