Thursday, September 18, 2008

Sian Alice Group & A Place To Bury Strangers

On Monday night, the 15th of September of now this autumnal year of 2008, I caught the opening show of The Sian Alice Group and A Place To Bury Strangers tour, that runs through the end of October (and nearly 30 shows).

I had already seen The Sian Alice Group perform earlier in the year, when they played a show at the Gary Snyder Project Space and Art Gallery back in late March of this year. I was most impressed with them then, and this show was equally as good.

Band visionary Rupert Clervaux playing keyboard
while Sasha Vine played the electric violin

The band was begun by Rupert Clervaux, Sian Ahern and primary guitarist Ben Crook. Ben plays seated throughout the shows, much like Robert Fripp has been known to do.

Along with taking a spot in the band as an additional guitarist, Mike Bones (pictured above here with lead vocalist Sian) is also a solo artist in his own right.

Multi-instrumentalist Sasha Vine a steady competent presence, on keyboards, violin and background vocals.

Filling out the band capably is bassist Eben Bull.

Rupert, Sasha and bassist Eben

Mike keeps his "cool guy" shades close by
while Sian explores the many nuances of triangle playing

Though his keyboard playing is quite competent, Rupert really shows his sophisticated musical touch from behind the drum kit. Much of The Sian Alice Group's power comes from Rupert's tribal patterns on the kit.

Sian has the most lovely, ethereal voice. Overall the band is contrast in delicate, spacious meditations - and harsh, stomping tribal rhythms, that build to sonic crescendos. For instance, on the song "Way Down To Heaven" a repeating downward drum pattern sets the tone for guitarist Ben Crook to create ferocious sonic textures over top. All the while Sian claps in a trance-like state in time with the percussion.

The band is visually attractive, which only complements their unique sonic textures.

Listen to this clip, which features their "light" meditative side.

Sian is a sharp contrast in black and white.

On their song "Motionless" we find a piece that is based around a trance-like drum pattern played by Rupert, that can bring to mind those of Indian ragas. It has a decided "jungle drum" feel as well. When I saw them perform this the first time 6 months ago , Eben put down his bass guitar and instead struck a small box instrument with thin mallets. This time, however, he kept his bass on and provided textures of the 4 string variety instead. Now they've added a floor tom-tom for Sian to pound out the percussive rhythm as Rupert plays a bell-like percussion instrument that he has imbedded within his drumkit. This is just a brief interlude as he quickly switches back to his full trap kit and this time with a full on cymbals thrashing. Sasha still shook a tambourine from her seated position at the keyboard. Sian took to the early part of the song by singing in a clear and controlled manner. However, in this live setting, the song took on more of an all out rave-up quality. Sian furiously shakes her head (and hair) back and forth as she violently shakes the percussion bells-on-a-stick instrument. Ben infuses shredding-guitar texture in these later stages. It really is an impressive display of jammed-out passion. See a clip of this on display, here:

Sian lets the hair fly as she jingles here percussion bells.

Later on in the evening (after all the performances were over) I caught up with Sian for a lovely catch-up chat in the downstairs lounge area of the venue. Many friends came by to talk and wish her well also. Rupert and Eben were around and I was able to have a few lively discussions.

As for the night's headliners, this was my first A Place To Bury Strangers show.

I was supposed to see them previously - when they supported The Jesus & Mary Chain in New York back on the 22nd of May, 2007. However, there were some mix ups with the passes and we didn't get in to the show until after they played. So, I had always regretted that, and here was an opportunity to finally see what all the buzz was about.

The band is a stripped down "power trio" structure of guitar, bass and drums.

Drummer J Space

However, the overall sound that comes of these guys is closer to what you might hear from an army of musicians.

Lead guitarist and vocalist Oliver Ackerman is an unsmiling, intense individual who thoroughly abuses his instrument. I was told by more knowlegable fans in the audience that all his effects pedals are homemade. That he is something of an eletronics innovator when it comes to this sort of thing. Doing some quick research I see this to be true. He has designed and built the effects that the band uses to create their sound, and they can actually be purchase at his own company:

The sound emanating from his and bassist Jono MOFO devices were like no other I've ever heard.

The music is stomping and brutal. It's psychedelic and ominous at the same time. On their records, you can't miss the JAMC influence, however on this night I hear echo's of Joy Division in the vocal stylings. At times they sound like The Cure (the really dark songs) and alternately I hear bits of My Bloody Valentine, Slowdive, Curve, Spaceman 3, Bauhaus (minus all the "goth" stylings) Black Rebel Motorcycle Club and Alan Vega's Suicide. The band makes most effective use of flashing strobe lights and an video screen behind the drummer that displays a constant flow of fantasy images that are at times disturbing and at others science fiction like.

At a key moment of the nights performance (the grand finale song, before they came out for an encore) Oliver started swinging his guitar over head and and violently pounding on it.

He leaned into his amplifer and exacted what could only be understood to him - just what were the right amount of squalls and shrieks.

He took the guitar off and swung it forward. He thrashed it so hard that strings began to pop off of it. All the while the drummer and bassist (who had a huge array of effects pedals of his own) - who got sounds out of his instrument that went far beyond what anyone might ever equate to a bass guitar - kept up this wall of sound that was thoroughly explosive.

The guitar was then thrown to the ground.

And then one of the broken strings was sawed across the pickup area, creating a hellish cacophony that, surprisingly, did not sound out of place and fit the assault on the senses perfectly.

Knobs were twisted on effects pedals in a manner that only the artist could comprehend. All we could do was listen (and it was a glorious noise).

Check out this clip I took of their encore:

Needless to say, I liked this band a lot.

For more about both of these bands above, check out their various web resources:
For The Sian Alice Group:

For A Place To Bury Strangers:

Catch this great double bill while you can.


x said...

Both bands are great. Especially Strangers- their sound is so perfect! It's hard to find a more energetic and creative young band today, I think. They're absolutely fantastic.

Great job on this detailed review, Dave!

Anonymous said...

that's a lucky lineup you got to see