By Chris Cooper
It’s been a year at least since I did a live show review, and it’s likely that that last review involved Sylva’s one bright hope for a live music venue, Guadalupe Café. I’m also pretty certain that in the aforementioned article a particular ever-evolving band of musical n’er do wells (Shiner Miners) made an appearance, and there may have been some minor chastising involved by yours truly regarding certain long-winded excursions into the great wide world of tuning by Mr. Webb and Co. that evening.
It was a while back and my memory is hazy, so that’s merely my best recollection.
But Friday night, a little after 10 o’clock, a band that so closely resembled the Shiner Miners it was shocking took the, err “stage,” at the Guad and proceeded to bang out some of the tightest and freakiest “smartass with a sense of humor” rock I’ve heard just about ever in this town. Still quirky, still a bit disheveled and glassy eyed, but this new, leaner three-piece gave me the distinct impression that they actually had their *&^% together, and have developed into one of the better rhythm sections in town.
Put simply, no matter how goofy the music may occasionally come across, drummer Isaac Sturgill and bassist Jason Beck have achieved that joined-at-the-hip quality that defines a band’s sound and momentum. As a guitarist, Webb has embraced the creative use of effects (namely echo) lending a whole new atmosphere to the mutated reggae/rap/dub/country/spoken word/rock thing that’s become a sort of trademark.
That’s not to say that the slop we all know and love isn’t still there — it’s just that the Shiner Miners are getting so good at being themselves that even the slop is refined. The usual crowd of locals was present, and by the second set was wound up into such a frenzy that clothing began disappearing, footwear was set aloft, spontaneous wrestling matches broke out and even a fine example of the good old fashioned “drunken lip-lock on the dance floor” made an appearance. If my calculations are correct and all the votes have been processed and accounted for, the Shiner Miners easily won the “most improved local band of people that I’m friends with but that I’m not obligated to say nice things about” award, and that ain’t no small feat.
The next night was the fourth (fifth?) installment of Sylva’s “Play For Peace” music ... thing, with multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire Matt Williams kicking off the late evening festivities. Considering the amount of times a mysterious “scheduling conflict” was mentioned into the mic, my educated guess is that there may have been some kind of “scheduling conflict” regarding who (Williams or funky jam upstarts Ideal Way) was the opener and headliner, but again, that’s just a guess — albeit a sarcastic one.
There’s no doubting the considerable skills of Williams and accompanist Stephen Foster (who qualifies as a multi-instrumentalist in his own right, looking at the sheer number of horns of varying shape and size he brought along for the ride) when you see them perform.
Williams has so many instruments under his belt, such a command of on-the-fly looping and layering (including his vocals) that it’s tough not to be a little knocked out when you see the guy pull it all off right in front of you. His fondness for vaguely 70’s styled “prog-pop” is apparent, with phased-out Jean Luc-Ponty styled violin solos taking flight over his major and minor seventh based “mini jams.”
And as carefully rehearsed as this kind of performance has to be, there were true moments of spontaneous improvisation, especially when he and Foster began trading fours and playing off each other. My only wish was for a little more ebb and flow in the set, maybe a few more numbers delivered sans looping and such fanciness, so that when Williams does build that miniature orchestra of sound we know he carries around in his head it’s just that much more meaningful.
Regardless, Williams has been hard at work in WCU’s studio on several new albums slated for fall and winter release, and if the new tunes in his set are any indication, they’re going to be quite excellent.
Back to the rhythm section thing — Ideal Way has a great one. As if it wasn’t difficult enough to basically improvise an entire set of music (in this case, an hour or two) it’s even tougher to make the majority of it actually work, and it’s that quality that may eventually separate Ideal Way from much of the tie-dyed jam band pack. There are bassists that groove, and there are bassists that noodle, but in Christian Ferri you get the better elements of both. Positively super-glued to Caleb Beissert’s bass drum, the duo struck the just the right balance of busyness and dynamic interplay in order to give Brett Dumsha’s guitar enough space to cluck, squawk and squeal as needed.
Though some of the transitions between the “songs” got a little lost, once these guys found a groove they chomped down on it like an emaciated pitbull on Ronald McDonald’s burger scented hand. Amidst the wacka-wacka of the wah pedal and the syncopated goodness of the drums and bass, there was a head-bobbing, hippie-dancing good time to be had by all, and though the vibe was completely different than that of the previous night, having two nights in a row of fine music on Main Street is nothing to scoff at.
But even better — it was proof that people do indeed still enjoy hearing talented players stretch out and take chances onstage, be it the brainy oddball antics of the Shiner Miners, the meticulously crafted singer/songwriter pop of Matt Williams or the inspired, mercurial soundscapes of Ideal Way: all local musicians, and all damn good. Now stop whining about being bored and go see a show.