(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Concert review - Beats Antiques, with the Tailor and Inspired Flight

8 April 2011 (Boulder Theater, Boulder CO)
Beats Antique drew a unique demographic along with crowd you'd expect in the electronic music scene. A host of exotically dressed women wafted through the house, swirling and dancing in preparation and homage. They were answering the siren call of dancer/producer Zoe Jakes, whose belly dancing and choreography is an integral part of every performance.

The opening acts, THE TAILOR and Inspired Flight, each fit with a facet of Beats Antique's sensibility, making for a fine show. It was also my 12 year old son's first concert. With a shout out from the stage from Inspired Flight (thanks, Gabe), the warm support of the crowd, and some incredible music, he had perhaps the best first concert ever. His response: "Epic!"

The tour was sponsored by the Sustainable Living Roadshow.

Inspired Flight
Like Beats Antiques, Inspired Flight served up a rich mix of live and prerecorded music. Their sound ranged from the DJ feel of straight mixes and mashups to more in-the-moment band music adorned with samples and beats. Their ability to shift the mood of a song from simple band accented mixes to full on jamming was impressive.

Inspired Flight exploited a huge sonic palette, with laptops, guitar, keyboards, various synths, kalimba, melodica and vocals. This gave them the tools to skip across genres. Laid back electronica, heavier club beats, and occasional grind covered the electronic side, but they also built some great indie jam grooves and hip hop tracks. Overall, they leaned towards a relaxed and moody vibe.

The laid back ambiance made for a swaying fluid set. One of my favorite moments started out with electronic percussion with keys that crossed a club sound with introspective ska. This built into a fluid mix of keys, samples, and organic parts. Gabe Lehner's (Chavez) laid out a tasteful Santana-esque guitar solo taking it to a climax.

Lehner was the most charismatic of the group as he danced around and stayed visually interesting. Whether he was lip synching to the rap samples or pumping his arm to the beat, he channeled his internal reaction to the music to the stage, building a connection with the audience. His guitar drove much of the band based grooves in the set, but oftentimes, he just used the guitar to contribute textures or fills to the mixes. His electronic parts were supportive, too.

By contrast, Eric Poline (OpenOptics) stayed seriously intent on his playing and didn't interact with the house as much. He jumped effortlessly from scratching to mixing to keyboards. His focus seemed to provide the foundation for the band's grooves. His kalimba fills also extended the electronic melodies in a unique way.

Singer Ashley Mazanec sat in on a few songs to fill out the sound. Her vocal style ranged from soulful to torch to dark pop, depending on what the song called for. Throughout, her voice was strong and expressive, standing up well to lead, but also meshing well with Gabe Lehner's voice. Their vocal swaps and harmonies were a pleasant surprise that really enhanced the set.

Aside from the ska based song I mentioned, my favorite track set a trippy loop that riffed off the Beatles' Happiness Is A Warm Gun. A simple ambient loop meshed nicely with the glitched vocal sample. I look forward to catching this San Diego band again sometime. I picked up their CD, We All Want to Fly, which should prove to be a good listen.

Opening acts are often a grab bag, sometimes showing nothing in common with the headliner. When THE TAILOR took the stage with his banjo, I figured it was another case of strange bedfellows. Like most people, I associate banjo with bluegrass, Deliverance, and "pickin' and grinnin'". Sure, Béla Fleck has pushed the instrument into jazz and classical, but that would also be an odd fit. of course, Beats Antique often uses a banjo as their lead melodic instrument and that proved to be linkage here.

THE TAILOR is a solo performer, Tarran Gabriel. From the beginning of his set, he focused on a bluesy context for his banjo playing. Later, he moved into more retro jazz and gypsy grooves. He used looped bass and rhythm tracks to support his occasionally processed banjo. The music was dark and evocative. The opening song was rooted in Delta blues, painting images of eerie bayous and voodoo rituals.

Gabriel's dreamily chanted vocals, interspersed with ghostly wails and moans set that mood. The sparse, reflective picking over a simple beat built an inevitable tension that added to the haunted feel. Later, he'd show off his other vocal skills: a capella vocal percussion and horn riffs, a breathy falsetto, and a bluesy growl.

Unlike many solo players, THE TAILOR maintained an intense stage presence. He was incredibly expressive as he twisted his body or sinuously gyrated to the music. His movements foreshadowed the belly dancing we'd see in Beats Antique's set. His stage persona was sometime weird and creepy as a giggle would slip out, but that was all part of a captivating performance.

Aside from the bluesy music, Gabriel also had a strong Tom Waits sound, both in his darkly ruminative songs and his appreciation for older retro music. Jazzy numbers mixed with some more gypsy melodies. At one point, he captured the feel of Tom Waits' Underground from Swordfishtrombones. The other surprise was learning that a bowed banjo can sound surprisingly like a violin.

THE TAILOR's set was a mood shift from the electronic jams of Inspired Flight and the world-tronica grooves of Beats Antique, but it just added to the exotica of the night. He thanked us for bearing with him and his strange music, but it was our pleasure.

Thanks also to THE TAILOR for sharing a copy of his CD, The Salt, which I may cover later.

Beats Antiques
In the studio, Beats Antique weaves as hypnotic blend of glitchy electronica and Mideastern harmonies. On stage, however, the choreography adds a performance art dimension that transforms the music into a trans-global ritual. The crowd swirled in anticipation before the set and once the band came out, everyone was on their feet dancing.

In the opening song, the band set the tone for the set. Zoe Jakes was seductive, dancing as she exultantly pounding her bass drum. She'd run to the edge of the stage, freeze, and hold a pose as beat of the song paused. Then the moment would pass and she'd play again with abandon.

Guest dancers filled out the choreography. During one song (I think it was Revival), a single dancer in white came out with someone hidden behind her. She danced as ostrich feather fans at her back throbbed with the music. Then she unfolded into three tightly coordinated dancers. The way the three moved expanded on and interpreted the music. The three women provided a strong and moving visualization of the song that captured its headiness.

But the influence went both ways as the music sometimes meandered and reflected the dance: the melody might move forward, then double back, turning on itself before opening again.The link between visual and audio was forged so tightly that they were inseparable.

Musically, Beats Antique blurred the lines with prerecorded elements meshing with live playing. Fitting the name, they played drum and percussion driven songs. Disparate live parts like banjo, violin, clarinet, and baritone sax all added their spice at one time or another. Keyboard washes and loops provided the harmonic framework and heavy bass grooves abounded.

Gypsy violin or klezmer colored clarinet might set the mood for a given piece, but the physicality of the beat and grind was ever present. David Satori's banjo playing was transcendent. His simple resonant tone daintily stepped over the changes, but then, with a little flange and echo, the banjo would take on a exotic sitar drone.

They hit a number of familiar tracks from Blind Threshold as well as 2008's Collide. There Ya Go was snaky and exotic with a richer electronic backing than I remembered. The music and show ended all too soon. As we walked out into the cool air, we carried the afterglow of Beats Antique's spicy stew of trippy, wired in world music. I'll have to agree with my son, "Epic!"

More photos on my Flickr.

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