Sunday, March 7, 2010

Show Review: Appleseed Cast: 6 March 2010

When it was announced that the Appleseed Cast —one of my favorite bands— would be touring and playing their two volume Low Level Owl album —my favorite of theirs— in its entirety live, I sought out a date, secured a group of friends to make the trip to San Francisco with me and looked forward to the gig for anticipating months.

Well, last night was the night.

Dave, Paul, Rob (a worthy group of gents) and myself drove down to SF, did some record shopping, had a fantastic meal in Japan town and then were off to the warehouse district to Bottom of the Hill.

The opener was Dreamend. I had never heard of them before, but they were good; in a 'hey, this opening band sounds like a competent imitation of the headliner' sort of way. A satisfying thirty five minute set breezed by like nothing and I was appreciative of their humbleness and apparent focus. One of those rare opening bands that doesn't blow you away, but at the same time, is good enough to make you remember their name.

The time between when Dreamend exited the stage and Appleseed sauntered onstage was probably only about fifteen minutes, but it felt like an eternity. For me, the tension in the place was extreme.

When Chris stepped on stage, I thought it was finally here. Dave tapped me on the shoulder, pointed at the stage and just said, "Dude!"

But it was the ultimate move in suspense, as he silently tuned his guitar, strummed out a chord and then exited the stage again.

Damn this infernal buildup!

After it was all said and done, the band nonchalantly (and, admittedly, a bit anticlimactically) ventured onstage around 11pm one by one and then, before I knew it, 'The Waking of Pertelotte' was happening before a "Good evening" or even a modest "Hi" had even had the chance to take place.

That familiar riff, the unmistakable drum buildup.

'On Reflection'!!!!!!

And off they went!

No, this was not: play a song, wait for applause, say a humble "Thank you" and then on to the next song.


This was: play the album song for song, every small nuance and crevice to be unforgotten. Pretty sure a lot of this stuff was being played live for the first time since its studio inception, roughly ten years ago. Stuff like 'Messenger' and 'A Tree For Trials' —which may have seemed like negligible between song bits in the bigger picture on record— were represented as distinct, completely performed pieces; showing that, yes, everything on the original album was indeed quite intentional and relevant.

That initial run of tunes on volume one was flawless. 'On Reflection,' after a mostly instrumental run-through that echoed their expedited run through of the tune in Reno a few years ago blasted into 'Blind Man's Arrow' as efficiently as I could've hoped for, while the three song instrumental build up to 'Steps and Numbers' was nearly better than on the record. 'Steps and Numbers' itself was just as good and as epic as I remember it was when they played it on the Peregrine tour in Reno — except, this time, it continued into 'Sentence' like a literal (for me anyway) dream come true. Chris wailed away, "Do you feel the light is gone? Is it hard to remain strong; in the face of all you know?" and I subtly, uncontrollably mouthed along with his words in a state of pure head-bopping acquiescence to the music. Truly, the song is modern day classic. The masses just need to catch up. I felt that way last time I saw them play it live, but this infinitely more intimate presentation of the tune just solidified it for me.

The rest of volume one is a blur. I don't even recall stage mannerisms. Who cares, anyway? They were up there and they were playing it. Not until the bassline for 'View of Burning City' was presented did it hit me: they were really up there.

They were really playing what I believe to be a monument in modern music to roughly 250 people in a cramped bar, just hundreds of yards away from the Pacific Ocean. Like it mattered. For those roughly ninety or one hundred minutes, this music fucking mattered like nothing else before or after it. I am not a religious person by any stretch, but jesus christ, did it feel fucking relevant. It was jubilant gloom, in a way. I was happy to be there, slowly vibing to intensely introspective music that borders on self-indulgence and wanting nothing more than to just have the band never ever stop playing it.

They successfully presented a suspenseful and perfectly truncated two part version of 'View of a Burning City' separated by a brief five minute set break. I mean, when they came back on and literally picked up where they left off, it was like they never left.

Volume two, like on record, was a much more subdued and, if I may say, spiritual affair. "Shaking Hands" was a song I was looking forward to in anticipation of the show and, despite its modest presentation, I was quite pleased with the arrangement the band put forth. "Rooms and Gardens" felt like a finale, honestly. With its noisy penultimate movement, it was the closest thing I've seen to Sonic Youth on a stage since I saw Sonic Youth on a stage. As the rest of volume two is mostly instrumental, it was a time for the band to really work the dynamics on songs like 'Sunset Drama King' and 'The Argument.' And work it, they did. If the current lineup of the Appleseed Cast is not the most charismatic in terms of stage presence, they at least have a grasp on the full on wall of sound they are presenting to their audience. Indeed, there were points during these instrumentals that the only person in the band facing the audience was the drummer. No fault to the band, however, as the were all occupied twiddling knobs and making sure theirs was an organized noise. And speaking of volumes, the show was exceedingly loud — to the point that my ears, even at the point of typing this, are, quite literally, still ringing.

I was curious as to how the band would present Low Level Owl's final track 'Confession' in a live setting, but the way it was done was far noisier and much more of a free form, liberating rock and roll clamor than I had expected. A distorted keyboard outro from Aaron and they were off stage. Much applause and crowd noise and they were just as quickly back on stage to play an unlikely cover of the Van Pelt as an encore.

And then they were done.

It was roughly one hundred or so minutes of stage time, but I was not ready for it to end. However, like all good showmen, they left the audience (or me, at least) wanting more in the best possible way. The four hour drive, the maneuvering of San Francisco's labyrinthine corridors being passed off as streets, the returning home amidst freezing 5am Reno temperatures; it all seemed more than worth it.

Regrettably, I forgot my camera. After the show however, we stuck around and were able to get some chat time in with the band. Dave and I learned, amongst other things, that they are at least six songs into a new record, would love to play Reno again and, most of all, they are regenerated by playing some of the Low Level Owl material for the first time in years (or the first time ever); to quote Aaron, "By showing ourselves that we can play some of this material live, we feel like we can do anything." And though, even the drummer and bassist are not the members who played on the record, I feel like this lineup more than did the material justice and presented the album in a unique way that, even for someone who has studied the studio renditions over and over again, found much to consider and get excited about in the current lineup's performance of the material.

Of course, chatting with the band afterwords does have its benefits...

(Sorry to the keyboardist {presumably a member of Dreamend, first and foremost} who played with Appleseed for the duration of their set; I would've loved to have you sign as well, but you were nowhere to be found.)

Overall, I could not have asked for more. As if I did not hold Low Level Owl in high enough esteem already, the band presented it to me in a form that was expected, but no less exciting. It's a little weird, and plenty rewarding, to know exactly what the band is going to play next, and yet, still be surprised by the presentation.

Truly, the music, as played last night, felt as relevant and as poignant as ever.

I feel privileged to have been there.


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