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October 2012

Bowerbirds at San Diego's Casbah

DSC03963SAN DIEGO, CA -- In search of a nightcap after last night's Fresh Sound show, I wandered into San Diego's Casbah, on a remote stretch of Kettner Blvd. adjacent to the airport. The club, which started as a gay bar in the '60s, has been San Diego's leading indie venue since 1989. Posters of past acts—including The Jesus Lizard, Pere Ubu, and Blonde Redhead—hung over the bar, lit by Casablanca-style lanterns.

I got there a little before midnight, just as North Carolina new-folk trio Bowerbirds were wrapping up a quiet-yet-energetic set in front of a small, attentive crowd. (Thanks to the door guy for letting me in gratis.) With drink in hand, I watched as guitarist Philip Moore and keyboardist Beth Tacular traded vocals back and forth, their harmonies both soothing and transporting. A nice way to wrap up my first visit to this exceedingly pleasant city by the sea.

Back to L.A. now, with a couple of more concerts in store before flying back to NYC tomorrow. 

New Music in San Diego: Philippe Manoury with Miller Puckette and Juliana Snapper

DSC04070SAN DIEGO, CA -- Of all the places to see a cutting-edge presentation of avant-garde music, the last place I'd probably think of is San Diego, California. Yet, that's exactly what I experienced last night at Space 4 Art, a multi-use art space in a transitional neighborhood a few blocks east of downtown, where French composer Philippe Manoury and Max MSP creator Miller Puckette presented a series of works written for real-time electronics and soprano, sung here by the impressive Juliana Snapper. This isn't as random as it might seem: both Manoury and Puckette teach at UC San Diego, which has one of the West Coast's leading music programs; Snapper is a recent graduate currently living in L.A.

The tight space was packed beyond capacity. (A second concert was added tonight for those who were shut out.) Manoury's music dominated the program, including the world premiere of Ilud Etiam and his 1994 song cycle, En Echo. Both used six-channel electronics filtered through Puckette's Pure Data program, allowing the computer to react in real time to the performer. Manoury and Puckette sat side by side in front of the stage, with Manoury fiddling with knobs and levers Stockhuasen-style while Puckette manipulated what looked like a split-screen iPad. The sound was a mix of ambient and dissonant, interrupted with what sounded like gongs or gamelan bowls. 

In between Manoury's works was Luigi Nono's La Fabbrica Illuminata (1964) for four-channel tape and soprano. Written in response to a horrifying incident in which dozens of Italian steelworkers were burned alive inside a locked plant, the music was far more harsh and severe—almost aggressive—in its ugliness. 

The concert was a presented as part of Bonnie Wright's Fresh Sound series, which has been almost alone in providing cutting-edge and experimental music to San Diegans since 1995. I've had the good fortune of getting to know Bonnie during her serveral extended stays in NYC, and I can honestly say that I don't know anyone more enthusiastic or energetic about supporting new music than Bonnie. One only wishes there were more of her in other cities around this country.

DSC04075(l-r: Miller Puckette, Juliana Snapper, Philippe Manoury)

CMJ 2012 Day 2: Yukon Blonde and Country Mice at Webster Hall

by Laura Wasson Yukon Blonde CMJ 2012 Webster Hall

Yukon Blonde at Webster Hall (Photo credit: Laura Wasson)

For the second night of CMJ, I traipsed over to Webster Hall for two reasons. One, it’s close to my apartment; and two, it was filled with wall-to-wall music. Go this way for indie rock, that way for throbbing electronica. It was a musical buffet for the easily bored and the in-the-know.

First, I visited the Grand Ballroom to take in Canada’s Yukon Blonde (which would be an excellent name for a crisp IPA). The group opened for The Jezabels with plenty of amp-busting rock power on their side. Steeped in late-sixties and early-seventies goodness in the vein of Graham Parsons and Crosby, Stills, and Nash, Yukon Blonde’s sound filled the vast space from the first chord to the last.

Songs like “Radio” were memorable and nostalgic without being cloying, but the well-crafted tunes weren’t what excited me the most. Not only can every single member of this group sing well, but they are also all exceptional musicians and seemed genuinely humbled by the opportunity to play a venue like Webster Hall. CMJ is a perfect reminder of how many bands there are trying to make it work. But it is a rare thing to be truly impressed by musicality, especially since rock music doesn’t require real talent for success. Yukon Blonde proves that ability is sometimes much more important and valuable than buzz.

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