I saw Kayo Dot, Birds of Maya, and Earth at Johnny Brenda's bar last night (May 5 2008) here in Philadelphia.
My experience during Birds of Maya's set was wonderful. They played beautiful heavy, fuzzy psych in the vein of early Sabbath. While they played, I closed my eyes and opened my mind to free associations across the blank black canvas of my lids.
Images built off of what I saw just before I closed my eyes. The images started with something in the room--- the shape of the singer/bassist hunched over his instrument or the arm of the person in front of me-- but with eyes closed and no outside visual stimulation for minutes on end, things morphed. My eyelids became a playground for my subconscious: images of my family's 1st home in Piscataway, NJ (1979-88), old lovers, abstract blobs.
All this came and went, shifting like a collage or a montage while I rocked back and forth with Birds of Maya's music washing over me. Every time someone accidentally bumped into me in passing, this trance, these visions would be broken. My eyes would open and I'd be rudely returned from the clouds and dropped back down into a Fishtown hipster bar.
At one point with my eyes open, I saw the singer/bassist crouched on the floor with his boom mike pushed down low and his bass propped up on his knee. I thought he'd been bowled over by the power of his band's own music , but after the set I learned from my friends that his guitar strap had simply broken, apparently while my eyes were closed, necessitating his awkward position.
BoM's set seemed to end too quickly. I think they actually played for 30-35 minutes, though it felt more like 20. But my perception was altered---- self-altered in a way, aided by good strong music.
As many of you know, I don't do drugs and I never have. But I like trying to experience something analogous to drugs through my own mental and sensory power. I like the idea of temporary "mind alteration." but I don't like the idea of the cost of drugs, the side effects, the possible physical and psychological addictions, the frequent injustice involved in their preparation, and the inability to "come down" at will when under the influence.
Drugs play off of the chemicals and circuitry already in place in the brain. I like seeing how far the brain can take itself just through internal and sensory stimuli. This seems to be a life-long experiment. And I take comfort knowing that I can come down nearly immediately if a situation around me requires a "level-headed" response.
Music doesn't always have such a powerful effect on me as it did last night. This was my 4th or 5th time seeing Birds of Maya and the first time I had a near-psychedelic experience. With my anxieties and racing thoughts it's infrequent that I can actually just let music wash over and have a drug-like effect on me. But I'm grateful that I CAN have this experience at all, without any "supplementary" substances, even if only happens occasionally.
Here's a clip of Birds of Maya, also recorded at Johnny Brenda's, late in 2006. I think they also opened with this song at the show last night. This video is choppy (as if half the frames are dropped) giving the band the appearance of dancers beneath a strobe. But the blurry, altered natured of the visuals suggests the altered nature of my own colorful closed-lid experience as the band played.
And the fuzzy sound is pretty spot on document of how the band sounds live.
Though Birds of Maya was the unexpected highlight, Earth was the headliner.
Earth's set, which came all (or mostly) from their newest album, was dark and beautiful--- doomy, instrumental country played at a heavy-hitting molasses pace. But by the time Earth hit the stage, it was nearly midnight and I was very aware of my tired legs. This made it difficult to fully lose myself in the music.
The standout of their set was the closing piece. Guitarist/mastermind Dylan Carson announced (sans microphone) that it would be a bonus track on the upcoming vinyl release of the most recent Earth album ("And the Bees Made Honey in the Lion's Skull.) This bonus track had a jagged trombone(!) line and a glacial yet catchy guitar riff.
I'm glad I haven't bought the album yet and have just been tiding myself over with a pirate download. Now I will certainly hold out for next month's release of the (inevitably) beautifully-packaged LP edition.
Here are two clips of Earth from the European leg of their tour earlier this year. The pieces accurately characterize the dark yet slow and relaxing flavor of the band's set last night
This second clip is the trombone "LP bonus track" tune that I enjoyed so much: