ExSage, Old Testament, Black Paw And VUM At The Bootleg Theater, Monday December 19th 2016
Monday was ExSage’s last day of residency at the Bootleg theater, and I remember having seen them playing under another moniker, when they were Lolipop Records’ rockers Cobalt Cranes. But it was easy to recognize their stylish rebellious sound, which may have slightly evolved but is still very captivating.
They only came on stage around 11 pm, as three other bands played during the night. Old Testament was a name that sounded a bit more Americana than the music itself. Sure, there was a plugged-in banjo on a few songs, but also a wah pedal and a very cool 70’s flavor in their psychedelia, which was letting plenty of room for some ferocious guitar instrumentals. I have to say that Old Testament is fronted by singer-songwriter Jason Simon of stoner rock band Dead Meadow, a style which was still permeating through the music, whereas the rest of the set was more or less upbeat to pleasant-nonchalant ballads.
The second band was the most mysterious one of the night, not only because they were not announced, but also because I haven’t found anything about them anywhere! Either they are true social media ghosts, which is totally amazing these days, or they are a brand new band, which could also be the case. I really liked what I heard and it’s a shame I can’t find their music anywhere, I first got a serious desert vibe, dark and powerful built around vocal harmonies, with two basses played at the same time, bringing a slow somber feeling…. then, despite the black leather jackets, the music didn’t take the direction I first expected, it went into an elegant dark pop path, with some The-National-type of vocals? It was deeply emotional music and their last song, talking about changing colors, was very catchy.
Ex-Sage are real professionals, they built a real atmosphere with fog machines, visual projections on a background screen, and they delivered their aggressive outlaw bluesy Americana with large detours in a furious psychedelia. They didn’t waste a second between the songs, and exchanged vocals while often doing boy-girl pop harmonies. There was a constant desert imagery emerging from their songs, and this should not come as a shock once you know that their debut EP was produced by Alain Johnannes (Queens of the Stone Age, Them Crooked Vultures, Mark Lanegan). They didn’t sound exactly as stoner rockers nevertheless, the music was tough and rebellious, rocking very hard, like a wild ride piercing through the smog with savage howls and mad bass lines. They had perfect timing, and bassist Kate Clover was constantly standing in the light while guitarist Tim Foley was always staying in the shadow during the entire bright-and-dark trip through the desert electric storm, that they brought inside the Bootleg.
I have seen VUM a couple of times in the past, but they have since released their third album, ‘Cryptocrystalline’, ‘named after the natural phenomena which occurs when an orderly, molecular structure exists in rocks, but is not immediately apparent to the naked eye’. There is indeed something deeply enigmatic and not immediately accessible in their music, something savant too, as the indie trio has come up with a unique style mixing elements of krautrock and noir pop, with an organ drone produced by Christopher Badger’s multi synths, Scott Spaulding’s sparse almost tribal pounding beats to nervous percussion, and Jennifer Pearl’s nasal incantations-like vocals à la PJ Harvey. Their sound is dark, even tenebrous, but also very cinematic and often trippy, slow-moving, while evoking exotic places from sweaty jungles to cold deserts, or mystic temples, which can go through your head as the set progresses. Pearl’s surfing guitar was piercing with a fierce determination through the lugubrious journey, which could easily turn into a trance gateway or even into a state of hypnosis. However, there was something quite reassuring in their apparent monotony, which makes of VUM, like the other bands playing that same night, truly unruly and riding their own darkwave.