This Little Underground

Bao Le-Huu takes on Two-Man Gentlemen Band, Woodsman, Swans and Sir Richard Bishop

It happens this time every year, but it still quickens my pulse to see the autumn concert calendars blossom with primetime national talent all over the city. Get up and get out more.


I’ve written tons about NYC-born Two Man Gentlemen Band and how good and entertaining they are, but it’s great to see a colorful and worthy band that’s been working hard to break into Orlando finally kill it last weekend and stuff Redlight Redlight like a buzzing hive (Sept. 16). It was far and away the most packed show I’ve seen there. And despite the unusually crowded conditions, the audience just would not let them leave the stage. They’re a hundred times sharper than those other overcooked comedy bands out there, and I’m glad Orlando’s getting hip to them. They’ve been coming here for a while but it looks like they’ve finally arrived.

From here out, it’s all maximum atmosphere. As Denver/Brooklyn rock machine Woodsman (Sept. 11, Will’s Pub) began plugging in, I could see two drummers and two guitarists. I liked ’em already. But once they actually played, that like quickly became love. Their two-pronged advance features airy, psychedelic lines that wind in the ether and tease the frontal lobes while a throbbing, penetrating spine drills into the base of your skull. That relentless rhythmic core comes via two full drummers who play together like Siamese twins set to a Swiss timepiece. Together, through very well-defined roles, this group achieves both atmosphere and propulsion. Woodsman’s music is the kind that takes you somewhere, somewhere high and far and loud.

On any other week, this performance would’ve owned. But this week, a hundred-year storm blew through (Sept. 13, the Social). NYC legends Swans began almost 30 years ago and only recently came out of a hiatus more than a decade long, but any signs of either rust or irrelevance were categorically, mind-meltingly nonexistent. Even before they stepped onstage, their large instrumental setup was already exotic and intimidating in its inert state.

But once the music began, it was Oh … My … God.Their intro casts you into an uncertain sea, floating helplessly but submissively, intrigued to see what becomes of this alluring dread. It’s a primordial drone that induces the kind of trance known to remote mountaintop monasteries,not downtown rock clubs. And it suspends you there for about 20 minutes until the band plunges in, making you duck under the waves as the titanic barge rumbles over you in agonizing slo-mo, its prop splitting the ends of your hair. Each time they rise up, it’s essentially like an F-5 tornado trapped in a concrete box. Squashing all reason and leaving only blissful sensation, roars this legendary and stentorian are typically the domain of only the most assertive shoegazers.

I was duly warned about their sonic crush ahead of time, but no amount of verbal admonishment – nothing – can ever prepare you for this. And I’ve got readings to back me up on this: According to the club’s sound guy, the meter went over 120 decibels. According to the Federal Interagency Committee on Noise, that’s just shy of a “military jet aircraft take-off from aircraft carrier with afterburner at 50 feet (130 dB).” Fuuuuck. Even if you’re deaf, this is viscera-collapsing.

As impressive as this volume is – and it was – what made Swans’ performance especially moving is the live, monolithic duel between beauty and brutality. Despite the sonic gale, their ethereal melodic aspect was still highly audible and comprehensible. Like a seasoned Sherpa, they never once get lost in the blizzard. Total entropy has never been so elegant.

Not quite as massive but equally transporting was opener Sir Richard Bishop, who established a dizzying, enveloping trance the second he started. His dark, rich, bottomless Eastern guitar style is dazzling in technique and staggering in grip. Under his spell, the cigarette smoke in the room seemed to thicken and curl, morphing rock club into opium den. This is not the postcard snapshot of gentrified world music or soft-core exotica. Beyond just giving you a glimpse of a far-off place, the deep waters of Bishop’s guitar draw you into its complex, turbulent heart. Unlike the meditativeness of peers like Jack Rose or John Fahey, Bishop pursues – no, attacks – his muse with burning hunger.


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