Sleepytime Gorilla Museum is neither sleepy nor contains gorillas, with Fred Frith and Khi Darag @ GAMH, 5/10/09

It wasn’t my typical show.

The stage at GAMH looked like a display in an exhibit of instruments. There are 10 people in Khi Darag, and they all play multiple instruments. You do the math. They are all obviously music school types, the kind that would take one look at my ipod and stare down their nose at me. Dressed in disha dashas, they concocted music that at its best sounded like a Pink Floyd B side or the Star Wars Cantina band, but otherwise fell into the background music category for a massage/new age store/elevator. The guitarist was the definite leader of the band, thrashing about somewhat unnecessarily while playing, while other band members eyes darted to him for cues. I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either.

Fred Frith is someone I should have known. An experimental guitarist he is, emphasis on the word mental. His compositions are truly avant garde, hookless and tempo devoid, and sound like music that would make someone go mad. From what little I could see, he played with the guitar laying on his lap, taking things like a brush to it, and dropping what looked like a string of metal beads into a box on top of the guitar. It’s really hard to describe this, so thank you, youtube. It was during this set that I realized that this was one of the worst crowds I’ve been to in a while- they were talking so loudly that it overshadowed the performance at times.

Sleepytime Gorilla Museum sets up the stage, and we are immediately confused as to whether they are soundchecking or if the performance has started. They leave the stage, and in comes 20 people from the entrance of the venue, including a baby in a top hat, playing various instruments and carrying banners. They get on stage, and then most leave as the regular members of the band launch into their first song. The first track has an electronic element, and is pretty heavy, taking the energy of the show high for the first time all night. The second song is pretty heavy as well, but sandwiched in between is my introduction to their babblespeak interludes….which, as a person who dabbled in psychedelics, made me feel like I was going crazy. It’s like you can sort of make out what he’s saying, but in reality it is mostly gibberish and I can’t tell if my brain is filling in the blanks. Not to mention that they are dressed like a futuristic zombie circus act. The songs then retreat for a long while into very mellow arty rock. I notice that the female is very preggo, playing the violin with a scowl on her face (this is my second preggers person to see on stage in a year!). In between songs, members take turns telling stories of a very bizarre nature that somehow relate to the song they are about to play. I’m thinking this setup plays into their name- sleepytime/storytime- I get it!

This is a homecoming show for the band, who are from Oakland. The crowd is generally very familiar with the songs. Perhaps this is the reason why people continued to talk around me, even after being shushed by multiple people, multiple times. The bizarre things continue to occur, accentuated by trippy, often too bright lights. At one point, a man hops down from the balcony and reads a story in Italian for a good 5 minutes. Fred Frith comes out again and does one of his songs with them. The keyboardist looks oddly like the Joker. It’s Mad Max and Burning Man up there, but there’s still a guy in the crowd singing along with a t-shirt on that reads something like ‘pimping bitches’ on the back. Where am I?

The tempo picks up again for the encore, and the main man thanks everyone multiple times. I leave still trying to wrap my head around the evening.

youtubes from other shows:

OVERALL: 7.5/10
Sleepytime Gorilla Museum performance: 8.5/10
Fred Frith performance: 8/10
Khi Darag performance: 5/5
venue (GAMH): 9/10
crowd/scene: 2/10
value ($17.00/ticket): 8/10
memorable: 7/10

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