Gravity Comes To Life

UPDATE: To answer questions about whether the concert was recorded or filmed … it was, but not in any form meant for public distribution, as far as I know. One guy filmed it from the front row but not in any official capacity. Dominique Leone tells me that Myles Boisen did a soundboard recording, but that’s not for commercial release (although it might be useful for reviving the project for festivals and the like, which would be intriguing.)

In front of a full and enthusiastic crowd, Fred Frith led a 10-piece band through the album Gravity at Slim’s on Aug. 25.

There were a lot of musicians in the audience, but most of the crowd were faces I didn’t recognize, especially when I moved up front for pictures. (The sound tends to be better in the middle or even the back of the room.) When the show ended, three different people behind me said, “That was amazing.”

It was, and it was a lot of fun, with lots of big smiles on the musicians’ faces — at least during the moments when they weren’t struggling through a difficult passage.

With barely an introduction, other than Frith telling the audience, “I must be dreaming,” the band ran through Side 1, with William Winant playing the part of the deep drum that permeates the entire side and ends in a fury. Frith used the side-change pause to introduce the band members, and then they drove through Side 2.

The start of “Norgarden Nyvla” was a big highlight, huge and anthemic, and Frith showed off some nice electric bass during he song. “Dancing in the Street” got surprisingly little response, almost as if people were disappointed to encounter a song they knew. (A lot of them might consider it a low point on the album; the in-joke is that it’s backed with sounds of Iranian revolt circa 1979 — an image very different from what Martha and the Vandellas intended.)

For the improvised track, “Crack Across the Concrete,” we actually did get to hear the band improvise. That was fun.

For encores, the group played a few other Frith tracks. “Killing Time” by Massacre made for a stunning mini-set opener and kept everyone’s attention. That was followed by an old Art Bears tune and … a transcription of an old hit single from some other artist. For years, Frith had been unable to find the song, so he wrote it out from memory, resulting in a materially different song, of course. So, they closed with that — it was happy, easygoing pop with kind of a Calypso feel.

Wonderful night all around.

The lineup:
Fred Frith — guitar, electric bass
Ava Mendoza — guitar
Wobbly — samplers
Lisa Mezzacappa — acoustic bass (electric on the encores)
Jordan Glenn — drums
Kasey Knudsen — sax
Aaron Novik — bass clarinet (also normal clarinet?)
Dominique Leone — keyboards
Kaethe Hostetter — violin
William Winant — percussion

Photos proceed. I tried some wannabe-fancy formatting with the understanding that it might not work on your screen, so… blame the mess on me. Click each photo for a way-too-large version.

ROVA opened the show with excerpts of a suite written by Frith: Tight, swinging stuff that kept the crowd surprisingly rapt.

Chuck Johnson played a short set of pretty, finger-picked guitar.

The opening moments, during the song “The Boy Beats the Ram.”

Dominique Leone and Kaethe Hostetter. Photo taken between people’s heads, Hubble-telescope style.

Lisa Mezzacappa, Kasey Knudsen, Aaron Novik.

Frith rocks out during Norrgarden Nyvla.

The only decent shot I got of Jordan Glenn on the drums.

Aaron Novik was not the only one to break out in a spontaneous grin.

Frith and Ava Mendoza again.

Kasey Knudsen.

Marie Abe on accordion and William Winant on percussion, both of whom added incredible amounts of depth to the music.

I’d never seen Wobbly before, and for most of the concert, his face was obscured to me, like he was trying to be a Residents-like Enigma. Of course, he’s not that secretive.

Frith took to the piano (lent from Scott Looney) for “Dancing in Rockville Md.,” the final track of Gravity.

Taking bows.

More bows.

Time to start the cleanup.

Group photo being taken by Myles Boisen, to end a night to remember.