June 07, 2010

Ken Camden, Zelienople - Empty Bottle, 3 June 2010

And more ruminations--

Ken Camden performed solo in support of his new Kranky release, Lethargy & Repercussion. Employing a drone generator processed in rhythmic ways, his playing heavily effected and often tweaked in real time, Ken’s set took on a very human, exploratory quality, flying in the face of typical drone guitar pieces. His pieces were episodic, with several motifs weaving in and out of the rhythms of the drone box. This approach lent some immediacy to the show, but it also somehow limited the transcendent effects of the music, as sudden movements, knob tweaking, and changes in the backing modulations drew me out of the trance just as abruptly as his playing put me in it. Ken used the familiar pentatonic scale almost exclusively, carefully moving up and down the neck until he settled on a position at which to cut loose for more ecstatic playing. What really stood out was the texture coming out of his three practice amps, with multiple effects creating a layered atmosphere that faded out or cut abruptly in between pieces.

Zelienople took the stage without a drummer, and singer/guitarist Matt Christensen made an announcement in a grave tone—drummer Mike Weis, with whom he and guitarist Bryan Harding had played for 15 years…was violently ill with the stomach flu. As the laughter subsided in the audience, he and Harding launched into a rumbling squall of feedback, only yielding after several minutes to quieter pieces. With the absence of Weis’ frankly awesome drumming, the songs took on a more intimate feel, scaled back to strumming and sparse repeated riffs. Singing with heavy reverb, Christensen sounded a bit like Mark Kozelek at times, his voice imploring calm and full of reservations. The hypnotic repetition let the songs breathe in a new way that gave them a refreshing, almost singer-songwriter sheen. One of the things that make Zelienople so captivating is that, on top of their wisecracking and laid-back exterior, an undercurrent of deep transcendence seems to simply boil over. Christensen closes his eyes, starts rocking back and forth, and the atmosphere descends. It’s this unexpected and quite natural descent that makes for such superior music.

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