James Chance and the Contortions at the Knockout, San Francisco

James Chance and the Contortions made a rare appearance in San Francisco, and we at CatSynth were on hand at The Knockout to see it. For those who are not familiar with James Chance, he was an icon in the New York post-punk and “No Wave” scene in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Perhaps more than most in that scene, he incorporated jazz and funk, not merely as decorative elements but foundational to the music as a whole. His music has been described as “combining the freeform playing of Ornette Coleman with the solid funk rhythm of James Brown, though filtered through a punk rock lens” [Wikipedia].

At around midnight, he took the stage with his trademark pompadour and saxophone blaring.

From the start it was a high-energy experience, especially up front near the stage where we were. The rhythm section was solid, whether playing a bouncy ska-like rhythm or the funk rhythm and details that so characterize and separate the band from others in its original scene. Every so often, Chance would break out into fancy footwork reminiscent of James Brown in between vocals that were simultaneous playful and aggressive. And the rhythm remained tight even when the horns went on long free runs, occasionally cutting out for a voice solo and keyboard hit, and then coming back in on the beat. It has been said that Chance hold his bands to a high standard of tightness and musicianship and it shows.

Another fun aspect of the set was the interplay between James Chance and Mac Gollehon on trumpet and keyboard. In additional to some classic horn-section hooks to complement the funk rhythms, Gollehon used a dynamic-filter effect on his trumpet that worked extremely well in context, turning the horn into a rhythm-section instrument playing riffs that in more conventional bands are covered by guitar.

It was a sold-out show with an enthusiastic crowd packing the small space of the Knockout, and it spans a wide age-range from those who may have seen James Chance in the 1970s and 1980s to younger people likely seeing him for the first time. And having a great time of it. We certainly did. And I draw some inspiration from the mix of funk and jazz with punk and avant-garde elements. We at CatSynth wish them well on the remainder of this west coast tour.

Surplus 1980, Satya Sena and Electric Chair Repair Company, Bottom of the Hill

Today we look back at the December 5 show featuring Surplus 1980 with Satya Sena and Electric Chair Repair Company at Bottom of the Hill in San Francisco. It was a “post punk” affair, a night of loud, intense, and creative rock music. It was also my first time playing on stage with Surplus 1980.

[Photo by Polly Moller.]

I am somewhere there in the “back line” along with Thomas Scandura on drums and Steve Lew on bass. With guitarists Melne Murphy, Moe! Staiano and Bill Wolter in front. We were loud and aggressive with a lot of percussive pounding on otherwise tonal instruments, but there was also just the right amount of complexity with metric changes and chromatic riffs. Things were also deliberately out of tune, which when combined with ring modulation and other effects made it challenging to follow in a traditional melodic sort of way. But that would not have been the point. And the audience got that, enjoying moving along with our noisy percussive lines. It was also fun to play the vintage toy piano for our improvised piece and our finale Ed Saad (though I wish the contact mic had not fallen off halfway through it).

The evening opened with a performance by Electric Chair Repair Company, a self-described “post-punk noise trio.”

They lived up to their description with their instrumental performance, a bit more of the traditional sound that one would expect with loud driving chords and drums and switching between fast and slow tempos. During the set. they also joined forces with guests from “The Girlfriend Experience”, who were quite entertaining.

Electric Chair Repair Company was followed by Satya Sena, a duo of Jason Hoopes on bass and Peijman Kouretchian on drums. They also had a huge column of amplifiers.

Satya Sena was impressive to say the least. Their music was full of complex and intricate rhythms and they had a full dense sound that one wouldn’t necessarily expect from just bass and drums. I found myself watching Kouretchian’s frenetic drum playing through much of the set. It was almost impossible to capture a moment where he wasn’t in motion like this:

Hoopes of course was technically strong as well, and was interesting to see him performing in a different context like this.

Overall it was a fun night of good music. Our audience (on a Wednesday night in San Francisco) was not particularly large but was certainly appreciative, and I look forward to more performances with Surplus 1980 next year.