Faust in San Francisco

One week of musical adventures in San Francisco has taken us a bit longer than one week to share on these pages. But today we look at the final show from that week, featuring Faust at The Chapel.

Faust at The Chapel

So how exactly does one describe a band like Faust? As it says in the show description from The Chapel, ” Neither the habitus nor the music of this Hamburg group is easy to grasp.” The usual label of “krautrock” isn’t particularly descriptive, though it does orient them within the world of hard rock and experimental music coming out of Germany in the early 1970s. Many of the experimental elements around European and North American rock in that era can be found in their early albums like Faust IV. These elements were in abundance during the performance, with simple but meandering patterns mixed with a multitude of avant-garde elements. And it was all anchored by steady hands of original members Werner “Zappi” Diermaier and Jean-Hervé Péron.

There is a basic underlying hard-rock jam underpinning the music, which is then mixed with words, a variety of electronic sounds, and elements that were unique to the San Francisco show, including antiphonal vocals from the Cardew Choir and Lutra Lutra. (We have written about the Cardew Choir numerous times before on this site). The highlight of the collaborations was a final procession to the center of the crowd with large brass instruments dancing above the heads of the audience.

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This was a contrast to the beginning of the set that featured soft vocals and percussion against a film playing in the background.

Faust

Another unusual feature of the set was the use of a graphical score, projected so that it could be seen by the audience as well as the musicians. Diermaier even turned his drum set around to face the projected score.

Faust Graphical Score

This photo also illustrates one other unique element to Faust’s performance: a “knitting lady” sat at the front of the stage calmly and silently knitting throughout the set.

I also spied friend and fellow Bay Area synthesizer player Benjamin Ethan Tinker sitting in with the band, which was a fun surprise.

The show was sold out to a very appreciative audience and they were well received by longtime fans and newcomers alike. It was definitely a unique and unusual experience, but still one that felt very musical. I would not describe it at all as an evening of “noise” (not that there is anything wrong with that). They lived up to their billing as legendary purveyors of experimental avant-garde rock.


Faust was preceded by two opening acts: a solo performance by Bill Orcutt on guitar. It was a softer, but quirky take on blues guitar. Orcutt was followed by Heron Oblivion. While coming out of the milieu of “cosmic guitar music”, they did have a darker, and sometimes frantic sound. They moved back and forth between more frenetic drum and guitar, and that soft plaintive sound in alternative pop. Overall, both acts fit with the theme of the evening, adding a bit of weirdness grounded in various conventions.

CatSynth pic: Moog Invasion

Cats on Moog synthesizers invading earth

From Lee Tizzard via Facebook:

A bunch of Cats invading Earth on various Moog Synthesizers…………………………………………………………………………………………..across the gulf of space, minds immeasurably superior to ours regarded this Earth with envious eyes, and slowly, and surely, they drew their claws against us…

An Update on Luna: Surgery Recovery

Luna resting after surgery

Luna continues to recover from her surgery last weekend. She is mostly resting comfortably, but she has been alternately dopey from the painkillers and miserable from the discomfort and the insult of wearing the e-collar. It’s only in the last two days that she has started to seem herself again, eating more normally and wandering around the house as usual. Of course, she does continue to sleep quite a bit, but that is fine.

We did get a report from the surgeon that the skin spot was indeed the cancer (essentially we already knew that from tests), but that she was able to remove all of it, which is definitely good news. And so far the surgical incision appears to healing well. So once she is cleared from surgical post care, we can begin the next round of chemotherapy. No fun at all, but hopefully will put Luna back on the road to recovery.

Thanks as always for your continued purrs and healing vibes.

Magma at the Great American Music Hall, San Francisco.

Last year we had the opportunity to see the acclaimed French band Magma on their first tour of the western US in well over a decade. But we didn’t have to wait that long for their second visit to San Francisco when they came to play the Great American Music Hall in mid March, less than a year later.

Magma

For those not familiar with Magma, the band is known for their unique combination of progressive rock, jazz fusion, and avant grade influences; and for having their own invented language for their songs: Kobaïan. Many of their classic songs tell the story of humans and aliens on a planet Kobaia and of the effort to save humankind from imminent self-destruction.

Bathed in changing monochromatic lights, the band moved through complex rhythms, odd meters, harmonies that almost but never quite resolve, and intricate vocal narratives, all with a ferocious energy that rarely let up during the entire show. Their intensity makes the quiet moments even stronger, and sometimes tense as it builds back up to the next climactic section. And the sections featuring vocal harmonies and the electronic piano can be quite luscious. And as always, drummer, founder and main composer Christian Vander held the center both geographically and musically.

Christian Vander, Magma

In addition to Vander, there were long time band members including Stella Vander, Isabelle Feuillebois and Hervé Aknin on voice. The were two new band members on guitar and electric piano, respectively, and one could tell they were having a great time. The audience, which filled the main floor as well as the balcony section of the venue, was heavy with devoted followers of the band, who clearly knew some of the lyrics in Kobaïan and the characteristic complex rhythms. But there were captivated newcomers as well (I myself have only been following the band for a couple of years). Compared to last year’s show at Slims, this performance was heavier with classic Magma songs, and perhaps more a nostalgic vibe. There were newer songs as well, including parts of a newer epic narrative separate from the original Kabaia saga. Overall it was a great evening for musicians and fans alike. We leave with Vander’s own comments on the tour:

“Magma is happy to return to the United States to play for Americans,” says Vander. “We know you are passionate, respectful and curious about music. We find you to be generous and open. It will be a joy for us to see you this year.”

I hope we met his expectations.


Magma was preceded by Helen Money, a one-woman rock performance featuring cello, voice and electronics. Her music is described as “doom metal”, a genre not usually associated with the cello, but it is a phrase that Helen Money (aka Alison Chesley) lives up to in her performance. The overall tone was dark and aggressive, but with some interesting moments combining her adept technique on the instrument with complex electronics. She did make use of looping to support the rhythm and harmony in several songs. While she shares Magma’s intensity and energy on stage, the two acts were quite contrasting, and thus this was a well selected opening act.


This was the second of three great shows we saw in the span of one week in mid March. You can read my article of the first show, featuring Esperanza Spalding here. In the coming days we will close with a report from Faust’s San Francisco show.

OtterSynth video: Otters on a Casio

Occasionally, we feature synths with other animals besides cats. This is one of those occasions. This video of otters playing a Casio keyboard is too cute not to share. And not too different from some of the human-made free jazz I have heard.

From Smithsonian’s National Zoo:

Move over, Mozart! Asian small-clawed otter paws fly across the keyboard as part of their #ZooEnrichment. The otters are given the choice to play the keyboard or just sit back and enjoy the show—engaging their sight, touch, and hearing senses.