Review: Rangda / Emeralds / Howlin Rain

The Brudenell Social Club, Leeds
Wednesday 8th December 2010

Originally published at http://www.digyorkshire.com/HighlightDetails.aspx?Article=1056 on 16th December 2010.

I’m going to get hold of my instruments, go outside and set them on fire. Because, frankly, after watching these incredible musicians, I may as well give up trying. Experiencing these three purveyors of psych rock, ambient and free-jazz fusion left me awestruck and insanely jealous at the same time.

First up were Howlin Rain. Based in San Francisco, they looked like they’d stepped off the set of Easy Rider, circa 1969. They sound like they could have written the soundtrack, too. Vocalist Ethan Miller’s wailing voice, and equally wailing guitar, sound like early Grateful Dead material. Add into the mix some overdriven organ, electric piano, pounding drums and guitar solos, and the result was some first-class psychedelia-drenched West Coast rock. Although they rocked, it wasn’t really my cup of tea – but I put that down to not owning a Harley Davidson.

Following on from this were Emeralds, an incredible ambient drone band from Cleveland, Ohio. If you say ‘drone’ to most people, they might think of bagpipes or chanting, which couldn’t be further from what these three guys play. Their music could be described perhaps more accurately as ‘kosmische musik’ (cosmic music), a style inspired by 70s German electronica from the likes of Popol Vuh, Ash Ra Tempel and Tangerine Dream. With two synths, a guitar and shedloads of effects, they applied layer upon layer of astounding sound, creating waves of crashing, crescendoing music that sounded like it couldn’t possibly have been made here on planet Earth.

To finish the night were Rangda, a kind of weirdo-supergroup of incredibly good, yet incredibly eccentric musicians. The trio are comprised of some of the ‘who’s who’ of the US underground psych rock scene. On guitar was ‘Sir’ Richard Bishop, formerly of the Sun City Girls. Bishop is renowned for his Middle-Eastern and Gypsy-influenced playing style, reminiscent at times of Django Reinhardt. Joining him were drummer Chris Corsano, who recently collaborated with Bjork, and fellow psych-guitarist Ben Chasny.

I firmly believe that it is not physically possible for Chris Corsano to play drums like he did. He must have at least two other secret arms coming from somewhere behind his back. At times funky, and at times verging off into leftfield free-jazz territory, Corsano was the driving force behind the performance. One song consisted solely of one bended note played repeatedly by both guitarists, with Corsano thrashing around all the drums at breakneck speed. At quieter moments, the delicacy of Chasny’s psych-folk combined with Bishop’s gypsy style to create an eerie, haunting sound, conjuring up images of distant desert wanderers.

I left the gig feeling somewhat changed – it’s one thing to say you’ve seen some amazing musicians, but quite another to say that you’ve never heard anything like this before. A genuinely inspiring evening.

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