Big Ears 2014: Saturday 3/29 Recaps

We’re continuing to roll out our coverage of Big Ears Festival in Knoxville, TN! Here’s a recap of what Rock Show saw on Saturday. Content by Ethan Simonoff, Jenna Powell-Malloy, Harlynn Siler, Jason Vanderlinden, and Gillian Levy. Photos by Gillian Levy.

Laraaji: A Laughter Meditation Playshop/Workshop
12:00PM @ Knoxville Museum of Art

Helen Money
1:30PM @ Knoxville Museum of Art

Outside it was raining; inside at the Knoxville Museum of Art Helen Money was shredding. Helen Money, real name Alison Chesley, is a cellist and an NU alum who has played in the groups Verbow and Poi Dog Pondering. Her set consisted of a few songs ranging from sparse, loop-based, droning pieces to her accompanying sampled metal drums. Following her set, festival-goers could be seen crowding the exit of the museum, waiting for the pouring rain to subside.

Dawn of Midi
2:30PM @ Bijou Theater

This performance was definitely a highlight of the festival. Dawn of Midi is a trio of pianist Amino Belyamani, bassist Aakaash Israni, and drummer Qasim Naqvi. Belyamani played grand piano, using his hand to effectively ‘prepare’ the piano in various ways by stimulating various harmonics or muting certain strings. The entire performance was an amazing display of dexterity, and the music was mesmerizing. Small patterns and musical phrases would repeat over and over again, until you suddenly realized that the entire song had changed. As such, the entire set was continuous, these small changed comprising the vehicle for changing songs.

Glenn Kotche
3:00PM @ Square Room

Glenn Kotche’s second performance of the festival was a dream for fans of percussion. His drumset took up half the large stage, and many tracks were accompanied by video (for a more detailed description of the performance described by Glenn himself, check our interview with him here). We got to see chunks of “Anomaly,” a piece written by Glenn for Kronos Quartet featured on his new album; Drum Kit Quartet #1, originally written for So Percussion but performed for solo drumset; his famous “Monkey Chant” accompanied by a film by drum tech Nathaniel Murphy; and a first time ever performance of a new piece written for Kotche called “Come With Me If You Want to Live,” featuring air raid sirens.
Check out our interview with Glenn here!

Oneohtrix Point Never
3:30PM @ Bijou Theater

In the pitch blackness of the Bijou, Daniel Lopatin stood behind his computer morphing glitches and gusts into emotive compositions. Behind Lopatin was a large screen displaying optical illusions that looked straight out of the world of R Plus Seven’s album art. The interplay of the images and sounds created a psychedelic narrative tempting any mind willing to indulge.

Wordless Music Orchestra
4:30 PM @ Tennessee Theater

The Wordless Music Orchestra approached Jonny Greenwood’s pieces with a detectable comfort and pride. For the majority of the show, a septet performed various pieces from There Will Be Blood, The Master, and Norwegian Wood. A few pieces for violin written by Iannis Xennakis were also performed. For the last few songs, Greenwood joined on stage with his electric guitar. Greenwood’s compositions begin by going somewhere familiar, only to drift into an uncharted realm founded on a nervous eeriness. His pieces open the imagination and guide one’s mind on a journey that is both challenging and actualizing.

Buke & Gase
5:00PM @ Square ROom

Mark McGuire
6:45PM @ Scruffy City Hall

Mark McGuire’s set began with him building layer upon layer to create a beat-driven track with ribbons of guitar riffage. By the middle of his set, McGuire was full-on shredding. Combining airy guitar tones with quirky beats, McGuire created ethereal dance tunes that seemed to add color to the drab atmosphere of Scruffy City Hall.
Check out our interview with Mark here, and come see him perform at Sonic Celluloid XII on May 9th at Block Cinema here in Evanston!

Steve Reich’s DRUMMING Performed by So Percussion & nief-norf project
8:00PM @ Tennesee Theater

Julia Holter
8:30PM @ Bijou Theater

Julia Holter has received widespread critical acclaim and Album of the Year accolades for her latest album, Loud City Song, and her Big Ears performance did not disappoint. Her band, comprised of a saxophonist, drummer, celloist, and violinist, provided vivid, intricate backing to Holter’s dramatic, shifting vocalizations. A classically trained musician who studied composition at CalArts, Holter’s style on Loud City Song is eerily evocative of bygone decades. The set consisted of varied moods, as Holter’s gifted singing led both knotty jazz and dreamy refrains. The songwriter, sipping from a glass of wine between pieces, also engaged in playful asides with the audience, remarking that the festival’s name was fun to hear and leading members to say ‘Big Ears’ in unison. The Bijou Theatre in Knoxville offered an ornate soundstage, ideal for Holter’s music; however, occasionally the band was amplified far too loudly, though that was more likely the fault of a sound mistake at the festival.

Bill Orcutt
8:30PM @ Scruffy City Hall

As Bill Orcutt took the stage and started playing we all wondered if this was the performance or just soundcheck. It was, in fact, soundcheck, following which, Orcutt grabbed a beer and hung out in the audience talking to fans before climbing back on stage and playing a truly remarkable set of acoustic guitar songs. Orcutt, formerly of the band Harry Pussy, was as modest as he was talented, his set littered with bursts of virtuosity. It would be a stretch to call his music ‘soulful’ in the traditional sense, but as he plays his guitar and is moving his entire body, and his humming oscillates in and out as he sways closer to and farther from the microphone, it becomes evident that his music is deeply emotional and expressive, and strangely meditative for being so rapid and agile.

10:00PM @ Tennessee Theater

It’s always weird to see a band you grew up listening to perform live. Television is now dad rock, of which I’m sure because everyone sitting around me was a dad wearing the Marquee Moon shirt they’d bought 20 minutes before the show. In between cuts from their debut album, the group (founding members Tom Verlaine, Billy Ficca, and Fred Smith, along with new guitarist Jimmy Rip) jammed to tracks from their later and less memorable albums. It was a nostalgic evening for the aging CBGB’s set, and Verlaine can certainly still shred.

1:00AM @ Bijou Theater

After pushing the show back 45 minutes, Stephen O’Malley, Keiji Haino, and Oren Ambarchi took the stage at one o’clock AM. Ambarchi kept the rhythm full of bass drum while O’Malley bowed his bass and kept a dull thud throughout. Haino alternately screamed in the microphone, shredded on his guitar, and played power electronics in the most dramatic way I think any of us have ever seen. Haino dared us and taunted us, even yelling, “ARE YOU BRAVE? IT’S… NAZORANAI!” A shredtime story for the ages.