It was friday night. There was a concert at Eli's Mile High Club. Four bands. That's a lot, especially in a bar, where it's generally loud. I knew my ears would be fatigued by the end of the night, my body would be calling for a cozy bed. Yes, I would want to rest my head. Even feel a little dead. But... rather than stay in... I went... instead.
I hadn't been to Eli's in a while. It's funky, weird, gritty, honest. Tacos and beer, occult symbology, an enormous back patio with stadium seating, pool tables, and pinball. "Cool," I thought, "time for beer." I sat with a new friend who had come out to hear IMA. We drank and discussed finances, near death experience, and symmetry as the bands sound checked.
First up was IMA, an electro-percussion duet made up of Nava Dunkelman and Amma Ateria. I've always been impressed by their sets and have seen my fair share (my partner Nava Dunkelman is in the band). This evening's set was ethereally spellbinding, yet grounded and humanized with a digital, percussive grit. Vast, dark spaces of an all encompassing sound massaged the membranes of the audience. Listening to it was like falling into a portal. Every now and then I'd peek around the room to glimpse reactions. A number of jaws dropped when Nava Dunkelman bowed her cymbals on Amma Ateria's contact mic'ed plexiglass drum board, creating an otherworldly, mind melting vibration. Nice! It's always a privilege to hear these two in action.
IMA's set was relatively short. Next up... Zen Mother, a quartet on tour from Seattle. They had what looked like a basic rock 'n roll quartet lineup, except their was a cellist rather than a bassist and the keyboardist was equipped with a number of drum machines and more elaborate electronic goodies. As soon as they began playing I was reminded of the Pacific Northwest. A certain kind of sound comes from that area. I heard it and played it a lot when I lived in Olympia, WA. There's a heaviness to it. The dreary weight of rain, marshes, bogs, and fogged light comes through.
Lead singer of Zen Mother explaining to the sound engineer that she can't hear herself.
Sweet songs! And an awesome guitar. Totally made of metal!
Zen Mother's set was a cocktail of visceral noise rock, psychedelia, and love. Crescendos would drift into lullaby, psychedelic saturations would sync into gritty noise, mantras would evolve into screams that dissolved into sonic orbs of subterranean periodicity. The songs were well crafted and the band played tight. They had been on tour for about a month and were on their way back home, road weary I'm sure. The only trouble for them was some discord with the sound system. Sometimes the balance was off. Every now and again feedback came through. At times the vocals were drowned out, but I guess that's just the way it goes sometimes.
One of their songs echoed on with a chant... "A will to love eternally...A will to love eternally... A will to love eternally." Amen.
At this point in the evening I needed a break. My ears were strained. Access to the exclusive green room was granted. That meant a comfy leather couch, free beer, and a mirror on the coffee table subtly coated in cocaine residue. I took refuge and enjoyed the silence.
mirror on table in green room.
Nava D. chilling in the green room
After a brief respite, I returned to the bar for the third act of the evening, Bourgeois Speedball, the creation of artists Katsy Pline and Danny Lewis. I like the name, but wasn't too into the music though. The first few minutes of the set I really enjoyed. The music was like acutely hyperactive, earth-toned bird song meeting a digital hyperdimension of omnipoesis. "Nice!" I thought. But...they only hung out there for a short time. The music then fully settled into a steady beat. Electronic dance music? Was that what was happening? I knew there was more going on, there had to be, but I was impatient. My ears were tired. Despite some obvious enjoyment from many members of the audience, I became excruciatingly bored and returned to the green room. I probably shouldn't write concert reviews. Is that what this is? Why don't I like to dance? I really don't know.
Bourgeois Speedball doing their thing.
And now for the band that drew the biggest crowd, The Classical, a living paradox of a group, made up of vocalist Juliet Gordon and three electronic musicians, Alex Miner, Paul Montes, and Noah Quillec. The group was celebrating their album release while simultaneously disbanding. Everything at once in these quickened times I guess.
The set was a sweet ending to the night. Every song was its own happy universe. Juliet Gordon, the mastermind of the group, was a glistening star shining bright with sweat, charisma, and a playfulness that uplifted the whole space. There were fans in the audience singing along. I found myself singing the songs later as well. Why is this band breaking up?
Midway through the set, Juliet remarked on the sentimentality of the evening. "Not gonna sing that song again. Not gonna sing that one ever again either." It was the first time I had heard these songs, and they were so uniquely The Classical's music. The group held them in a real way and the way Juliet sang them, it just felt sooo good, uncommonly good.
I enjoyed the set. The music was honest, catchy and nuanced, a happy meeting of diva sensations, analog beats, and prehistoric futurism. The stories that the songs told had been lived, we're being lived. The music cradled love, pain, laughter -all the juicy stuff- and made people move in a good way.
The Classical being awesome
Now, near the end of the set, I thought my ears were beginning to bleed. Four loud bands in a small room and I start to lose my head, so, despite truly enjoying the vibrations of The Classical, I retreated to the green room and looked out a window over the patio of Eli's, listening to The Classical sing its final breaths from beneath the floor while imagining all the cocaine that been sniffed and snorted off the green room coffee table.
"This used to be a cocaine bar," one of The Classical band members told me after their set. "You could go into the ladies bathroom and buy cocaine."
Not anymore I guess. You know, I've never done cocaine. I have a heart condition. Stimulants aren't really for me. You probably shouldn't do cocaine really, even if you're in peak physical condition. Or, perhaps only if you're in peak physical condition. I dunno. Be careful kids.
This was a solid night of good music that made me happy to live in Oakland. I love the strange sounds and the totally unique offerings of this place! You can listen to the bands that played via the links below. Thanks for reading!
Zen Mother -----listen
Bourgeois Speedball -----listen
The Classical -----listen