Friday, February 22, 2008

Atlas Sound vs. Dennis Palmer & Col. Bruce Hampton in ATL. Tues., Feb 19.

Col. Bruce Hampton (left) and Dennis Palmer (right).

Its been a while since I've had to time my evening activities in order to make it to one show before hauling ass across town to catch another one at a different venue. Last week Two shows on Tues., Feb. 19th made for a particularly busy school night in Atlanta.

The first show: Atlanta avant-garde rock legend Col. Bruce Hampton teamed up with Dennis Palmer of Chattanooga, Tenn. improv. duo the Shaking Ray Levis for a one-off collaboration that was not to be missed. Hampton's influence as an improv/avant-garde guitarist stretches back to his days with the Hampton Grease Band in the late 1960s. He is a seminal figure in Atlanta's rock history whom also played the role of Morris in Billy Bob Thornton's '96 film, Sling Blade. His approach to rock music has always been quirky, and is a close cousin to Captain Beefheart's outsider-rock lurch.

Palmer is an improvisational musician of another color altogether. Palmer was an active character in Atlanta's art-punk/no-wave/experimental-music scene of the late '80s and early '90s, that is so often lamented as the "Destory All Music" era. As 1/2 of the Shaking Ray Levis, he is a distinctly Southern entity who draws influences from the hissing of summer lawns, the sound of insects and the fervor that drives Southern Baptist zealots to shout fire and brimstone from Chattanooga's street corners. As such he is prone to bouts of speaking in tongues during performances; usually just for affect.

Hampton speculates that he and Palmer have been kicking around the same musical circles, beginning with Howard Finster's Paradise Gardens in Summerville, GA., since the early 1980s. But Palmer clarifies that they didn't team up to play together until '99. Tonight's show at Eyedrum marks their first performance together as a duo.

Despite Hampton's stature Palmer was most definitely the star of the show. He was much more active and the various clicks, noises chirps and otherwise electronic sounds he churned out added character to Hampton's slow and subtle clusters of guitar tones and cartoonishly nonsensical rants. Hampton was much quieter than Palmer, and the two only seemed to occupy the same plane of silent musical telepathy at scattered moments. Not to sell Hampton short. He is a fascinating character, but his low-key strumming and ogre-like mumbles were undeniably out shined by Palmer.

Across town Bradford Cox held the Atlanta unveiling of the Atlas Sound Music Group, a live ensemble that he has gathered to add weight to his live performances. The group features Brian Foote (Kranky Records / Nudge), Adam Forkner (White Rainbow), Honey Owens (Valet) and Atlanta-based drummer/guitarist Stephanie Macksey.

In Atlas Sound's brief but distinctive catalogue Let The Blind Lead Those Who Can See But Cannot Feel is a decidedly sophisticated and technologically advanced affair. Cox's previous solo outings have been assemblages of 4-Track recordings and layers upon layers of looping and bouncing. Let The Blind Lead... represents one giant leap for Cox in terms of technology. To kick things up a level during live performance, the group plays catchy and ramshackle renditions of songs from the album, adding a flawed, human element to the music's pace. Live the sharp edges of songs, such as "Quarantined," "Bite Marks" and "Recent Bedroom" from Let The Blind Lead... were shrouded in a haze of topsy turvy drums, jangle and fuzz, and the morphine garage rock melodies of "Ativan" burst forth with more power than ever.

During the show Cox repeatedly riffed on the opening to Soundgarden's "Spoonman" but never followed through.

Cox's parents as well as his sister were in the audience and between songs he repeatedly asked his sister how she thought he was doing.

Seeing the songs from the album played out live gave Atlas Sounds a sense of irreverence and punk rock attitude, which is not to be found anywhere throughout the album. The live show gives a much needed boost of energy and enthusiasm to a record that is captivating and quite stunning, but is seemingly not one that would translate to such a powerful and fun show.

Pictured in the Atlas Sound photo no. 1: Adam Forkner (foreground), Honey Owens (middle) and Bradford Cox (background). Stephanie Macksey is on the drums and Brian Foote is just a smudge beside Bradford (stage left).

Pictured in Atlas Sound photo no. 2: Adam Forkner (foreground) Honey Owens (middle) Bradford Cox (background).

--Chad Radford