Jeb Bishop and Jaap Blonk
Photo by Denee Petracek
Fuzzy bros on top
Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013
Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013
There is something inherently absurd about watching a man in his sixties, his face stuck between two angled microphones, making various sputters, slurps, horn squeaks, fart sounds and turkey gobbles with what he has decided to call a “cheek synthesizer.” But Dutch performance artist, improviser and sound poet Jaap Blonk seems to not only recognize but to delight in the humor of his performance.
Last night, at Neptune’s Parlour in Raleigh, on the sixth of eight tour dates with local trombonist Jeb Bishop, Blonk found a receptive, respectful audience (and a notably large one, too; there were few empty seats in the room) for his vocal and electronic improvisations. Opening with a solo performance, Blonk joined an array of electronic samples, ranging from Forbidden Planet synths and 8-bit bursts to toy-gun sound effects and gamelan percussion. His sound poetry ranged from non-semantic oration, adopting the aural cadences and inflections that offered a suggestion of recognizable languages as disparate as Chinese, French, Klingon and Blonk’s native Dutch. He let the sound of his voice function as a comedy bit, deconstructing a repeated sentence—“The Prime Minister finds such utterances utterly inappropriate”—word by word until he was as garbled as a grown-up in a Charlie Brown movie. He edged toward theater as he prowled the and gesticulated excitedly; Blonk seemed almost childlike, enchanted by the sound-making capabilities of his own body.
Bishop subsequently used his trombone in a similarly playful manner. He explored the timbres of breathing through his horn and used mutes as percussive implements. He growled, hummed, gasped and clicked into the mouthpiece. Where Blonk’s vocal sound effects displayed a musical attention to breath control, dynamics and cadence, Bishop’s explorations seemed to be exercising his embouchure, as he let melodic ideas surface only to collapse them with a nontraditional, non-pitched interruption. It sometimes sounded like a speakeasy swing tune struggling to escape the room.
As a duo, though, the frenetic activity of each man proved able to both complement and distract from the other. When the pair hit their stride, they fell into close harmony, or offered sympathetic support to the other’s ideas. They were best when Blonk swapped his vocal gymnastics for the electronics he piloted with a video game controller; the tonal limitations of his pre-selected options gave the duo more structure. At other times, it felt as if each was trying to outdo the other, competing for novel sounds.
Still, the performance succeeded, despite its esoteric attributes. The knowing playfulness with which both players approached the performance lent it an air of welcome levity.
Upstairs at Kings, a wholly different sort of entertainment took place. Leading a three-act bill that also included the narcotized garage-pop of Virginia’s Big No and San Franciscan psych-plodders CCr Headcleaner, hard-rock trio FUZZ brewed a vibrant set that thrived on its members’ musical rapport and spontaneity, even as it held fast to riff-rock tropes.
When FUZZ released its debut single early this year
, via the Chicago label Trouble In Mind
, the members made a motion for anonymity. The label billed the band as a “San Francisco mystery group,” and claimed, “We received an unsolicited email submission from these guys & despite our best efforts, cannot discern who is responsible for these jams." The secret didn’t keep: Listeners quickly recognized Ty Segall’s howling vocal, and the 7-inch platter sold out immediately.
Indeed, the mystery lifted to reveal a power trio of longtime collaborators and high school buds, led from the drum throne by Segall. Guitarist Charles Moothart played first with Segall’s teenage garage band The Epsilons (and now shreds in Segall’s eponymous band) before splitting off with bassist Roland Cosio (and Mikal Cronin) to front The Moonhearts. FUZZ, then, carries the trio’s collaboration from scrappy lo-fi garage to Stooges-meets-Sabbath proto-metal.
And the trio’s long shared history proves to be its greatest asset. On record and on stage, FUZZ’s retro-rock is enlivened by the chemistry of its players. Where Segall’s solo work has taken a quieter, more introspective turn
, FUZZ offers a looser approach, where paranoid fantasies become the lyrical hallmark. That made the encore’s lumbering, Sabbath-worthy rendition of King Crimson’s “21st Century Schizoid Man” a great, if somewhat obvious, choice. FUZZ
never suffers for riffs, as the songwriting team of Segall and Moothart prove adept stylists in this hard-rock guise. The space they grant each other between them is where the band thrills. Moothart frequently slid agile fills between his bandmates’ heavy throb; Segall and Cosio swapped ironically indulgent solos during the bridge of “Loose Sutures,” teasing both the audience and each other. The three shot grins and glances across the stage all night, bragging and challenging each other to push.