Dommengang, Pink Mountaintops, Imaad Wasif At The Satellite, Friday August 4th 2017
Who has said that rock guitar was dead? The performance of Dommengang, Pink Mountaintops and Imaad Wasif last night at the Satellite proved that the genre is still well alive as the three bands did paint their own psychedelic landscapes to let their guitars reign in fury and splendor.
First Dommengang blew up the walls of the venue with a loud and explosive set of guitar rock music, the type of thing that requires very little vocals but let stormy guitars drive the game and open the rocky road. There were vocals nevertheless, and the songs took then a more psychedelic bluesy turn, something you would want to hear during a long trip in the desert aboard a vintage car. Yeah the riffs were powerful, the distortion equaled the mayhem, whereas the velocity of the guitars and the electrifying atmosphere got very 70s at time, and Sig Wilson on guitar and vocals, Brian Markham on bass and vocals and Adam Bulgasem on drums kept propelling their eardrum-exploding sound to the roof and along the American highway of rock ‘n’ roll. The band formed in Brooklyn in 2014, although they told us they were from LA, and they have an album entitled Everybody’s Boogie, whose first tracks will give you a good taste of last night. If there are also some slower atmospheric tracks on the album, the band never slowed down a bit last night, and the intensity of the music never let us take a breath for a second, while reaching some rock metal summits.
Talking about summit, I had in mind that I had already seen Pink Mountaintops, and effectively they were on the bill of the FYF Fest in 2014. However, I remember watching a large band with many musicians, and this time it was a one-man show, with Stephen McBean alone on stage and in command of his multilayers of sound to build his songs. One thing was certain, his music was not an easy one to categorize, progressively ascending into a melodic psychedelia during the set, but starting with delicately performed and poignant songs.
Pink Mountaintops has featured a certain number of musicians over the years, and McBean has released lots of different types of music, often into the proto-metal and prog-rock categories, but Pink Mountaintops is mostly him, his guitar and many pedal and instrumental effects. He actually started with ‘Radiant Hearts’, a beautiful song by ‘Black Mountain’, his other band, and continued with an eclectic set of songs, adding more layers by himself, with his set of pedals shaping up the sound of an entire band by himself. There was the slightly punk, fun and infectious tempo of ‘Can You Do That Dance?’ and the strangely heartfelt about dangerous and consuming love ‘Vampire’, whose lyrics goes like this, ‘You can suck out the blood/But you can’t kill the heart of my love’. And there was something really beautiful about looking at McBean perform, he was turning around like an anxious animal but totally in control, touching his pedals and adjusting stuff to play haunting songs, until distortion grew louder and louder. That’s why his set was so difficult to pigeonhole – always an excellent quality in my book – as the next song went to loud metal proportions with heavy distortion, slowly installing several layers of a doom psychedelia. This is when I realized that McBean was also in the band Obliterations I had the pleasure to see a lot called Obliterations, which was blending a heavy mix of punk hardcore and metal. This says a lot about him, last night, his multi layers of talent were creating an eclectic and textured collection of songs, switching from one atmosphere to the next with a rare smoothness.
Imaad Wasif was headlining the night, and if he may be best known for his association with Lou Barlow’s Folk Implosion, I had really known him since his Alaska! days, when he was playing with Russell Pollard, who became later the frontman of the band Everest. Imaad has a unique style when he plays guitar, he basically changes the temperature in the room, this become an intense vision, mixing fire with ice, blending the psychedelic with the mystic. After touring and playing with the Yeah Yeah Yeahs around 2006-7 – he has even collaborated with Karen O for the soundtrack of the movie ‘Where the Wild Things Are in 2009 – he decided to focus on his own music and career. His latest effort, ‘Dzi’ was released this year, following three previous solo albums, a self-titled album on Kill Rock Star in 2006, ‘Strange Hexes’ on World in Sound in 2008, and ‘The Voidist on Tee Pee in 2011. He also collaborated with McBean on a project called ‘Grim Tower’.
The surprise of the night was that Bobb Bruno (of Best Coast) was playing bass with him, but that should not have been too surprising once you know that he produced Imaad’s ‘Dzi’. From a melancholic acoustic guitar tune (‘Out in the Black’ of his first solo album) to the heavy distortion of his latest effort, the set was diverse but mostly under the spell of the dark psychedelia of ‘Dzi’, And when Imaad Wasif plays songs like ‘Far East’ (and strangely I heard at one point an almost Bowie-sque ‘China Girl’ theme in the middle of it) or ‘Astronomy’ or ‘Carry the Scar’, you see the entire history of rock ‘n’ roll flies in front of your eyes, the music is dense, the melodies buried inside a maze of complex distortion and head-banging guitar solos.
But it’s not always head banging precisely, Wasif’s music carries you into a mysterious soundscape as it is executed with a lot of impulsivity and an almost possessed state of mind. There were drama, mood alterations, dark exploration of the mind, and triumphs leveling the pain. However, if the riffs were loud and intense, if some songs definitively reached some metal-level, I thought it was very tricky to categorize his music, and I was happy to read he had acknowledged it in an interview: ‘I think that is sort of problematic for my music. I don’t think it fits into one genre. I’m not really interested in what’s around me. I’ve struggled with that my entire life, of maintaining a sacred value to what is inside of me.’
A sacred value? This is how he seems to value music and the process of making music, don’t call it entertainment, this is not a light thing for Imaad Wasif, and calling his album ‘Dzi’, a Tibetan word meaning splendor and light, probably engulfs at once the sacred and the mystery he is talking about.
Out in the black
Carry the Scar