Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Xu Xu Fang Haunts The Echo

Monday night (December 8, 2008) was the night of the residency, CD release party for Based On a True Story by The Movies at Spaceland and it was the indie-talk of the town. That, and the fact they were playing with Rademacher and a solo Sarah Negahdari (The Happy Hollows) made it a huge temptation. But I had long ago committed, in my mind (as both shows were free) to see Xu Xu Fang at The Echo.

Since it was my fourth show in a row, I actually considered staying home and sleeping...for about a minute. I could also have sidestepped questions about why one band over another. But the more I thought about Xu Xu Fang, the more certain I became. I've seen The Movies many times, but Xu Xu Fang, not nearly enough.

I figured on staying for only the one band so I didn't even get to The Echo till 10:30, but The Winter Flowers were just getting started. Since the place was filled with hippies eager to see this band I figured they may be worthwhile. They were.

When they began, I realized I'd seen them open for Lavender Diamond at the Troubadour back on June 16, 2007, and I had liked them then. The Winter Flowers are part of an ever-expanding bunch of musicians who seem to owe as much to ancient music forms and folk traditions as to any rock and roll. Their resemblance to bands of roving musicians criss-crossing the European countryside hundreds of years ago is not accidental.

They play guitars and strings and mandolins and sing in gorgeous three-part harmonies that even reference Gregorian chants. It's an intoxicating mix of beautiful sounds matched by creative songwriting abilities. The three players, Christof Certik, Astrid Quay and Gavin Toler play with exceptional skill, and sing in three distinctly different but complimentary voices.

I was glad photographer, Scott Schultz was on hand as he was the only person I knew in the place. It was fun to compare notes with someone who, like me, has just begun a new career that seems to be taking off. It's like jumping on a train, not quite sure where it's going. His photography of the music scene is wonderful and valuable as well. Odd coincidence, we're both originally from Massachusetts, expatriated to the West Coast.

The other person I knew there was Barbara Cohen of Xu Xu Fang, who I met last August at "Let's Independent!" and who gave me a warm welcome. I always look forward to hearing her astonishing voice, and seeing her delightfully ghoulish stage manner.

Beginning with fog filling the stage, shrouding their blue-light festooned gear in a swampy haze, the chugging momentum of the instrumental "Ni Hao" kicked in and lulled you into a back and forth motion, letting the music fill you from the ground up. Xu Xu Fang has seven talented musicians sweeping you up in the lush sound scape created by drummer Bobby Tamlin.

Next was heard the sound of waves breaking on a shore, just as their EP The Mourning Son opens, followed by the thudding beat of "Good Times" as Barbara took the stage, front and center. With her saucer eyes and Cheshire cat smile, she seemed to be both warning us and beckoning us at the same time. They had the band miked superbly and Barbara's vocal came through at the perfect level.

After "The Mourning Son" and the popular "These Days" (thanks to the TV exposure), they launched into my favorite of their songs. The, as yet, unrecorded "Seven Days Now" is just about the most beautiful song I've heard this year.

But I think they topped even that with a song, which I believe, is called "Your Way". This song was the highlight of the set for me, combining great beauty and great power with an hypnotic melody. Stunning song!

This was one of the best sets I've seen from this band. The languid flow of their music made me feel as if I were walking along the ocean floor, underwater and surrounded by wonders too overwhelming to describe. I don't know what they put in their music, but let's just say, it's potent stuff.

I stayed around and met Bobby Tamkin, the mastermind behind this musical mastodon, and even more surprising to talk to a genial, polite and friendly guy who writes these murky horror-songs. Glad to tell him how much I love his band.

The last act was Corridor, which is a one man orchestra. I only could last for one song, but it was very musical and he uses an interesting range of instruments and sounds. The musician goes by the name M. Quinn and I want to hear more. Corridor has gigs coming up at the Echo Curio and at The Unknown Theatre in January which I'll try to check out.

For a night I didn't really want to go out, this turned out to be a sterling evening. Just goes to show you, when in doubt, go out!


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