September 20, 2008

Live Review: Trip Over the Light Fantastic [Mercury Rev]

On September 10, I had the distinct pleasure of seeing Mercury Rev's "Trip Over the Light Fanstastic" at the Stone in NYC.

First off, before entering into a discussion of what the show was, I'd like to point out that the Stone is literally a box, seating no more than 20 people and tucked away at 2nd street and avenue C. The Stone is not-for-profit music space run by avant-garde musician John Zorn, and hosts a variety of atypical music performances.

Mercury Rev is one of my favorite bands, and I've followed them ever since their release of Deserter's Songs, an album I believe is one of the best musical pieces to come out the 1990s. Comparisons to the Flaming Lips are multiple, as the two bands are led by singers with similarily high-pitched wails, though I always thought Mercury Rev was always a little more out-there, if that's possible.

Back to the show. As I entered the Stone at around 9:40 PM, I immediately went directly to the front row, and found myself literally a foot-and-a-half away from the microphone of Rev's lead singer, Jonathan Donahue. A scene before the performance:

Then, at around 10 PM, the band came out in a very "un-rockstar" entrance, crawling over patrons that were sitting on the ground and nearly tripping a couple of times. People around me were asking me if they knew what was going to happen, for which I gave a big ol' shrug. One guy to the left of me thought it was going to be a full-blown concert, but I knew that wasn't the case, given the setting.

Mr. Donahue stepped to his mic, but then he put on this strange headset, which was hooked up to all sorts of machinery, and then sat down in his chair. Alex Chechile, a Brooklyn avante-garde artist that accompanied the Rev, brought along a hand-built electroencephalograph, or EEG, along with a computer program that was used to modify music in real time according to one's own brain activity. Like something out of a movie, Alex had hooked up Jonathan to this machine, and the band began to "play".

"This is the sound of my brain" cooed Jonathan, as loud though rhythmic thumps emanated from the Stone's crackling speakers. In the background, two individuals touched two light beams to create a strange visual that I won't try describing, but maybe this picture does:

As Donahue manipulated brainwaves, Grasshopper, Rev's guitarist, played percolated riffs and noise, which was also sonically manipulated through his computer:

The show was a good 45 minutes, and though it wasn't a typical Mercury Rev performance, it wasn't what I expected, which is refreshing coming from a band that's been on the circuit for two decades. Even after all these years, Rev is still keeping their experimentalism alive, confirming the notion that this is one of the great American bands to have surfaced in the last twenty years.

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