Disclaimer: both of the musicians that I am about to write about are my friends. I still believe that I am capable of evaluating and commenting upon their work in a reasonably fair manner, but be aware, bias may creep in.
Both of these guys rock, by the way.
Artists: Cup Collector / Brad Schumacher
Venue: Sci-Fi Lounge
Location: St. Louis, Missouri
Date: 2 April 2009
The Sci-Fi Lounge is a unique venue. In fact, I don't even think it was a venue a few weeks ago. It's more of a space, a place you can go to to just hang out. It is owned by a man named Coyote, and it is his collection of art, video and arcade games, music, toys, and books that are spread across the place. The cover charge is $2 (at least when there is live music), but that also nets you a free (non-alcoholic) drink or snack. The atmosphere is great, the people are nice, and the whole thing is rather user-friendly. The only downside is that the place has very limited hours – think I heard it's just open Tuesday and Thursday nights from 8pm-midnight. Coyote has a day job, after all.
Anyway, Cup Collector hit the stage precisely at 9:18 and the crowd went WILD. It was madness. Chairs were thrown about the building, drinks were knocked over recklessly, someone charged at the band and stole all the amplifiers, and then the power went out. We all went home and cried. End of review.
Just kidding. Cup Collector turned on his equipment and asked Coyote if he was too loud. He turned down some, turned to the meager audience and gave a big smile. His setup was his electric guitar, a looping pedal, some effects pedals, and two amplifiers. He turned towards his amplifiers and began playing a very droning riff, mostly consisting of different variations and voicings of the same base chord. Through looping some of these, he created a thick layer of a single massive chord. After a few minutes, he began using his guitar to create feedback hums over the looped chords. The total effect was beautiful, almost relaxing. After six minutes, he suddenly stopped the loops and his playing.
After a quick retune and capo overlay, Cup Collector started a second piece, this time based off of a series of fingerpicked riffs (or at least, that's my guess considering that his back was to us). Several of these were looped over each other to create a swarm of picking. The piece began to build up, and then some distorted undertones appeared in the mix. The sound got louder and more intense until he was adding layers of feedback on top of it all. He removed the layers slowly and faded into a return to quiescence. After completing the ten-minute piece, he cleared his equipment from the stage to make some room for Brad.
Brad Schumacher prepared his equipment for a while and apparently somehow destroyed his orange-painted amplifier in the process. Nonetheless, he still had a PA mixer, two orange-painted speakers, a television wired to display audio waves, his laptop, his guitar, and several pedals. He also had some sort of large sheet which some sort of rough outline of his set sketched out upon it. When he was ready, he played some distorted harmonics and thanked everyone present. He then preceded to play something he "dreamed up a few days ago".
Brad opened with his programmed digital synthesizer on his laptop. After letting his guitar feed back, he scraped his strings a few times and went back to playing with his laptop again. The rawness of the noise came down a notch for a minute, but then he started pounding on his guitar to get some sounds out, and then he started using a whammy pedal to really freak out his guitar. This was matched by a rise in the digital synth upwards to very high pitches. The guitar sound turned very strange and mechanical as the whole soundscape turned dirtier and more tense. Eventually the noise level came down and turned into distant-sounded rumbles. Brad switched to a more electronic-sounding guitar effect, but then began using heavier distortion, some sort of gate, and his whammy pedal. The sum sound was a very thick, dark tonal freakout. Brad bent his guitar neck and used harmonics for more weird sounds, and faded out on synth washes and heavy chords. The whole piece lasted about twenty-two minutes.
This line-up of performers made for an interesting combination – they sounded different, yet they fit together well. Cup Collector is more of a drone sort of thing, but his fancy fingerwork means that there is more going on than a single protracted note – he kept my attention well by his fairly constant subtle changes to the soundscape. Brad's piece felt like an honest composition: there were distinct sections with different sounds, and he balanced his work well between his guitar and the digital synth. I have no idea how he created some of the sounds he made, and that fascinates me.
Both loosely fall into the ambient scene, and both were solo musicians focusing on their guitars, pedals, layering, and feedback, instead of vocals, melody, or rock stylings, but their approaches are somewhat different, and I was left in a different mood after each. Even when Cup Collector approached more intense ground, the atmosphere was more relaxing than abusive. Much of Brad's piece was darker, but the whole sum of his performance was more varied than just that; there was a process, a development, some sort of logical progression from start to finish.
It's rather a pity, though, that the audience was mostly just a few friends of each of performer. The musicians of the night fit the environment well, but I can't help but think that there are plenty of people that should have been there and would have loved it if they had been. The Sci-Fi Lounge is a cool venue that deserves some more attention. I hope a few more people start heading there – it may be tucked away a little bit, but it isn't hard to find and it's just off the Loop.