I rediscovered an incredible band in Arp of the Covenant and discovered a new one in All Tiny Creatures at the Cafe Montmartre tonight. This was not the casual club-goer’s cup of tea as evidenced by the size of the crowd, rainstorms or no. But each of these bands managed to turn heads, even those attached to torsos that really could care less.
First off, this is my first show review in 2 1/2 years aside from a couple of one-offs. Some things have not changed much in terms of clubs in this town, particularly the horrendous lighting. Not to be down on any establishment that’s supporting live music, but the Cafe Montmartre’s troubles don’t end there either.
Check out the photo above. The stupid lightbulb is actually the brightest light on the stage. The lighting is so dim it makes taking flash-less pictures like this one (a stroke of luck it’s not completely blurred) impossible, even wih a tripod. In the last six years I’ve never seen anyone aim a lightbulb before or between performances in any club. Most times, if there are any members near the ends of the stage they are relegated to the shadows. At the Montmartre, half the lights that do exist are either aimed at the ceiling or at the mirrorball. For fuck’s sake, it’s time to mothball mirrorballs.
Why the Montmartre did not move the stage to the other side of the building when it merged with the old Sidecar pub is a mystery. The main room is not suited for music. Even with a small crowd the banter is amplified by the poor acoustics, creating a constant sonic battle between crowd and performer. Furthermore, the speaker placement is such that the only true sonic center is behind the bar, if it exists at all. I’m not sure how the soundman at this show managed such a great mix, but probably because he wears headphones. To top this all off it will cost $5 for a beer at the Momo unless you actually like PBR.
Bringing a failed battery to the show caused me to miss all but the last song of the first set by the duo Somni (Guess I’m a little rusty). Why a band would basically name themselves “Sleep” is a bit perplexing (actually, it’s Julia Hegland’s middle name) but what is immediately noticeable about this band is they play to backing tracks and have no amplifiers. Not a crime in itself but didn’t Timbuck 3 do this with a boombox decades ago – with more humor? And amplifiers? This is as close to karaeoke as a band can get. Just an observation because, as I said, I missed the set.
All Tiny Creatures exemplified what computers can do to augment a band’s abilities, not substitute for lacking members or lack of will. The band’s roughly forty-minute, all instrumental set consisted of three songs + one encore. Keyboardist/guitarist Thomas Wincek is the focal point of the band as he manipulates sequencers, loops and keyboards while providing onstage ledership and direction. Guitarist Andrew Fitzpatrick has studied his Robert Fripp as he created a patiche of layered guitar lines in a Frippertronic style. Both he Wincek, who donned a guitar at times, had some looping going on and the effect was very cool. The band has some Sigur Ros influence, a bit more manacing and, of course, without vocals. Though they were performing some complex music and Wincek especially had to focus on the sequenced parts as well as his own, the band was having fun. The crowd took a real liking to them, heralding a fourth tune before they surrendered the stage. All Tiny Creature’s debut full-length is due later this year and its rumored that Justin Vernon (Bon Iver) provides some vocals.
Arp of the Covenant is one of the best bands I’ve seen in Madison and hands-down the most interesting. Three virtiosos in keyboardist Mark Siegenthaler, bassist Brad Townsend and drummer Nick Zielinski make for one of the most fulfilling musical adventures you’re likely to hear. They introduced themselves and indicated they would be playing their new, upcoming album Robot Western in its entirety because, in the words of Zielinski, “that’s the way it’s meant to be heard like other great concept albums such as 2112 and a bunch of ELP records.” He was being humorous as he is wont to do, a very funny man; but when he plays the drums he takes no back seat to Carl Palmer. The new album is fantastic, highly complex, and as you watch them you just have to wonder how they do it. Townsend really stood out, his bass lines frequently serve to anchor the tunes. Siegenthaler made frequent use of the vocoder in true robot fashion. After they completed the album to a rousing ovation from the small crowd, they played “Arp of the Covenant Theme Song” from their first eponymous CD. But that wasn’t enough as the crowd wanted more so, after a brief conference, they decided to play crowd favorite “Bad Alternator” and announced that it had now been joined with another tune, “Turbo Christian” to become “Bad Alter-Christian.” Whatever you call it, it sounded great.
This band should be right up there with the newer prog groups, on the stages of the biggest festivals. Look for them to make much bigger waves in the near future, particularly after the release of the new album this fall.