I first heard of Mary Ocher when she used the contact form of this website to ask me a question three years ago. She was getting ready to go into the studio to record an album with Hans Joachim Irmler of Faust producing and I guess she was searching for info on Gina X and the outpouring of love here at PPM must have been the fresh hit at the top of the search queue. She had wanted to obtain the services of Gina Kikoine as a vocalist on her latest recording, but alas, I could only provide an email address for Zeus B. Held, her partner. So I sent the info off and that was that. I thought that anyone who wanted to record with Gina Kikoine was more than all right in my book.
<flash forward three years…>
On the 20th of May, my wife and I were attending the concert by Haitian mizik rasin band RAM, and as ever, I was perusing the wall o’posters at the entry to the venue that promoted the upcoming shows. I was astonished to see that Mary Ocher + Your Government were coming in just ten days. I had to attend. How many musicians who live in Berlin and use my contact form actually play in my city?! I searched my iPod Touch for the email she sent and my response, and it was so old no records were held, but my response to her was found along with a send option. Ulp! Had I not sent her the resposnse back in the day? It had not been held in my drafts folder, which was empty. It’s possible with lots of things vying for my attention during the day that I may have done everything but sign it and hit “send!” I sent the response along with an apology in case it had never been sent again and told Ms. Ocher that I would be there at the show the next night. She responded that she had tried contacting Zeus B. Held but that nothing had come from it. So I was not sure what was going on in my device.
Bank Of Christ
I entered the nearly empty club [at 9:00 sharp to see the image of an intense guy at least my age in striped pants and a Hawaiian shirt with a wild splay of gray hair with beard sound checking on a variety of modular units and a few keyboard synths over what sounded like playback of Neu! on the pre-show music. “Oh, this could be great,” I thought to myself. The artist had a shamanic quality that promised much. He was eventually joined by a young man in a short sleeved jumpsuit who gravitated to the Yamaha organ, stage left. There were maybe six people here by then, including a woman in a wheelchair, but she was pushed up the ramp to the stage and was the third musician tonight in BOC. She was playing violin (be still my beating heart…) and she was not alone. Tucked into her wheelchair was a black chihuahua!
The man at center played some vintage synths and some small modular units or filters and also played bass in addition to using a wide variety of percussive objects, including the LP gas canister as seen above! The woman at stage right added violin and also tweaked a module. The younger man played heavily filtered Yamaha organ which sounded not one whit like an electric organ. He was getting some excellent distorted percussion out of it at one juncture. The volume was mild enough to not need earplugs, and that’s always a huge plus for any show I attend. Bank Of Christ’s sound was thick and zesty; a prog/psych/krautrock hybrid that flowed all over the musical map! And I was enchanted. So was the chihuahua, who stayed with his mistress the whole time.
Better still, the page for the show on The Grey Eagle website seemed to indicate that they were local! Another fine Asheville band that I might see once, and enjoy before being swallowed up in the black hole that seems to spirit away any local bands I try to enjoy on a more regular basis. Well, not if I could help it! After their delightful set, I started writing this blog, as I often do, while the memories are fresher, but then I came to the conclusion that I should instead engage these folks in conversation, to get a better understanding of their story. As it turns out, their story was fascinating!
The older gent was Robert Price, and he told me that BOC was an improvisational spin off of his main group, that he had begun in South Florida 25 years earlier with his partner, Priya Ray; the violinist. Kreamy ‘Lectric Santa were the more focused mothership. Tonight was an improvisation, except for one piece they played from the other band. The young gent playing the organ was having his first experience with the group and I thought it had worked out swimmingly.
Mr. Price said KLS were doing an in-store concert at Static Age Records soon and I wanted to get one of the flyers he mentioned. He was also a DJ on 103.3 Asheville FM, our community radio station, with a show of ostensibly like-minded music called Beyond The Realm Of Comprehension, and he apparently shared hosting of the show with Jason Krekel, one of my favorite Asheville musicians. Beloved for many years by me as the linchpin of pop duo Krekel + Woah and the mighty Krektones. While all of this was underway, Ms. Ocher had retreated to change for her show.
Mary Ocher + Your Government
Ms. Ocher arrived onstage to perform some of her newer material that didn’t make use of her backing band, Your Government – who were simply a pair of drummers for maximum rhythmic force. Thankfully, by this time there were about twenty or so other people in the club with me. Yet another instance of the “Asheville effect” that so often sees me in shamefully scanty audiences, and yet, the clubs persist. She began her set with what I can almost call trad folk or balladic material with her soprano vocals soaring over her electric piano or guitar. The songs were succinct; with nothing lasting longer than three to four minutes. With an album title like “The West Against The People,” [!] they certainly didn’t trade in obscure metaphor.
More intriguingly still, her vocal delivery was unafraid to step wildly outside of the normal constrictions of such music. I was thrilled to hear her utilizing the same kind of abstract high vocal trills that Yma Sumac had also made a big impression on Lene Lovich with decades before Ms. Ocher had been born. I had never had such pleasures before at a concert! But it was not long before two tall gents in colorful body stockings seated themselves at the modest drum kits that flanked both sides of the stage and began adding propulsive beats to the songs which began straying from the folk ballad tradition.
Soon the music was diverging dramatically when Ms. Ocher began using the two Korg synths up front to take the music into a unique tribal/synth territory. The twin drummers generated serious motorik energy as she alternated between synths and her guitar to accompany her singing, where the melodies were front and center on the vocal material. Throughout the performance, she also paid attention to her staging and presentation, not just with her projection backgrounds, but also with her gestures and stances.
Interestingly enough, though her music certainly had a political charge, this did not stop certain of her songs from being instrumentals. The bold eclecticism of her approach saw a multitude of styles from her diverse back catalog. I was excited that she was as willing to mix genres and approaches as she was. I liked the sense that anything could happen at any time.
And the double drummer scenario made for an vast channel of energy she could call at will. I appreciated how she would end each of her brief songs with a “thank you” giving us the cue to actually applaud. I’ve not failed to notice that live gigs in the 21st century often see the performer segueing many songs together and only occasionally giving rest points for applause in their sets. I suspect this is down to DJ culture’s influence on performance now. Especially with the rise of “laptop rock.” Half the time I never know when or where to applaud the performer and I appreciated the formalism that Ms. Ocher brought to such otherwise free performances. The audience even got a chance to clap along rhythmically on one song and she helpfully mentioned that claps were only on the first three of four beats.
Her final number was the portentous “My Executioner” from her “The West Against The People” album. The chilling coda of “how do you deconstruct fear?” brought the lively evening to a sobering end. It’s not every album that comes with an essay instead of liner notes, but difficult times like these require diligence from our artists and Mary Ocher is rising to the occasion.
After the show was over, Ms. Ocher began breaking down her gear before she said she would be at the merch table. I had wanted to get one of her CDs but until then I took the time to speak to Priya Ray from Bank Of Christ, to introduce myself and let her know how much I enjoyed their set. I was curious about their teaming for the show since I felt that they had been a fantastically well matched opener for Mary Ocher + Your Government. I asked her if the club had set up their opening gig and I was astonished [but pleased] to hear that they had been contacted by Mary Ocher herself. She also said that they had some friends and associates in common so that worked out spectacularly well. I also got a flyer for their show on July 12 at Static Age.
Afterward, I asked Ms. Ocher if I could pay for a CD with a card, since I had only enough cash for the door. She replied that since they were not from America, that it was cash only. Unfortunately, I was not the only one there who wanted to buy music but had no legal tender. Worse, the teller machine inside The Grey Eagle was in its normal out-of-order state, so there would be no merch karma this evening. Sigh. I took the time to introduce myself but some other audience members were dead set on discussing their visitation to Moscow and Berlin with her, so I took that as my cue to take my exit. It had been a fascinating evening of left field music that had sprawled allover the map and I hope that this was not the last time I got to see a Mary Ocher show in my sleepy mountain hamlet. Alas, she has only one more date on her US tour tonight.
She’s playing a show tonight, on May 31st, 2019 in Nashville at Little Harpeth Brewery and it’s a benefit for YEAH! and Southern Girls Rock & Roll Camp.
One hopes that there will be a whole generation of women who can look to artists like her who are forging a resolutely D.I.Y. path as they negotiate the perils of our time with the freedom and intelligence of Mary Ocher.
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