A bunch of people who I trust have raved about Hella over the past
few years, and despite my reluctance to attend rock concerts, I had a
convenient opportunity to check them out on Wednesday in Philly.
It's an instrumental duo of electric guitar and drums. Within about
30 seconds it was clear to me that they are one of the most important
rock bands in the world.
My first impression of the drummer was that he was Bill Bruford,
Tatsuya Yoshida, Furio Chirico (Arti e Mestieri), Akira Sotoyama
(Tipo), and Dave Lombardo rolled into one. But then I quickly
realized that he was nothing less than a rock drum version of Conlon
Nancarrow's player piano pieces. Someone told me that his way of
using his bass drum pedal gave him something like 3 hits each time
instead of 1, but I'm not able to presently verify the accuracy of
this. Let's just say that during the middle of the set he had to
take a minute to remove his sock and shoe and thoroughly wipe not
only his foot with a towel, but also the bass drum pedal itself.
Also, at the end of the set I had gotten up close on the side of the
stage and I when he stood up I realized his jean shorts were
literally as wet as they'd be if he'd been swimming in them for an
hour. Curiously, even though the drumming sounded very visceral and
forceful, he was not pounding the drums at all, but rather playing
with a very light, quick touch. I think the secret was in very
astute amplification, and I believe there was some minimal,
transparent processing. He had his ride cymbal only a few inches
above the floor tom and everything in his drumkit was very close
together, allowing him to play extremely fast, awkward, and
complicated patterns with a small range of motion.
The guitar player mostly played understated accents in the
background, and drew from a fairly wide range of rock vocabulary
without settling into any particular idiom. He often played his
electric guitar in the style of Jack Tripper from the popular TV
sitcom "Three's Company". I'm not ambitious enough to explicate the
elusive and non-formulaic, yet successful contributions of the
guitar, and this was a rare case where I really had no idea how much,
if any, of the music was improvised. They seem to have developed
such a personal vocabulary that the distinction is almost
meaningless. The structure of the pieces was quite abstract; I don't
have a handle on it yet and I can't think of any references for it.
I shall certainly be studying their work extensively in the future.
I stood with my mouth hanging open in disbelief and calm rapture for
the duration. I would classify it as a musical epiphany.
I wasn't expecting this at all, and it reminds me it's good to
venture out once in a while.
np: Spaced Out "Slow Gin"
The best way to predict the future is to invent it. --Alan Kay