Sleepytime Gorilla Museum
I just got back from my first show from this band, and I feel the need to write something down about it. I guess you might look at this as a music review, or you might not. I generally prefer to leave that in more capable hands.
I will be the first to admit that I am not an avid, rabid fan of progressive music. Hmm, no, I can’t really say that either. Maybe I should back up. I’ve been trying to quantify how I feel about this for some time now. Maybe I can digress for a moment and express this now.
If you look at the body of progressive music, starting when the term was first really used (more to the point, the earliest mention that I know of), you’ll be thinking Yes, early (Gabriel) Genesis, King Crimson, ELP, Pink Floyd. Since those times, I think prog has developed into a full blown genre, with branches reaching out in to nearly every cross-branch elemental you can think of… rock, punk, jazz, etc. I’ve tried to imagine some cohesive element to all of those branches, and honestly, I’m not sure there is one. In my own mind, I think progressive music (as a body of music) is most characterized not by some specific musical quality, but instead by the willingness of its participants to do something … different. They retool old sounds, use odd beats and timings, make frequent use of improvisation … in general, their musical toolbox is FAR AND AWAY more diverse than that of most musicians “in the market” today. Many find it dissonant, and I can’t totally disagree with that. I prefer to think of it as music deconstructed, though, as if taking the music to its base elements and putting it back together differently is an act to be appreciated on its own. I suppose that aspect of it is an acquired taste, and certainly not for everyone.
So that having been said, progressive music isn’t normally in my day-to-day playlist. Sure, there are errant groups and/or albums that certainly have been labelled as such that find their way in, but I’d probably argue they’re of the more mainstream styling. In any case, I don’t necessarily seek it out actively. However, I will say that I do need it. After leaving that show tonight, I felt like I had had a long overdue musical colon cleansing. As if I had been swimming in my normal soupy miasma of music, and someone had just yanked me out with a pitchfork. And yes, I mean that in the nicest possible way.
So, how can I describe them. Not necessarily equal, but wholly distinct parts Zappa, Bjork, Pantera, Primus. Throw in a viking and alot of musical chops, and you’re getting close. I saw flute, french horn, violin, drums, xylophone, bass, lead and rhythm guitars. They also have several instruments they’ve made themselves, some of which had names… homemade hammer dulcimer (8 foot long), an electric pancreas, grandma’s attic, a percussion guitar, a full drumset made of everything from a bicycle tire frame, radiator parts, etc. There was something that looked like a deconstructed bedspring, as well as what I can only describe as a “bass harmonica”. ALL were used to great effect.
When the lights were on prior to the show, I got the sense that these were folks doing the best they could with what they had, and weren’t afraid to raid thrift stores and junkyards to do it. If you think about it, though, if you give someone talented all the right tools, it really doesn’t matter what they cost. When they first came on stage, their dress reinforced the first impression. The clothes were a rag-tag mess of every color cloth imaginable, sewn together (with remarkable ability) into some sort of circus act formal wear complete with frills and absolutely PIMPIN’ hats. So few people wear hats anymore, a rant for another day. But once the lights went down… you just forgot. It becomes actually hard to imagine that such quality of musicianship is not being produced on the best class of instrumentation. The musical stylings were complex, the beats errant and dizzying. This is not for the faint of heart. If your idea of progressive music is Yes, you need not apply here. If you’re more into Thrak-era Crimson, or wouldn’t mind seeing what Robert Fripp might produce on an acid trip with Tom Morello, this might be your style.
What I said earlier, I think, is still apt… I do need this. I need to be jolted out of my sense of contentment (or perhaps lack thereof) with most of today’s music and remember that there really is something innovative out there still. You just have to need a couple good friends to drag you out of your comfort zone every once in awhile and remind you.