The Boredoms / Scarnella / All Scars
June 13th, 1999
the 9:30 Club, Washington, D.C.
From the onset of the evening it seemed an odd booking choice- a triple bill
of relatively unknown art-rock acts at the 9:30, a rather upscale
establishment that is more accustomed to hosting acts of Smashing Pumpkins or
James Brown magnitude.
The show began on a low-key note with the unfortunately-named trio All Scars.
Relative unknowns even in comparison the commercially frigid bands they were
supporting that night, All Scars were the real wild card in the deck. Still,
they managed to impress the audience with their bizarro sensibilities. The
first song set in with one fellow on trumpet, one on percussion, and the
third playing keyboards and bass guitar simultaneously. They struck upon a
nice groove and moved on before things got boring. The horn tooter spent most
of the rest of the set on the mic, filtered through some odd vocal
distortions and accompanying his performance with some crazy dancing.
Unfortunately, these mystery men didn't have anything on sale at the merch
booth, so I couldn't take a piece of them home with me.
Next up was the duo Scarnella, who are comprised of Carla Bozulich and Nels
Cline, best known for their work in the country-punk quintet the Geraldine
Fibbers. Their current project was founded in response to the Fibbers'
self-imposed temporary hiatus, and has brought forth a self-titled album
released last November on Sonic Youth drummer Steve Shelley's Smells Like
Records. The D.C. stop was one of a handful of dates on Scarnella's very
first east coast outing, since they began playing under the name in L.A. a
Cline began the set by starting into the complex guitar intro of "Release the
Spring," with Bozulich speaking the song's first lines into a toy microphone
device with the speaker held to and amplified by the pickups on her bass
guitar. When the structure of the song changed into a different tempo, Cline
stomped on a bass drum pedal to accent the rhythm of the melody. "Spring"
turned out to be one of only two songs from their album that were included in
the 40-minute set, allowing more time for new material and improvisation. The
improv passages began with ear splitting guitar noise, with both musicians
going apeshit on their respective effects-pedal arsenals. Bozulich often
utilized a sampling keyboard, at one poing sticking matchbooks between keys
to hold down certain notes. One of the high points was when they unveiled a
newly written piece, which has the working title, "Horse Thing." Nels painted
bright climbing melodies as Carla tested her expressive vocal range with a
yearning howl in the song's choruses.
The audience found few chances to applaud as the duo seamlessly segued from
one idea to the next. At one point the improv morphed into an imcomplete and
mostly instrumental version of the album track "Death By Northwest."
Scarnella ended their set with the epic "Underdog." Beginning with a quiet,
simple guitar pattern, it gradually builded into a climax with Nels manically
strumming and pounding the bass drum, while Carla jumped up and down playing
a chugging bassline and screaming. The night's most heartwarming moment came
after the mics were off and they were packing up their instruments, when in a
moment of candid sincerity Carla said to Nels: (paraphrasing here, of course)
"Nels, I really enjoyed playing with you tonight, and look forward to playing
with you tomorrow night."
Shortly thereafter, the Boredoms hit the stage. Being that they are from
Japan, their tours of the U.S. are extremely rare and this had been their
first in five years. Led by vocalist Yamatsuka Eye, the lineup consisted of
bassist, guitarist, and three, yes, 3 drummers. Their performance began
quietly with light, almost pastoral guitar tones, as Eye intoned
unintelligably through thick vocal distortion and the percussionists played
hand drums. It wasn't long, however, before the sextet launched into a
signature assault of polyrhythmic psychedelic bootyshakin'. Their 90-minute
set became a blur as one song became the next, while individual themes and
ideas remained distinguishable from each other. What the Boredoms did is not
quite rock, not quite jazz, not quite anything but themselves. I can only
assume that the material played was in the vein of their most recent album,
Needless to say, given the blue-moon type frequency of the Boredoms'
stateside appearances, their show is not one to be missed if you are
presented with such a rare opportunity. And fer chrissakes, if you don't know
who Nels Cline is, y'all badly need to get schooled.
-Al Shipley, 6/21/99
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