University of Errors/Need New Body/Dead Meadow - Millvale Industrial Theatre, Pittsburgh PA (8/16/00)
From Aural Innovations #12 (September 2000)
After seeing Daevid Allen's latest collaborative project headline Friday night at Strange Daze 2000, I was eager to see them once again the following week, especially since I knew they hadn't performed some special tracks that I had seen appear on set lists from earlier in the US tour. So I happily made the three hour drive to the Steel City, a town with which I'm very familiar - a necessity given the horribly convoluted network of roads and bridges they've constructed over the years. I arrived early enough to catch two of the three advertised warm-up acts, neither of which I recognized (though that was a little misleading). The Millvale hasn't changed much since the last time I made the trip (to see Faust), still the same old dingy warehouse with peeling paint and bad plaster. The donated sofas are getting pretty ratty... time for a new batch I think. But the Wednesday night audience wasn't so big that you couldn't find a workable seat... perhaps a crowd of 75 or so, both young and old.
Dead Meadow was up first, presumably a local Pittsburgh band that played a very heavy blues-based rock. The kind of well-aged stuff that is embraced by the new class of stoner bands, but Dead Meadow isn't one of them... these guys (while seemingly too young to remember) are absolutely true to the originals, coming across like Iron Butterfly, Blue Cheer, or Jimi Hendrix' Experience. A power trio at the core (a guest keyboardist jumped up for a song or two in the middle), the standard guitar/bass/drum unit powered straight on through a number of loud, muddy, wah-heavy rockers, all sounding pretty much the same. At first, i.e. before my ears adjusted to the loudness, I kind of shrugged them off as unrefined and pedestrian, but later on as my senses grew less critical and I became a more casual listener, I found I actually liked these guys. Nothing to write home about musically, but they were competent enough and played like they were having fun and were doing original tunes in a style that most have forgotten. And they only got about 40 minutes, and it's hard to get tired of hearing anything for only that long.
I thought Need New Body was unfamiliar, but it turns out that they are basically Philadelphia's Bent Leg Fatima with a new name. They've also obviously had at least one personnel change, as the band had no guitarist (but BLF did) and there was a tenor sax player now onboard. From style alone, it seemed that the organist and percussionist were at least the same, and perhaps the bassist as well. I guess they had met up with Daevid & crew in Philly and were invited to come and play in Pittsburgh as well. Throughout their very spirited 45-minute set, the members of Need New Body were rarely in any one spot for very long. Even drummer (Chris Powell?) jumped out from behind his kit to run around the stage area beating on anything in his path... mic stands, folding chairs, the PA, you name it. The organist was the one who pretty much stayed put, but he had the weirdest instrument - a mounted bicycle wheel that he would occasionally spin and take to with a drum stick. They played one or two vocal tunes (unfortunately we didn't hear BLF's excellent "Crow, Cat, and Snake"), but mostly they performed experimental 'post-rock' selections (heavy on the percussion) that were fun as they were challenging. It was a pleasant surprise to have Need New Body come to the Millvale and I will now look for that name on the cover of another CD release from Psychedelphia. Take a look at http://www.file-13.com for more info on this outfit.
Daevid and the crew (pretty much the four of them) had arrived in the intermission following Dead Meadow's set, all packed like sardines with all of their gear into a single rented van... and not even a large cargo van. As they stretched their legs, I ran into bassist Michael Clare and introduced myself, and offered to help them carry some gear to the stage. Eventually, the four retired to the small ante-room and relaxed a bit before the show (though most came out for at least a peek at Need New Body). The young guy with the Matt Damon looks I correctly assumed was the guest drummer for the tour (knowing that Pat Thomas couldn't make the trip), but I learned that his name was not Miles Poindexter (who I was told would be the fill-in), but rather Jason (Mills I think was his surname). When their time came at around 11 PM or so, the professors strolled out one-by-one, building upon Clare's opening bass lick. Daevid appeared last and strapped on his compact jet-black Steinberger guitar and stepped up to his pair of microphones. One was fed straight through without hindrance, the other connected to some sort of f/x box that gave his voice a choppy, echoed character. And made picking out the lyrics nigh on impossible.
As the initial song finally built up to full fruition, I wracked my brain trying to recall what it was. Afterwards, looking again at other setlists, I figure it was "Stoned Innocent Frankenstein" from the pre-Trilogy Gong 'Bananamoon' album. I never did find that one on LP and just got it fairly recently on CD, so I guess I shouldn't have been expected to recognize it. Anyway, the four smoked through it, Josh Pollock (the one guy from Mushroom in house) really stomping around the stage in his burgundy pajamas as if the Frankenstein monster himself. It was at this point that I looked more closely at Pollock's guitar. Being left-handed, it was unsurprisingly upside-down... but the strings hadn't been inverted, such that his 'high' string was at the top of the fretboard instead of the bottom. Which means that when he was young, he must not have known better and simply flipped over the first guitar he found and worked out all the fingerings himself. As hard as it is to play guitar, I could never imagine doing it this way.
Anyway, it wasn't long before they slipped into familiar territory with numbers from the first two U. of Errors albums. "Involve Me" from the debut isn't one of my favorites, but when they got to the title track "Money Doesn't Make It," they really shifted into overdrive. With Pollock and Daevid both jamming on the opening riff, it got really loud really fast, and the effect was mesmerizing. The Errors faculty featured at least four songs from the 'e2 x 10 = tenure' album (just out and available at the shows). As animated as Pollock was during the show (at some point, tearing a hole in his pajama knee), Mr. Clare is the polar opposite - almost a bassist ventriloquist as he put forth the minimal amount of energy to make his four strings hum. Though via both visual and telepathic means, he and drummer Mills were always synchronizing their movements and keeping the unit as tight as Jason's drumheads. This was greatly evident on ad-libbed moments in "Olde Guitar Body," as while Daevid was ranting on about the personification of his instrument or whatever, and the rest were ready to follow where he was going at every turn. My favorite new song, "Ocean in the Distance" was well-received, the obvious Gong-knowledgeable fans in the audience taking immediately to this gliss-laden classic-in-the-making tune. Daevid went into incantation mode then for "Ocean Mother" ("I feel you lift me up, and carry me"), not surprisingly the next track in sequence on the album.
Late in the set, we got what many had come for... a couple of old Gong tunes to satisfy the nostalgist in each of us. "Pretty Miss Titty" was first, a faithful rendition of a track that is.... my God, it's almost as old as I am! But then Camembert's "I Tried So Hard" came flying out of the speakers so beautifully that I forgot all about space and time and all those other concrete things, and just let my mind become soaked through to the core with the sound vibrations. The finale shocked me back to my true senses though as Daevid pointed out all his failing physical features one-by-one during "My Penis is Aging." And yes, he doesn't leave it to your imagination and makes it a point to let you see for yourself. Ah, what you have to do for 'art' these days! :) The encore began in good humor as Daevid enquired about the presence of 'prog-rockers' in the audience, a few shouting out in response. The four then kicked into a ballsy, tongue-in-cheek version of the old King Crimson classic, retitled "21st Century Prog Rock Man" and intentionally poking a little fun at Robert Fripp's expense. In lieu of the wanky bridge section to that tune, we slowly, gradually, all came to the realization that the band had morphed into a half-speed rendition of the Gong uber-space-groove-jam "Fohat Digs Holes in Space." OK, it's my very favorite Gong track and I feel blessed to have witnessed the recent Trilogy Gong reunion band perform this once or twice live. So forgive me if I have the attitude that you shouldn't fiddle around with perfection! It was just way too slow to retain the transcendent character of the original. Well, ok, they tried to do something new with it, I'll give 'em that. And hell, I enjoyed immensely the vast majority of the Errors' 90-minute set and had absolutely no doubt that it was worth the extra-late (home at 4:30 AM) midweek trip. The University of Errors indeed have earned their tenure!
Reviewed by Keith Henderson