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« Neon Marshmallow Night 1 wrapup: The Lord Of The Dance Review: Booker T @ Old Town School of Folk Music, 6/11 »

Review Sun Jun 12 2011

Neon Marshmallow Night 2 wrapup: Night of a thousand neck-mics

NMF Logo 2011.jpg

Now that the second full night of the Neon Marshmallow Fest has come and gone, it's becoming easier to chart the peaks and valleys of the festival, its overall feel, and the tenor of the crowds. Because of the reduced number of acts from last year, the flow from act to act becomes more pronounced and concentrated, and bands with vastly different methodologies are even more pronounced by their proximity. What I mean by all of this was that I really liked the stuff I liked, and for the other stuff, well, there's always the pool room.

Short film director Alice Cohen screened a half hour of her experimental videos (some of them out and out music videos) to start the night off. Her style was fast, fluorescent, and appealing to the eye, encompassing cut-out paper animations (more Terry Gilliam on Monty Python than South Park...I recognized a lot of vintage art/images) and and stroboscopic self-portraits in the throes of insomnia. The music was burbling and chipper, with hints of darkness beneath. I would have gladly taken more had they served it.

Musically, the night started with Leslie Keffer, who has been doing what she does since 2003. If you follow her recorded output, you're as likely to all-out crusty noise as pop-inflected tunes. Leslie chose the latter last night, using complex (but familiar) dance music drum beats to make the swaths of rhythmic noise go down. Having spent almost an entire night soaking in dance beats, a knot grew in the pit of my stomach: is this the fate of the entire weekend? Did Altered Zones mandate dancing for every act, or at least every other? I can hardly fault Leslie -- this is a big part of what she does, and the rhythm+noise mating of her set was hardly that distant from the approach of one of my favorite albums, Mammal's Fog Walkers, but to my mind, a little dance music at an experimental festival goes a long way, and after being driven to near-fuckin' psychosis by White Rainbow the night before, I just didn't know how much more I could take. Again, it's just the way of the sequencing....had their been something thoroughly obliterative to cleanse the palette from the night before, I might have been more up for something bouncy. No trouble for others in the crowd, who were happy as could be.

Dylan Ettinger was next, and again played somber dance music for somber dancers. It was well-schooled in classic dark synth-pop of the early '80s, as this video (not shown at Neon Marshmallow) attests:

For your crotchety old-man reporter, the festival started in earnest with Sword Heaven. I was entertained at times by Friday night's act, but this was the first performance that voided my mind and froze me to the floor in the way that Dave Philips, The Haters, Keith Whitman, Telecult Powers, and Work/Death did last year. Now a three-piece, Sword Heaven upped the ampage from their thoroughly demolishing performance at the 2009 Matchitehew Assembly, pounding through skulls with tribal percussion, anguished vocal shrieking, high-end sonic aggression, and a touch of trumpet. Percussionist Aaron Hibbs, decked out in a giant handlebar mustache and playing shirtless, looked like an old-timey boxer with rabies, his mic attached to his throat so that he could emit his wounded-animal vocal blurts without ever letting go of his twin mallets, battering the floor toms and single cymbal into dust. Through the mayhem though were actual song structures that allowed the energies to cool and coagulate before doubling into a lava-flow of ugly terror. Already one of the festival highlights.

Outer Space is a project helmed by John Elliott of Emeralds. Touching the same outskirts of the cosmos as Emeralds, Elliott focuses on the dark matter, with less ecastic spirals toward the heavens of higher human nature than the mothership band, though utilizing many of the same vintage synths. Joined onstage by an auxillary member, Elliott structured their kosmische music in the tradition of the grand masters -- Tangerine Dream, Jean-Michel Jarre, early Vangelis, Edgar Froese. I remember being especially impressed by his transitions -- no sense of turning off the synths, then fumbling to a new idea. Each idea smoothly followed the last, forming an engaging suite, a well-run tour of the more habitable planets in the Andromeda galaxy.

Chris Goudreau unloaded both barrels of his Sickness project on the crowd. His masterful control of tempo, dynamics, cyclic intensity, and brutal silences is head-and-shoulders above even the heaviest kings of noise you care to name. The set was like a cyclone of collapsing metal ladders, tumbling oil drums, and loud, negative-space popping noises generated by Goudreau's neck-mounted vocal mic, which reduced all thoat noises into overloaded pops that punched the chest, stirred together in a spectacularly angular mix that escewed both conventional music niceties but also the ortodoxies of harsh noise structure, in which filters and pedals and switched with such a clockwork rhythm, you imagine a rulebook floating around the scene. Sickness has consciously considered and reconsidered his aesthetic, trimming the fat and sharpening the sonic palette so that every sound was as detailed and full of contrast as could be. Top 5, easily. (Also, note to hipster fuckbag who walked around the venue blowing a harmonica during the silences: we're all sorry you didn't get enough attention in childhood.)

When Bob Dylan went electric in 1965, they called him judas. When Bill Orcutt went acoustic, they'll call him messiah. Mounting the third neck-mounted mic of the night, Orcutt brought the chattering room to attention with a thunderous "SHUT THE FUCK UUUUUUUUUP!!!!" before plowing a new furrow into the acoustic guitar field. Although all manner of finger-picking Americana was evoked, Orcutt's style matched none of the standard referents -- much more physical and brutish than John Fahey, equally abstract as Derek Bailey but without trying consciously to avoid melody. Once Orcutt started blues-moaning through his neck mic, my mind jumped back to those Guitar Roberts (aka Loren Mazzacane Conners) records, which was as close a comparison as I could hear. But even that doesn't come close to Orcutt's physicality and "sheets of sound" approach to his melodies. It was like rearranging a puzzle, putting all the pieces into new places, and finding that a second, equally viable picture emerges. Near the end, whether it was a flub or a punctuation, Orcutt let out another brain-shatteringly loud "FUUUUUUUUUUUUUCK!!!!!" through his mic, ending one of the very best sets of the festival.

Oneohtrix Point Never created an uninterrupted mix of electronic drift and evocative song fragments, though I didn't hear as many distinct songs as on some of his records. It was apparent from the traffic patterns in the pool room that a lot of people came to Saturday night came just for this set, and left immediately afterward. The Great Migration.

Pelt closed the night with a resonant, ethereal drone. I've tried to get with Pelt at all phases of their career, from their early noise-rock roots to their appalacian raga era through to their current Theatre of Eternal Music shimmerings. I can hardly fault them -- they do what they do, and they do it well. They understand each other intuitively, and if drone is your thing, you'll find little better.

Final night starts in just a few minutes, so I gotta run. Look for final wrapups tomorrow night, hopefully including some photo and video evidence. See you then!

 
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Feature Thu Dec 31 2015

Our Final Transmission Days

By The Gapers Block Transmission Staff

Transmission staffers share their most cherished memories and moments while writing for Gapers Block.

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