Big Ears Roundup [part 6]

After the bleak K.I.A., Thompson returned for the admittedly slightly less bleak repertoire set

[…continued from last post]

Richard Thompson + The Knoxville Symphony Orchestra: Repertoire

Having seen the dour first half of the show, I would have imagined that the second half might have been a lot lighter in tone. Thompson quipped words to that effect after leaving the stage after K.I.A., but when the second half started the songs were still filled with characters undergoing bleak circumstances. My wife was ready to leave but we couldn’t; the policy for this show was strictly entry/exit during intermission. We were there for the 45 minute or so duration.

As with the first half, his guitar playing was superb. I just didn’t feel any sympatico with the content of the songs or with his vocal style. Especially the song set in pre-judgement limbo with an unrepentant serial killer happily recounting all of the women he had slain in his life. I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of the murder of women being considered entertainment. Right then and there I never wanted to hear another murder ballad again. It would make a certain Nick Cave + The Bad Seeds album unlistenable… and I’m fine with that.

Near the end of the set Thompson pulled a surprise move on the crowd and slipped a cover version into the flow. He and the orchestra performed a great version of The Rolling Stones “Out Of Time” that was really winning material. I imagine with the orchestra there, Thompson may have thought “what can’t I normally do?” and thoughts turned to The Rolling Stones string-laden tune from 1966’s “Aftermath.” Even better, Thompson sang the song in a more vigorous, full-bodied vocal style. The show ended one or two songs after that and there was a rare encore. Another cover. This time of The Beatles” “Eleanor Rigby;” another swinging sixties string-laden hit. Though I’m no Beatles fan, the performance was strong and lyrically, this was one of the better Beatles songs. The words could have come from Ray Davies’ or Mick Jagger’s pen. With that the show was over and I’d finally heard Richard Thompson. I can’t say we were bowled over, but the format of the show was unusual so we gave it a shot.

Nik Bartsch’s RONIN were the breakout hit of Big Ears 2019

Nik Bärtsch’s RONIN

When Thompson ended at 3:30, we had two options. I was still potentially interested in seeing some Bill Frisell music that I might like, and he was playing with Harmony at The Mill + Mine at 4:00, all the way across town. Or we could walk over to the Tennessee Theatre  immediately [200 yards away] and see Nik Bärtsch’s RONIN, also on our schedule. There was no line outside of the venue so we opted for the easy way out. We easily entered the theatre and got our seats and within 3 minutes were watching the band playing. This was undoubtedly the best move we had ever made!

The band launched into a complex structure that the four members defined, redefined, then expanded upon. With Bärtsch on piano/synths and his team on sax, bass, and drums holding down multiple time signatures within the trance structures of their jazz for the next 20 minutes as the music unfolded like a lotus flower of dazzling and inordinate intricacy! To hear this music felt like I was moving at high velocities in my seat. I had to remind myself to breathe. Next to me, my wife seemed stunned. At first I thought that she might be put off by the performance, but I eventually realized that she was simply spellbound like I was. When the first piece climaxed there was rush of energy from the audience. This was obviously another one of those unpredictable music moments where I was undergoing imprinting with new and vital information being introduced to my DNA with long-range repercussions. Through it all, Bärtsch smiled gleefully at the extraordinary work his band was doing; only pausing to occasionally strike his piano strings with a mallet to coax  new sounds out of them that their manufacturer never anticipated.

Then they played their second song, which lasted some 40 minutes. Our minds were stretched to a new place by the end of that time. Now I like some complex pop music. There’s Japan or Rush, and as always King Crimson is my standard bearer of such things, but in all candor; this made King Crimson sound like ABBA®. It was like a ballet of pure oxygen imparting its energy to the audience like an element that was missing from our diet. How had we gone for so long without this being a part of our lives? One big difference between this music and that of King Crimson was that the punishment/reward dynamic of that band was nowhere to be seen. This music was far more intense without having any harshness in it. When it was over we were thrilled that we had stumbled onto this revelation.

Nik Bärtsch told the audience that they would be meeting any fans at the merch table and my wife raced to the table like a champ. We bought their latest album, “Awase” and Nik and two of his band cohorts [Sha – sax, Tomy Jordi – bass] listened to us gush for a minute or two as they signed our CD. Nik even drew a sketch, and my wife also opted for the CD by Sha’s Fetel; the “more rock oriented” side projects from the sax/clarinet player. Here is a video of  “Modul 58,” the first number that they played in their two song, hour-long set. The producer of it does not allow embedding but it’s well worth the click. Watch and learn!

Next: …Budd’s Valediction

About postpunkmonk

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7 Responses to Big Ears Roundup [part 6]

  1. Boy howdy you ain’t kiddin’, O Monk! I have a love-hate relationship with jazz; some of it is absolutely divine, some forms are just cacophony (to me). Luckily, a friend of mine who’s a jazz professor both plays and recommends good stuff I enjoy. RONIN is pretty damn awesome, and remind of what really hot jazz/progressive “jam sessions” are like (Remain in Light was cut from cloth not unlike this, of course). I do think a background in King Crimson and perhaps other long-form musics is a good starting point for really appreciating stuff like this, but it is definitely music-as-experience on a different plane than much of what I tend to listen to.


  2. Tim says:

    I received a lot of confused looks from folks when I expressed disinterest in Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads for the same reason you offer here. To this day I have a fairly robust Nick Cave collection however that one is absent.
    On the other end of the spectrum I am a huge David Lynch fan and many accuse of him of navigating similar currents (which I don’t agree with but I can see where someone who casually looks at some of his material would reach that conclusion).


    • postpunkmonk says:

      Tim – The stinging irony? For years, “Murder Ballads” was the only Nick Cave album in the Record Cell! My wife brought home the DVD of Cave’s videos and she bought that one soon afterward. Maybe that’s why it took so long for us to get past that one! After the Thompson show I was discussing murder ballads with my wife and noted “how many songs are there about women killing men?” I then realized in the next ten seconds that with “Murder Ballads,” Cave set out to even the score with several new songs on that very topic.

      As for Lynch, I’ll only say that to have one movie with footage of topless women dancing in black panties and high heels is merely a scene. Two, however, cements it as a fetish. Given that Lynch movies rely more strongly on subconscious input that most, I’ll bet on it.


      • Tim says:

        If you haven’t seen Twin Peaks – The Return (aka Season 3) you really need to.
        The Laura Palmer thing is yesterday’s news, most of the series is about Dale Cooper and what happens to him after he leaves the waiting room. There’s plenty of id, subconscious, the whole season is basically a cinematic Rorschach Test with a healthy jab at franchise and nostalgia culture baked into it.
        The dude has his hangups, no doubt, I’ll have to revisit the Elephant Man and The Straight Story for those frisky scenes I seem to have overlooked.


        • postpunkmonk says:

          Tim – Hah, your last quip made me laff! I relented and watched “The Straight Story” after swearing off Lynch after that one with Robert Blake that infuriated me. I figured if there was a narrative it might work for me.


          • Tim says:

            I live in Madison, WI, and he and his wife at the time had property here when The Straight Story was made. There were Lynch sightings here and there about town during that time. I walked into a Borders bookstore a few minutes after they had left it and everyone was abuzz. Woulda nerded out big time if I had run into him. Pretty sure I would have recognized him, unlike the time I was standing next to David Sedaris in the lobby of arts center and didn’t know it (was there to see him perform and he was just hanging out in the lobby for a while, people watching.).


  3. Pingback: Andrew Poppy’s “Ark Hive Of A Live” Box Curates 40 Years Of Unreleased Live Recordings | Post-Punk Monk

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