Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Show Review: Apse, Matt Wilga, Roman Wolfe @ Popeye's Garage, Oct. 2nd

Saturday night I made my way down to Popeye's Garage, an ad-hoc performance, rehearsal and gallery space located in downtown New Haven to catch a three band bill of New Haven's Roman Wolfe, Matt Wilga of NY's the Stoned Ambassadors and Northampton, MA's Apse. This was to be the first of the venue's final three shows.

Despite its semi-obvious location (it really is located right behind Popeye's Chicken), I initially missed the venue because of its unassuming street facade which made it look more like a storage space than a music venue. Upon closer inspection I found my way to the side of the building and was greeted by an arrangement of lawn chairs and a table occupied by some friendly regulars, as well as the door inside. The venue itself was a stage-less, no-frills cinder block room light by a few light bulbs that, true to its name, looked like a garage. A secondary room with sheet rock walls expanded the venue further back into what looked like a former car bay. Aside from a large pom-pom-esque art installation hanging from the ceiling, little else, save a large wall-mounted calendar, decorated the space. Overall it was a bit smaller than I was anticipating given the size of the building as a whole but served its function (a room with a PA) well.

The show itself, which was scheduled to begin around 7pm, got off to a rocky start primarily due to the revelation that all of the venues mic stands had gone missing since the last show ("that's the fifth mic stand we've lost!"). While show co-organizer Ross Menze went off to retrieve more, I made good on the extra time by talking briefly with another of Popeye's organizers, Stefan Christensen (of Estrogen Highs, Iron Hand, Medication) about the impending closure of the space. According to Christensen, shows are being ceased primarily because of a change of ownership between the current owner and New Haven's own property Pac-Man, Yale University. Although he remained optimistic about the possibility of one-off shows in the future, Popeye's Garage as the much-needed weekly venue and downtown multi-purpose space it has become the last 6 months will be ceasing October 9th.

Roman Wolfe (photo by Bob Rock)
At about 8pm the microphone stands had arrived and the night's first band, New Haven synth-driven Roman Wolfe (who, funnily enough, didn't need use microphones or mic stands) began their performance. As the band glided into their set amidst a psychedelic wash of synths and tribal drums it quickly became apparent that Roman Wolfe was something different. Songs flowed together and became more like journeys in sound rather than the standard poptastic verse chorus verse. The lack of vocals, especially, placed their sound firmly outside of mainstream convention. Although I would anticipate that the synths (I spotted a microkorg and some yamaha equipment amongst the tabletop of wires) sounded great on record, in a live setting, the drums took center stage. Oscillating between tribal and jazz influences, a consistent rhythm was there but hard to pin down at times. As the show went on drummer Mike Birnbaum became more adventurous and complex in his playing. While keyboardist/synther Donovan Fazzino was locked into texture and high-end frequencies, Birnbaum used his rack, floor and snareless snare drum (basically just another hi-tom) to create drum patterns that slowly morphed in form and intensity. At times a subtle percussive melody began to develop that carried the songs along, giving definition to what would otherwise be pure linear texture. As a drummer myself I really appreciated everything he was accomplishing with only four drums and a ride cymbal. Although none of the 'songs' particularly stood out above the rest, the band's unique sound and free-form arrangements and performance were certainly memorable, especially live. For anyone into instrumental synth-based psychedelica or great percussion, I'd highly recommend checking out Roman Wolfe.
Matt Wilga (photo by Bob Rock)
Following a brief interlude that saw the removal of synthesizers and drums and the addition of guitar amps and pedals, Matt Wilga of Brooklyn's the Stoned Ambassadors began his set. Originally billed to be a full-on Stoned Ambassadors show, Wilga was forced to go it solo because "there was a wedding," presumably attended by at least one of the members of the band. Wilga seemed to be fairly comfortable in solo form though, flying through a series of jangly guitar rock gems. At times their was a definite country waltz and/or swamp rock feel to his songs, which seemed to only be enhanced without a band to fill them out. Towards the middle of his set the guitarist for the Stone Ambassadors joined Wilga, adding some great pedal-laden blues guitar lines that added a whole new expanse to Wilga's songs. Wilga seemed to only be gathering steam as his set moved to a close which made the audience only want more. After some coercion, Wilga performed one more strong number before proclaiming "I don't play encores." Encores or not, be sure to check out his single There I Go (available from Labor Of Love) which was a definite standout amongst his set.

Apse (photo by Bob Rock)
After another, slightly longer equipment changeover, Northampton, MA's Apse growled to life. Regularly a six piece, the band's lineup has dwindled throughout the course of 2010 to four, with Saturday night's show being the first in such configuration. Perhaps driven by this fact, the band seemed hell-bent on proving they can still rock it no matter how many people were in the band and, by and large, were pretty successful in doing so. Although they were quite loud for the size of the room (at one point the bass levels made me dizzy but in an entirely awesome way), few in attendance backed away from the bands onslaught. Drummer Brandon Collins and bassist John Mordecai were at the center of the band's attack as they ripped through one song after another. Although many genres have been used to described Apse through their 11 year existence, their current sound is best likened to a cross between Radiohead and Neurosis stuck at the bottom of a well. They're simultaneously oppressed and energetic, grating yet melodically beautiful, seemingly forever stuck in a dark place trying to find a way out. Singer/songwriter and sole constant creative force behind the band Bobby Toher seemed particularly stricken, at varying points appearing crazed in his stage movement and yet completely in control with his vocal delivery and musicianship. As the band's set lurched onwards, their volume and intensity level increased until Toher's reverb-drenched vocals became just another brick amongst the band's wall of sound. With one last sonic slice of intensity, capped by Toher dropping his guitar and mic stand to the ground, the band was finished, soaked in sweat but seemingly content in proving to themselves, and the audience, that Apse was still quite alive.

Be sure and check out the final two shows at Popeye's Garage this Friday, October 8th (headlined by The Field Recordings) and Saturday, October 9th (headlined by Malcolm Tent).

1 comment:

Brushback said...

Popeye's Garage has been immense.... will be missed.