Thursday, November 22, 2007

Swarms of Locusts and D-Zs: Apocalyptic Days at the Ottobar

Sleeping People/The Zs/Yip Yip/The Locust
November 21 @ The Ottobar, Baltimore, MD

My brief encounter with the Zs performing the music of Earle Brown in Philadelphia left me curious to hear this intense 4-piece anomaly in their native environment. The black, grimy confines of Baltimore's Ottobar is exactly the high volume ecosystem that gives rise to the no-wave brutal minimalism of the Zs. And they were even more fascinating as they pursued the extremes of noise, quiet and the unlikely synthesis of experimental chamber music and hardcore punk traditions.

The Zs perform in a tight, box configuration facing each other over music stands and reams of notated scores. This constant visual communication allows them to execute rapid fire unison lines with blisteringly rehearsed precision. It also places the saxophonist with his back to the audience and conveys a calculated indifference toward stage orientation. The uncompromising music that pours out - sometimes in heavy bursts punctuated by deliberate silences - is at times passionately unpredictable and repetitive. It is also stark and profoundly appealing music.

The first set of the evening featured the progressively cool music of Sleeping People. From the moment they started peeling off patterns in 5/8 time I was hooked by this tight, odd-meter quartet from San Diego. There was a great fluidity to the way Sleeping People would carve time into asymmetrical units that kept the attention on the sound as they didn't visibly sweat the counting.

I have to give props to Yip Yip for their props. The black and white checkered pattern on their custom cases, backdrop and outfits was visually amusing. The Orlando-based duo of vintage, analog synthesizer players enhance their sound with a customized contraption of cymbals, alto saxophone and drum machine. And every time I expected their sound to wear out its welcome they managed to rock a little harder. The drifting intonation of the old school oscillators and their odd transitions were incredibly endearing.

The final set featured the abrasive assault of The Locust. Like Yip Yip, costumes are a big part of the live Locust experience. I respect that even the guy working the sound board at the back of the room and the photographer floating around the Ottobar for shots from all different angles were each dressed as Locusts. The cut of the masks around the mouth enhanced the effect of insect-like mandibles as the keyboard player and guitarist issued their scream-heavy vocals. The Locust pour on the kind of hardcore sound one expects when waiting in line at the Ottobar as the mosh pit of slam dancers and stage diving finally materialized around the pounding aggressiveness of their music. It was amusing to hear such punk vocals issuing forth from the Moog synthesizer player. And they certainly had the transfixed attention of the local celebrity attending the show. About half way through their set their material began to wear thin for me and I had to flee the constant barrage of high decibel angst.

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