Concert Review: Rachel’s/Clogs – May 25, 2006

Rachel’s / Clogs

Merkin Concert Hall – New York, NY

May 25, 2006

Originally published in Delusions of Adequacy June 5, 2006

It was a night of quiet, fragile, and sometimes haunting music, with refrains that slowly unfolded and wrapped their delicate fingers around listeners, as two like-minded indie-chamber ensembles helped close New Sounds Live’s 2005-06 season.

But, those who filled the seats of Kaufman Center’s intimate Merkin Concert Hall didn’t seem interested in farewells, and Rachel’s and Clogs, appearing together live for the first time, seemed more than willing to follow the audience’s unspoken lead, offering hour-long sets that felt more like intimate conversation between friends than break-the-fourth-wall performances.

The on-stage presence of WNYC’s John Schaefer no doubt helped out, as did the occasional radio-interview Q&A that served as segues and footnotes.

(Those who missed the sets live can hear them June 22 — minus Greg King’s projected film/video accompaniment, of course — on WNYC or online thereafter at www.wnyc.org.)

Clogs — a quartet featuring guitar, viola and violin, bassoon, and percussion — breathed life into its sometimes airy and sometimes eerily complex brand of avant-classical soundscapes with a set that included multiple pieces off their new CD, the 12-track Brassland offering Lanterns.

While the group’s most intoxicating moments may have fallen in the poly-rhythms and oft-kilter lullaby-sway of the set-opening “2:3:5” (a reference, yes, to the strangely cohesive time signatures on which the song is built), other songs also soared. Like the elegiac pulsing and aching viola moans of “5/4,” whose bridges called to mind Godspeed You Black Emperor at its most subdued.

Or the heart-tugging weeps of “Death and the Maiden.”

Or the tension-generating roil and rumble of “Canon,” where glassy, digitally delayed guitar lines tumbled onward with swelling strings and bassoon or understated drums.

Rachel’s managed to live up to the high standards set by Clogs and then some, focusing mostly on Systems/Layers-era pieces instead of the gems dating from earlier — and, to some degree, less experimental — sections of their back-catalog.

Performing alternately as a sextet and septet, the Louisville-bred outfit surged through songs like “Moscow is in the Telephone” and a breathtaking rendition of “Water from the Same Source.”

But the shining moments often came from details that may not seem, at first, to drive the Rachel’s recorded output — the seeming force Christian Frederickson used to saw his viola as he stood alone at center stage, King’s scene-setting patterns and Structuralist pseudo-narratives projected behind him; the unexpected, almost-thunderous pounding of Edward Grimes’ uncluttered drum kit on an offering from The Sea and the Bells; Jason Noble’s playful between-song chatter or the dense but unassuming sonic backdrop he and Frederickson produced with keyboards and a laptop.

Little could have been better than a repeat performance, so, this being that sort of night perhaps, the group obliged, treating the crowd to an off-the-air encore (sorry, WNYC) of the swaying Selenography album-opener “A French Galleasse.”

The set-closer was exactly what the audience of loyal listeners seemed to come that evening to expect: a communal setting and an all-too-familiar gem that — thanks to a phantom-led improvisational interlude and the muted but soothing repetitions of Noble’s acoustic guitar — still harbored its share of surprises.

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