The Rolling Psychedelic Circus Tour
(Land/Salamander/Primordial Undermind/Overhang Party)
Pittsburgh, PA - Stevenson Theater 9/17/99
From Aural Innovations #8 (October 1999)
The Stevenson Theater is an obscure little place... tucked away on the lower floor of a combination art supply shop and gallery in the east suburbs of Pittsburgh. Not the easiest venue to find, and not the kind of neighborhood that you necessarily want to hang around at night, looking lost. But even with my brother (a Pittsburgh resident) in tow, lost we were, because we'd headed for Penn Circle North as opposed to South. Well, with a bit of intuition and after only a single wrong turn onto a one-way street, we did manage to find the place. I knew this would be an intimate setting with hardly a flood of publicity, but I was a little surprised to find that this 'showcase' would only attract 30 or so paying customers. That same night in Columbus, Cher was playing to a packed house at $72 a head... I'm used to these injustices, but it's still nonsensical.
Anyway, the few dozen folks that made the extra effort to support underground music (literally!) got their money's worth. Though late, we did manage to catch the last few strains of ambient/space sounds offered up by the local group Land. In fact, we were told that they didn't start playing much earlier than we'd arrived, so I guess they were aware of (and perhaps themselves anxious to see) the three acts yet to follow. AI was promised that a promo copy of their single (7" vinyl and cassette) would be sent our way, and I look forward to reviewing that next time. I liked what little I'd heard.
During intermission, I was able to chat with a few folks I'd met at various other events around the midwest, and exchange stories and newly-discovered bands to impress others with, and soon learned Salamander was up next. You know, I believe I'd pay $72 to see *this* band play in an arena with all the glitz and high-tech stage gear, though I hardly think that's their style. Unfortunately, guitarist Sean Connaughty had some obvious difficulty with his amp, though it would've been really difficult to tell exactly which funny noises were actually intended and which were the 'problem.' Isn't space rock great in that sense?! Anyway, my biggest wish for this night was met right away when they charged right into the fabulous "Old Mr. Jones." As great as this is on record, this live version just smoked! It starts out as a harmless little folksy ditty with Sean's thin wispy vocals drifting along quite nicely. But then the wide-open dueling guitar jam takes over, carried on the back of Erik Wivinus' Brockian guitar sound (oddly, a semi-acoustic Vox plugged into a carpetful of pedals) and Doug Morman's steady bass. (The band were touring without drummer Bryce Kastning, but Skye Klad's Matt Zaun filled in just fine.) This wondrous tune must've run on for about a total of 20 minutes or so, and afterwards my brother said it reminded him of (the song) "Born to Go." I would've said "Lord of Light" perhaps, but it was right from the 'Space Ritual' playbook. Salamander continued with a few more lengthy improvisational psych jams, wrapping up a 50-minute smorgasbord worthy of very high praise.
Primordial Undermind set up next, and I was eager to see them perform as I'd just been introduced to their works in recent months via their newest member Doug Pearson. His four compatriots had gear that went up to 11, such that Doug's violin could hardly compete, though his bank of homemade-style analog devices (things that go 'whirr' and 'ping') were a really nice addition. (You might notice that Doug is now writing about these wondrous toys for our benefit and yours in the pages of AI.) Anyway, P.U. blasted through a slew of tunes that I struggled to identify, but the one I immediately recognized was "Bandhu (gospel according to)" and this (without surprise) was the highlight of their set. Seeing them in action, you do detect a touch of punkishness in their demeanor, even though their physical appearance is rather conservative. Bret Holley (especially) plays his bass with reckless abandon and unbridled energy, and must certainly rush his partners along at times. Luckily, everyone kept up and they put together a solid set that in the end failed to make my ears bleed. (Not without trying.)
We'd heard that Japan's Overhang Party had just arrived from overseas the previous night, landing in Pittsburgh at some time in the wee early morning hours. So I'm sure they were a bit unsettled, so perhaps that's the reason for their first offering. I'm pretty sure it was "G House Blues" from the 4th album, as it was simply 10 minutes of tremendously loud and blaring noise. I had been told that O.P. featured Michio Kurihara (of Marble Sheep, White Heaven, and others) and I didn't think this was his style. (In the end, Kurihara wasn't available for the tour.) But to say that the screeching violin and intense feedback was bothersome would be an understatement. Thankfully, this is just one aspect of their sound, and I perhaps imagined that they play this song first to judge the 'open-mindedness' of their audience! I had some thoughts, but of course hung in there. Most of the set (once again, not many tunes) were long droney psych jams, with guitarist/vocalist Rinji Fukuoka taking center stage, his playing both fluid and manic at once. At times, he got extremely animated. The trio was joined by a female member playing an odd-looking synth device that she seemed to trigger in different ways to provide an additional repeating underscore that merged in with the percussion (often played with mallets) and rhythm guitar. All in all, a peculiar but yet still enjoyable set that hit a high point at the end with what I think was "Barcelona." "Mirror" was performed at some point also, I believe. All in all, it was nice to see a couple fine bands get a chance to perform far outside their normal territories. Hopefully, a positive message will be sent through the underground that this music is alive and well.
Reviewed by Keith Henderson