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Steve Gunn Headlines a Great Showcase at Mercury Lounge

May 19th, 2014

Steve Gunn – Mercury Lounge – May 18, 2014

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Last night Mercury Lounge hosted the kind of show you’ll easily find during CMJ week, but is rare most of the rest of the year. Beyond Beyond Is Beyond Records have put out a steady stream of fascinating, enigmatic music over the past couple of years, and there was no reason to expect anything less in the live version with multiple acts on the same bill. Things got rolling with the acoustic duo Worthless. There seemed to be a resonant theme with reverberating six- and 12-string guitars, echoing vocals and stark shadows formed by the LCD projector. It was a crunchy sound, slightly comforting, very engaging. Devonian Gardens followed, and at various times they featured a harp, a flute, finger cymbals, a harmonica and a possibly intentional aqua blue–instrument scheme. At this point, things began to simmer as Drippy Eye Projections filled the stage with swirling bubbles of light. Given all that, the set was actually heavy duty rather than cutesy esoteric, characterized mostly by a pounding bass drum and not-much-less-pounding electric bass. There were plenty of frisky little space jams, off-kilter vocal harmonies, weirdo-psych-punk ragers tied one end to the other and, on average, about one hair-on-your-chest guitar solo per song.

The penultimate slot went to Prince Rupert’s Drops, guitarist Leslie Stein began the set wondering if they would get a trippy backdrop as well. (As if she had to ask!) Still, they hardly needed the visuals to get the brains turning, immediately charging into psychedelic territory led by Chad Laird’s slow-drip bass grooves. The set was a mix of old and new material, the newer stuff characterized by an exciting, darker edge. One of these featured some fancy overlapping guitar riffs, the band showing a new level of skill and maturity. A tune introduced as the “mellow” number for the night began as a dreamy sitar-esque jammer before flipping into a nicely played crescendo jam, drums, bass, guitars and organ working together. Altogether, the material showed a nice mix of both prog and psych rock, most songs featuring several sections or movements with Laird and Steve McGuirl on drums leading them from one to the next smoothly. The set closed with a 10-minute version of “Run Slow,” a long raging jam combining of old Genesis and Led Zeppelin.

Steve Gunn isn’t actually on the BBIB label, but he still perfectly capped off the bill. Playing solo acoustic, he announced things would be mellow but that it was OK because it was Sunday night. (Someone probably should have informed the rest of the bands, but then again, we all have different definitions of mellow and Sunday appropriate.) Gunn’s Sunday night was filled with gorgeous acoustic guitar playing: exotic reverberations, beautiful tones and compelling narratives. He opened with a long meandering thing that drifted in and out of verses and guitar excursions, like a helium balloon filled with blues music that floated halfway across the globe and up into the outer shells of the atmosphere. Although all the songs felt like instrumental pieces with sung verses layered on top, the one true instrumental was a highlight. It was a stunning bit of acoustic music, almost-over-the-top decadent, the room totally saturated with the sound of his guitar. If some of the strings were out of tune, he somehow worked this to the music’s advantage, only enhancing the otherworldly affect. It was a perfect ending to a night of great music. —A. Stein