Monday, December 7, 2009

Art Basel 2009 Live Music Report

Art Basel 2009 has come to a close. Voices are hoarse and eye-bags permanently darker. Years have been shaved off our total life expectancy. In the course of driving back and forth between South Beach and the Design District, walking the length of both multiple times, drowning in the convention center and the multitude of excellent satellite fairs, getting rained on, and lapping up the subsequent temperature drop, we also managed to hear a little music.


O.H.W.O.W. Gallery
O.H.W.O.W. Gallery
o.h.w.o.w. gallery

Art Becomes Anti-Art was a prologue to the-week-as-we-experienced-it, and O.H.W.O.W.'s opening for their It Aint Fair exhibition was our official Basel kick-off. There was a variety of work displayed throughout the gallery's various rooms, the centerpiece being the David Lynch / Dangermouse / Sparklehorse photo & music collaboration. Never really heard Sparklehorse before but from what could be gleaned from the show was some sort of pop-indie, maybe low key? Honestly, it was hard to hear the music with so many people milling about and talking, which might warrant an additional trip to make an attempt at a more immersive experience. In general, the show seemed like it was begging for a little more thoroughness in the way of pairing visuals with sounds: instead of playing a record really loud in a room with a bunch of photographs, why not pair each picture with a set of a headphones playing a unique track? There could be endless answers to that question, but it just seems like the intended correlation between mediums could have been more pronounced. Regardless, the art throughout O.H.W.O.W. was generally engaging (we especially and shamelessly enjoyed Julia Chiang's ring pops), the gallery continued to assert it's essential role in Miami's visual art scene, and the event provided our first dose of Basel 09 surreality: Iggy Pop posing for pictures with Dangermouse.

Our next stop was the "pop-up bar" Max Fish, another O.H.W.O.W. sponsored endeavor. The goal was to recreate the actual Max Fish in honor of their 20th anniversary. Our more reactionary tendencies and aggressive, Florida-centric regionalism has us scoffing at anything that puts anyone in an empire state of mind, but approached with a more sensible attitude, the bar proved to be an exciting cornerstone of Basel live music.

Animals of the Arctic
Animals of the Arctic
animals of the arctic @ max fish

Animals of the Arctic played a strong set of contemporary electro with new wave / post-punk-ish flourishes. Kinda dark (in a Factory Records way) and the vocals were reminiscent of David Byrne and Danny Elfman. They established a Basel precedent (followed by every local act we saw this weekend) of the Miami opener upstaging the out-of-town talent, or at the very least, giving them a run for their money.

Silk Flowers
silk flowers @ max fish

Generally, It's pretty boring to describe a band by simply listing others, but it might be impossible to talk about Silk Flowers without mentioning Joy Division. To be fair, you would never mistake the latter for the former (especially considering the absence of the signature Peter Hook bass lines). Less than a straight rip-off, Silk Flowers sounded like if Joy Division occurred in the midst of 00's indie-electro rather than 70's post-punk, though a little noisier around the edges as compared to some contemporaries (not as much New Order worship as you find in Cold Cave, for example). Animals of the Arctic were a sensible opener as both bands play a variation of dark dance music, though Animals went a little further with the sound. Silk Flowers were solid nonetheless.


little beard live @ the ice palace

We saw our favorite pieces this weekend - including okaymountain's excellent and hilarious convenient store - at the Pulse Art Fair. Pulse also hosted early evening sets from a diverse selection of big name indie/rock acts from across the country.

It was the first time we'd seen Little Beard since Death to the Sun, and their well-executed set gave us deeper insight into their pop collage. The crux of their sound is the indie guitar-jangle that was the foundation of 80s indie/alternative/"college rock." A little later, as R.E.M. got cheesier and the focus moved from Athens to Olympia, people started calling it twee, with the sound later exporting and expanding to/in the U.K. Little Beard pair this sunny/shimmering take on pop rock with a driving, danceable rhythm section to come up with a fresh amalgamation of charming influences. The lead singer's vocals could be compared to riot grrl/Lydia Lunch-styled vocals, which contrast nicely with the sugary harmonies she'll often partake in with the guitarist. In reading Pulse's promotional blurb on Little Beard we were a little confused by "horror" in their catalog of genre influences, but this was clarified by the last two songs which displayed a heavy Cramps influence.

vivian girls live @ ice palace

The Vivian Girls were cool too. If you can get past the hype and the counter-hype, they put on a fun show. Their vocals are definitely the highlight: kaleidoscope 60's girl-group harmonic bliss.


exene cervenka live @ ice palace

Exene Cervenka who got her start in classic L.A. punk band X played an unfortunately short set on Friday's edition of Pulse's live music series. Her songs sounded like grim, rockin (much like X) acoustic punk (not folk-punk, important distinction) and we were feeling it but after about 20 minutes she was done. A little disappointing, but that gave us an opportunity to check out the fair.


endless boogie (endless bangs) @ max fish

Later that night it was back to Max Fish where Endless Boogie opened the show with dad-approved, groove-oriented heavy psych. The rhythm section played what sounded like an infinite loop of the instrumental from "Stuck In The Middle With You" while the guitarist, sporting perfect, mesmerizing Nico hair, jammed in every direction possible. These righteous solos were accented with occasional shouts (maybe singing?) of things like "feel alright!" and "making love for 6 hours!"

teepee live @ max fish

Teepee performed as a power trio but their set was cut unfortunately short by a broken guitar string. The band solicited the crowd for a replacement and then asked repeatedly to use a guitar that was already on the stage. In a bit of a do-or-die moment, the decision was made to use it rather than delay the set further. This prompted a member, presumably the guitarist, of headliner Gang Gang Dance to throw a fit onstage and call the venue's promoter/manager over to cut the set completely. Was he afraid that Teepee front man Eric was going to steal his guitar? Would the wear and tear from the handful of songs on the set list have damaged the instrument irreparably? Maybe if this guy had been inside watching the band he would have heard them ask permission. The 2 or 3 songs they managed to eek out sounded great, including a robust version of "I Told You So" from the Morals LP.


teepee live @ ice palace

Luckily, the same Teepee lineup was playing on Saturday at the Ice Palace and this time they were able to complete their set. Thus far we've seen Teepee perform as one-man space pop and three-piece psych-noise jam assault. The Art Basel line-up yielded a raucous, anthemic fuzz rock style reminiscent of the Mascis/Malkmus/Pollard 90's triumvirate. Their set reached a satisfying finale as an oncoming wind storm brought dramatic gusts of wind as the final song reached it's climax.

the blow live @ ice palace

Though we enjoyed all of the sets we saw at Pulse, the stage set up was definitely a little bit of an uphill battle for the performers. It's always hard to play outside and the expansive yard caused audience members to be sprinkled throughout, appearing sparse. Throw in brash lighting and a stage of awkward height, and you've got a pretty intimidating performance space. Everyone that played transcended the challenges of the venue, but none more-so than The Blow, who managed to keep everyone completely captivated as she simply sang over a prerecorded track. We've noticed an influx of vocal acts who sing over loops or whole instrumentals and these performers often manipulate their vocals live. She didn't even do that. Instead, she held the crowd's attention with technical singing ability, cleverly synchronized dance moves (including some excellent breaking/robot action) and a bizarre performance story line (almost an extended skit that her set was a part of) involving Lindsay Lohan leaving her voice messages with song ideas (allegedly, this was the material she was performing). Most of the songs favored the minimal and sparse pop of her early records over the more electro-crunch of her last two albums.

After The Blow, we were lured to Max Fish with the prospect of the "special secret show" they had been advertising being something, uh, special. In the end, no one ended up playing which left more than a few people scratching their heads. Both the guy at the door and the gentleman running the P.A. said they were being asked all night who the secret performance was but to their knowledge there were only DJs. They also had no idea if anyone was ever supposed to play or if the whole thing was a trick to get people to come out on a night there was nothing particular going on there.

Since no one played, how about we list everyone we heard might be playing? In order: Iggy Pop &/or the Stooges, No Age, David Byrne, Jay-Z, Marilyn Manson and the Spooky Kids, just the Spooky Kids, the Vivian Girls, the Village People, Gym Class Heroes, the Strokes, Sonic Youth.

Though the last night at Max Fish was a bust in terms of live music, it was a nice time nonetheless. Lots of old friends, new friends, strangers becoming friends and shit we were so delirious from 5 straight days of bands, art, and relentless hanging out that it was a fine time to have the credits start rolling.


dana b. said...

matt two things:

1. i heard that a bunch of weird things have happened to gang gang dance that may explain their reaction to the teepee set.
2. you forgot to list that you heard that zombie michael jackson was going play the super special super secret sweet set

Michael said...

"Our more reactionary tendencies and aggressive, Florida-centric regionalism has us scoffing at anything that puts anyone in an empire state of mind..." ;)

roofless said...
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