When you’re an established band with a loyal following and an instantly recognizable sound and your singer is, for whatever reason, no longer available, what do you do? Do you find a replacement who has made a name for himself in your genre and is gonna rock it out regardless of how much it changes the band’s sound, à la Black Sabbath/Ronnie James Dio or Van Halen/Sammy Hagar, or do you take your chances with someone who may be less known and less proven but who sounds more or less like your old singer, à la AC/DC/Brian Johnson (or, if you want to take the principle to the extreme, with a much worse result, Judas Priest/the tribute band dude who replaced Rob Halford)?

I’m going to have to say that The Ex went the Brian Johnson route. I did kind of miss G.W. Sok while watching them at Poisson Rouge the other night. I mean the guy was in the band for 30 years and, to me, his delivery–about equal parts singing, speaking, and shouting–sat kind of perfectly atop the chugging, herky-jerky pulse set by the rest of the band. But new singer Arnold DeBoer can do a pretty mean G.W. impersonation when circumstances call for it. Plus, he brings his own thing to the act, adding the occasional electronic blip or bloop to the mix and generally dancing and moving around the stage like he’s enjoying himself in a way that G.W. seldom did. I picked up their most recent CD, Catch My Shoe, and, while it’s no Back in Black moment, it’s as good as their last couple of discs, which have definitely gotten their fair share of airplay chez Weekday Worrier over the last several years.

I guess what it comes down to is that The Ex basically can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned. You get punk, noise, politics, Hungarian folk songs, Ethiopian funk, Congolese trance…and the list goes on and on. For a band that somehow works so many different stylistic influences into one, cohesive sound, I’m thinking that replacing a vocalist may end up not being much of a challenge. That’s certainly what the show the other night suggests.

The Ex - Theme From Konono


The Ex - Hidegen fújnak a szelek

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I just got back from former fave live music venue Le Poisson Rouge. Why “former”? Well, as I previously posted, just about a year ago in fact, one can buy a membership to LPR for a reasonable price. When I bought said membership last year, the main benefit was free admission for the member plus one to a wide range of shows by acts both established (Glenn Branca–free) and up and coming (many random out jazz and modern composition acts–free). But not too long after I joined, they dropped the plus one part of the benefit. That was disappointing, but seemed fair enough–it was probably not sustainable to allow so many free admissions for the $45 or $50 cost of the membership. But it didn’t take long for the number of “free for members” events to start dwindling. There were several months in there where I felt like the only thing that was free for members were freakin’ DJ nights, and that ain’t what I signed up for. There are more free shows again now, but they’re not quite of the caliber as last year’s free shows. So I think you’ve lost me as a member, LPR. I know, I know, I’m sad too. Give me a free ticket or two and I assure you, I’ll drink like a poisson. That’s just win-win, people! But alas, I think those days are gone.

Anywho, onto the show. Billed as “an evening of trio treats,” the night did not disappoint. First up was Weasel Walter playing drums/percussion in a trio with Mary Halverson on guitar and Peter Evans on piccolo trumpet and, er, normale trumpet. The last time I saw Weasel Walter play, his hair was much shorter and I was frequently spending weekends in Pittsburgh, where, at some point (2002ish, I’d say) I saw The Flying Luttenbachers play a show with Arab On Radar at the apparently now (or at least for-now) defunct Mr. Roboto Project. Tonight, WW (him, not me) brought the spastic beats and silly faces I remembered from that show years ago and I dug it as much tonight as I did then. Mary Halvorson’s guitar was particularly awesome–she weaved in and out of long vaguely bop-ish runs, almost folk-rocky chord progressions made all woozy with some sort of whammy bar-type foot pedal, and Derek Bailey-esque skronks. I couldn’t help but feel that the set would have been perfect if it had just been Walter and Halvorson up there–I liked Evans’s playing but it just didn’t gel with the other parts for me–but in any event then it would have been an evening of one trio and one duo treats, which just isn’t nearly as catchy. Luckily for me, I picked up a copy of Walter and Halvorson’s duo release from a couple of years ago on the way out.

Weasel Walter, Mary Halvorson, and Peter Evans


Then it was on to trio number two, with Matthew Shipp on piano, Mike Bisio on bass, and Whit Dickey on drums. Somehow this was the first time I’ve seen Shipp live. And it definitely grabbed me way more than any of the recordings I’ve heard. I recently wrote about seeing Paul Bley for the first time and, while I wouldn’t say the two pianists sound particularly similar, I definitely got a similar vibe from the two shows–both of them take the material way, way out without sacrificing melody or, I think it’s fair to say, a “traditional” jazz flavor. And what do you know, just as I was mulling that point over during the show, the trio unexpectedly broke into an almost straight (well, for the head at least) statement of What Is This Thing Called Love. Long story short, I suspect I’ll be re-examining some of those Matthew Shipp recordings soon. Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Bisio’s practically violent, string-bending, bow-breaking bass solo about halfway through the set. It was a thing to behold–blurry picture below.

Matthew Shipp


Matthew Shipp Trio


Mike Bisio Bass Solo


Finally, as my friend and I settled our tab (WTF, why doesn’t the paypal app bump function ever seem to work anymore?) I thought back to the Wayne Shorter show I wrote about recently and how Brian Blade kicked the shit out of his drums in a way not unlike Shipp kicking the shit out of the LPR piano at a couple of points. Gotta wonder what a trio with those two would sound like. At the very least, they could have some kind of skinny, bespectacled jazz dude duel.

Matthew Shipp


Brian Blade


So, although there are a couple of other good shows coming up at the old Poisson Rouge, I think the love affair is officially fini. Much like my blog post, as I start falling asleep at my keyboard. And much like Shipp’s set after his unexpected rendition of Frère Jacques. Dormez vous? Pas encore, mais bientôt…

I recently went to the record release show for Glenn Branca’s The Ascension: The Sequel at Le Poisson Rouge. First, the show. It was loud. And it was kind of awesome. 4 guitars, bass, and drums with Branca conducting. The man himself was in full curmudgeonly form–for one past example, see his op-ed for the Times on “The End of Music“–but it was clear he was in fact enjoying himself. As was the packed house. Some kind soul–who, incidentally, must have been standing more or less directly behind me–put some clips on youtube, including this one. It’s pretty far away and the first 1:30 or so is spoken introduction and chatter (including Branca’s above-quoted suggestion regarding earplugs, which thankfully I ignored) but the sound is good:


And last week I was back at LPR for a great mixed bill: first, Sam Amidon made me remember that I do like some folk/americana-type music after all, then Daniel Bjarnason hit the stage with a 16-piece orchestra for a too-short set, and finally, the Danish band Efterklang played a set that kind of blew me away. Partly that’s because I had only heard a handful of their songs in relatively low fidelity versions online–a sure way to miss the richness and fullness of their sound. And partly it’s because they are a phenomenal live band–musicians periodically jump over to a mic to add unexpected vocal harmonies, drummers pick up trumpets mid-song to blow dramatic lead lines, gurgling electronic loops and squawks weave seamlessly in and out of lush acoustic arrangements, and everyone just generally dances and roams around the stage with tons of energy. There are some pics up at Brooklyn Vegan, and there are a couple of vids of the LPR show on youtube but I’d say this one, from Swedish TV, is pretty representative:


So why the frequent visits to Poisson Rouge? I’m glad you asked. It turns out that one can purchase a membership for a year or two at a time and, among various other perks, can attend certain shows–Branca and Efterklang, for example–for free. With a guest no less. Just another way the folks at this venue are thinking outside the box. And I dig it.