The Other Night: Lanceapalooza, All Night Long at The Exoskeleton

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Editorial-ish Note: In spite of actually going to a fair number of shows this past spring & summer, I’ve been really, really bad about doing those little writeup thingies in this here blog. I’ve had grand dreams of writing up every damn show I’ve seen, sure — the awesome Priestess show from a few months back, the fun, ridiculously underreported Festival at Mink 2, the Gold Sounds CD release, the News on the March tour kickoff — but things keep coming up, and I keep running out of time. Hell, I still desperately need to finish my half-assed writeup of the Free Press Summerfest last month.

So yes, the long and short of it is that I suck, and time seems to just slip away from me like it didn’t in The Good Old Days. Got a (new) kid, got a job (which handed me a pile of new projects a few months back, on top of the work I was already doing), all that, so time to sit down & write about shows, even ones I’ve actually been to, has kinda fallen by the wayside.

As of right now, though, I’m hoping to turn over a new leaf. I’m going to try to stay on top of these damn things from now on and am planning to try to blip backwards a bit and write up some of the past stuff, too. Thanks for the patience, y’all.

Some nights it feels like I’ve got this remarkable knack for bad, bad, bad timing. When I left the house this past Saturday night, headed up to Midtown for Lance Higdon‘s mindblowing attempt at playing in all eight of his current bands in one evening, what he was calling his “Senior Recital,” the skies were gloomy but not rainy; by the time I was driving on the actual freeway, however, the rain was bucketing down so hard I couldn’t see a thing but the taillights in front of me. Holy fucking shit.

So my last chance to see Lance in all his musical incarnations almost got scuttled before it started (for me, at least), with me & the car floating backwards down 59. Happily, the monsoon lessened a bit the closer I got to the big buildings of downtown, and by the time I walked from the car to The Exoskeleton, the performance space a few doors down & over from Khon’s, I got wet but not soaked.

(Oh, and before I forget…some pics are included, but there’re a few more up over here, should you feel like looking at ’em.)

Lance and the Pants
LANCE AND THE PANTS:
Unfortunately, being about an hour later than I’d originally planned to be there, I was also kind of bummed — surely by that point I’d totally missed Lance’s Jawbreaker cover band, Whatabreaker? Yep, apparently so; the band up on stage was Lance and the Pants, instead, Higdon’s experimental ensemble thing with transplanted Austin/Houstonite guitarist Sandy Ewen, (of Weird Weeds fame), bassist Dug Falk (of Nonsense Music), and other guitarist Ryan Edwards (and Lance on drums, naturally).

After surveying things for a few minutes, I joined the decent-sized crowd lolling around down on the floor while the four members of the group basically poked, plucked, ground, and otherwise mangled their respective instruments. I’m pretty sure Ewen was playing with either a knife or a nail file at one point — and not in an “I play th’ blues an’ I’ll cut ya” kind of way, but just sort of sawing slowly at the strings — and I remember Lance actually “playing” the screws on the side of his floor tom, plinking back-and-forth on ’em with the wrong end of a pair of drumsticks.

The music worked best, at least to me, when Falk rode a real-live groove on his standup bass; he was able to solidly anchor the whole thing while Ewen, Higdon, and Edwards manipulated their instruments over the top of it. Those moments came off like jazz, and they were almost hypnotic at times, but when everybody was just going nuts making whatever noises they felt like making…it kind of lost me there, I’m afraid. That said, I’ll freely admit that more experimental stuff’s generally not my thing and move on.

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HIGDON/PEARSON DUO:
Oddly enough, when Lance and keyboard-playing cohort Robert Pearson started setting up, I realized that I’d also been standing next to the mild-mannered, seemingly somewhat shy Pearson when I first came in; I’d had no clue who the heck he was.

After the Pants’ set, I was able to talk to Lance himself a bit, and he warned that the next act would be the real workout, way heavier and more strenuous than the previous set.

“It’s piano grindcore!,” he declared, laughing, as he headed back to the stage. Watching he and Pearson arrange themselves, with Pearson (whom I couldn’t help but think of as being like a less-abrasive, more-genteel John Laroquette) on the floor by the stage and Lance shifting his kit forward, I found myself shaking my head. Seriously?

Turned out he wasn’t kidding. Pearson seemed a bit nervous, noting that he was afraid it’d be too loud, and then when they kicked in…well, wow. Loud, yes, but the energy was the main thing. Both musicians attacked their instruments, pounding away at them in unison, full-volume and ridiculously fast (most of the time, anyway), and somehow, it all clicked into place like they were two parts to a purpose-built machine.

Pearson was right in front of me, so I ended up staring up at him for most of the set — I’ve never seen anybody play (electric) piano that fast before; his fingers were flying. He lunged over the keyboard, then flung his head back, eyes closed in tight concentration, giving it everything he had, while behind him Higdon windmilled away at his drums like he had a couple of extra arms, eyes glued on Pearson nearly the entire time.

I knew Lance could play beforehand; he is (er, was?) one of the best, most inventive drummers in this town. Pearson was the unknown for me, and while I’ll grant that I’ve not seen a lot of jazz keyboardists, damn, this was impressive. They both were. The pair would trick you into thinking they were headed off into piano-bar jazz territory one second, then they’d be hammering down like Elton John playing alongside Hella the next. The whole thing was mesmerizing.

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WALL WITH ONE SIDE:
I was still reeling a bit when the Higdon/Pearson set ended, and apparently Lance was, too — he and most of the folks there headed outside for a few minutes’ breather, and yours truly hit the bar at Khon’s for a Mexican Coke.

I meandered back over to The Exoskeleton to see/hear Wall With One Side, Lance’s ambient-drone project, in full swing. I went on in and was surprised to see a whole room full of people crashed out on the floor, heads down, meditating to the lush, hypnotic waves of minutely-mutating sound emanating from the speakers (and Lance’s laptop). It reminded me of a less song-oriented M83 at points, or a beat-less Ulrich Schnauss. There’s not a whole lot going on dynamically, no, but hell, it works for what it is.

Stepped back out of the wall-o’-drone for a minute and ran into Ian Wells of KTRU, at which point I apologized for not yet getting off my ass and reviewing the KTRU Live Vol. 2 comp he’d put in my hands at Summerfest. Sorry! Soon, I swear…

As we were talking, his phone buzzed, and lo and behold, Lance was sending him a text message from inside the venue, from his laptop, during the WWOS set. He’d seen Ian through the window; I think the text read, “Don’t be a scenester.”

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GOLDEN CITIES:
Okay, now this is my kind of meditation music, right here. Turn up the guitars and pedals and let those awesome, skyward-pointing melodies roar, and I’m blissing out with a big stupid grin on my face.

Every time I hear ’em, Golden Cities takes me back to college, to that point right after I’d first heard Seam and My Bloody Valentine, when I’d sit in the sunlight splashed on the floor of my dorm room, crank the distortion on my crappy little amp to wallpaper-peeling levels, and try to play those same kinds of gorgeously sweet, fuzzy-thick melodies.

The band played some new stuff, I believe, although I couldn’t tell you any track names. They just filled the room with head-nodding, wall-rattling, beautiful noise, somewhat akin to Explosions in the Sky but with more meat on its bones, like the aforementioned Seam or maybe fellow spacerockers Co-Pilot. I seriously stood there with a big smile on my face the whole time; if the band ceases to be, I’m going to be damn sad, I have to say. They’re pretty great.

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TAMBERSAURO:
The final “real” set of the evening went to Lance’s longest-running musical thing, the three-man outfit Tambersauro, who’ve spent the past several years toiling away in wholly undeserved obscurity, all the while pumping out album after album of smart, bitter, in-your-face, prog-ish, math-y, post-punk rock. Hell, even now, right before collapsing into oblivion, they just released a new album (albeit only in digital form), From the Last Time I Saw You (review forthcoming, don’t worry), and it’s pretty darn cool.

Sadly, the Tambersauro set was a bit of an abridged “teaser” deal, with the band only playing a couple of songs — get to why in a minute — and sporting their regular civilian garb instead of the trademark jumpsuits. I couldn’t complain, though, especially since Lance took my request for the jaw-droppingly badass “Make Water Sand” (off 2008’s Theories of Delusional Origin) and forced bandmates Jeff Price and Mike Blackshear to play it just for little old me. How the hell can I not like that?

They blazed through “Sand” and “Mr. Mannhauer,” plus what I think were pieces of three or four other songs, before calling it a night with a heartfelt little speech from bassist/vocalist Price about what it’d been like to play with Lance the past several years; I’d have loved to hear more, but as Price put it, “Hey, we’re tired and want to go home, too.”

The bad part is that that’ll be the last performance I’ll get to see of the band — with Lance leaving town, they’re calling it a day and moving on to other things. Fuck. They’re playing one more time, this coming Saturday, July 24th, again at the Exoskeleton, and after that, it’ll be off into the sunset for ’em. The final show promises to be pretty incredible, though; I wish I was going to be in town to catch it.

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FINAL RANDOM NOTES:

  • Getting back to Whatabreaker… It turns out they didn’t play, after all. Apparently guitarist Casey got pulled over earlier in the day, and the cop noticed that the guy already had a handful of unpaid parking tickets, so he threw him in jail for the night (well, ’til midnight). Ouch. As you can guess, not having a guitarist makes most Jawbreaker songs a bit difficult to play.
  • Right after the Pants finished I found myself talking to a friendly guy who looked weirdly familiar, and who turned out to be Charlie Ebersbaker (aka Charlie Naked), of the Linus Pauling Quartet and, quite a while back now, this Website, too. We’d chatted via email plenty of times back in the day but hadn’t ever met in person — not even when I’d seen LP4 play in the past — so it was extremely cool to finally put a face to the name…
  • Got to chat some with Marcus Gausepohl of Golden Cities, which is always very cool; a truly, truly nice guy. He said Golden Cities, which had basically been he and Lance’s baby since almost its start, were about to record a new album over at SugarHill; damn good news, there. Marcus seemed hopeful that the band could maybe continue on, but he said they were taking things slowly at this point.
  • Talked a bit to Meghan Hendley, too, currently of Tyagaraja; if you haven’t checked out her writeups of the band’s experiences playing Bonnaroo, well, you really should. It’s impressive stuff.IMG_7358
  • From talking to a few different people at the show, it sounds like there’d been some nasty jabs thrown at Lance in various forums, mostly calling him an egomaniac or whatever the hell else for putting on the show. Seriously, folks? I mean, if he’d set it all up and charged $30 for the privilege, yeah, I’d get that, but this was about as far from an egomaniacal move as you could get. It was about having fun and playing with people one more time, period.
  • That said, I’m going to out Lance a bit, here. Right on the top of the pile of CDs, clothing, videos, and whatever else he was selling to make some gas money for the drive to Atlanta, there was — and no, I’m not making this up — a bona-fide two-wolf-moon t-shirt. Whoa. When I fronted him on it, he claimed it was because it was the school’s mascot and yadda-yadda-yadda. Whatever, man. I see two wolves there, in semi-profile against the moon! Ain’t no coming back from that, son. (And yes, one of Lance’s now-former students did buy the damn thing.)

After Tambersauro switched off the amps, that was pretty much the end of it for me. Lance shifted back over to the laptop, playing these crazy dancefloor tracks that I’d never heard before and that might have been his own creations, for all I know; as the floor of the Exoskeleton filled with dancing people, I made my goodbyes to Lance & the other folks I knew and headed for the car and a drier drive back home.

Lance: it’s been great having you here in this sweaty, poorly self-imaged steambath of a city, man. You will be missed, sir, trust me on that.


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2 Responses to “The Other Night: Lanceapalooza, All Night Long at The Exoskeleton”

  1. Bru on July 21st, 2010 at 5:03 pm

    So bummed I had to miss this. I’m shooting Robert Plant on Saturday, too, and I’ll have to miss that Tambersauro show.

    That last stuff Lance played might have been the stuff he calls “Holy Ghost Machine Gun” or possibly leftovers from Narreme, his collaboration with LIMB’s James Templeton.

  2. Jeremy Hart on July 22nd, 2010 at 3:50 pm

    Yeah, but you’ll get to see Bettye LaVette, and that’s pretty damn badass in its own right. ;^)

    I’m honestly not sure what the heck the last songs Lance threw out there were — he said they were songs he loved and that he wanted to get people dancing. I’d caught he & James’ Narreme thing, and it didn’t sound quite like this. Way, way, way poppier/funkier.

    And yeah, he’d originally planned to do the Holy Ghost Machine Gun thing earlier in the night, but I think that was supposed to’ve been a lot noisier, too… Dunno.

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