Sunday, December 03, 2006

Dirt Road Ragas and Expatriate Gypsy Flamenco Blues

When I was a little kid, if my room was dark enough and I couldn't get to sleep at night, I would get a strange sensation that there were no walls around me and I was just floating alone in a big black void. Every now and then when I'm lucky enough I still get that sensation, and it usually has to do with music. I definitely got a big dose of it seeing Jack Rose perform last night. (for a laugh, check out what other musical act comes up when you google Jack Rose) He was playing in a really intimate, quiet room and the droning Americana infused ragas he coaxed out his 12 strings (well, 11 after one of them broke) were utterly transcendant. I had my eyes shut and lost track of time and my surroundings and found myself with that sensation that the walls around me had ceased to exist and I was all alone. It wasn't a hopeless feeling of complete isolation though, but quite the contrary. It's more in line with the Hindu concept of brahman, that we're all connected to the formless, transcendental, and immanent divine. That we're all plugged into the same life energy, like spokes on a wheel issuing from a central hub or those giant aspen tree groves whose root systems are intertwined. It's a really beautiful feeling that will probably last until I see someone with a Calvin pissing on Islam sticker on their truck or hear an Aerosmith song on the radio. It is nice to know it's there though (our connection to the divine no matter how distant, not stupid bumper stickers). He also played some really far out slide stuff on his lap guitar towards the end of his set but unfortunately for me my bladder was full to the bursting point and it was detracting from my blissed out mindset. Jack had a great new CD for sale available on the Archive label. Beautiful die cut and letter pressed packaging in a limited pressing of 1,000. Get yours now before the parasites have them listed on eBay when they're sold out.

After short break and a much needed trip to the bathroom, Peter Walker came out to play. I hadn't heard of this guy until a couple weeks ago when a CD of his came into the record store where I help out. The label on it had Ben Chasny heralding him as the biggest single influence on his music, so my interest was piqued. I hadn't heard him until last night and his performance was astounding. He had been in Spain studying with flamenco guitar masters in the early 60s, and was telling stories of clubs in caves that were hundreds of years old, where they beat you up and break your guitar if you disrespect their culture by playing poorly. His style was a seamless blend of Indian ragas (he had also studied with Ravi Shankar), gypsy flamenco, and American folk. He was also telling stories about how the gypsy music wasn't too far removed from Indian music, and the influence they had on flamenco music. I hadn't really made that connection, but it made perfect sense, and his guitar articulated it more clearly than anyone talking about it could have. It was his first time touring in the United States since the 60s, and it was very inspiring to hear an elder statesmen figure of the counter-culture talk about how he had been playing places like this all around the country, that it was nice to see the underground rising up again. It gives you hope that maybe we're not quite fucked yet. I should take a minute to talk about the venue, The Bohemian National Home. A couple months ago I figured out that I used to go there all the time when I was younger as it was a Lithuanian social club in the 80s. It's a non-descript brick building in a sketchy, very un-fashionable neighborhood that weeds out casual concert goers or someone just looking for a place to hang out and drink. You won't have to filter out overheard inane drunken chatter or cell phone conversations during the music because everyone there is going to be focused on the music. The crowds are always hushed and reverent at the types of shows like last night, but they also have punk and noise shows in the bigger rooms there. They also sell beer for a very reasonable price and keep admission prices low. I feel lucky that there are places like this in my city to go to.

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