“When I was young and full of grace/ and spirited, a rattlesnake/ When I was young and fever fell/ My spirit, I will not tell/ You’re on your honor not to tell/ I believe in coyotes and time as an abstract/ Explain the change, the difference between/ What you want and what you need, there’s the key/ Your adventure for today, what do you do/ Between the horns of the day”—“I Believe” by R.E.M. from the album Lifes Rich Pageant
Now the year 2015 begins with words about music. Sounds flow through our city like a river, a thing whose nature is untamed and unstoppable. Of course covering that wily and watery entity is—and always will be—a challenge; there’s so much to hear and experience musically in Burque.
That’s a truth that may have gone unrealized, except for the efforts of Michael Henningsen. The editor of these pages for many years, Henningsen died in May. His legacy—grounded in well-crafted words and an intimate knowledge of the theory and practice of music, as well as a pithy criticality that is just damned unmatchable—touched all who followed on these pages forever afterward.
In August 2000 I pitched him a Who review. They were playing a gig at what was then known as the Mesa del Sol Amphitheatre. With the Ox and Zak Starkey comprising a thunderific rhythm section, I told him it would be one helluva show. He smiled a wan smile, did something to the chunk of Copenhagen lodged in his lower lip and said okay.
In case you wanna know, whenever the Alibi ran a music review back then, it went into a column called “Bark at the Moon,” which is also the name of Ozzy Osbourne’s third album. Anywho, the concert was great, and the review was decent; thanks to Henningsen’s oversight and insight, the experience gave me the push I needed to begin tending to my craft as a writer.
In the spirit of those halcyon moments—long gone but highly influential—here are some brief reviews of the best shows I previewed and/or saw in 2014. They’re listed chronologically, by the way, and each was as awesome as the other.
In March and before springtime—when the night air is still cold as hell—I went out with gout in my hand to see Raven Chacon, Alchemical Burn, Uranium Worker and Bestial Mouths at Low Spirits (2823 Second Street NW). Chacon’s daring yet casual experimentalism and awareness of pitch-centered composition set the tone for a night of superlative music making. Uranium Worker, a deconstructed duo who hasn’t gigged lately, practically tore the joint apart with their raucous, radioactive rambles.
It’s true that summer’s lease hath all to short a date. But don’t tell Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen and Walter Becker about Willy the Shake’s romantic admonition. They’d just damn you to hell and keep on touring. Their Jamalot Ever After Tour hit Route 66 Casino’s Legends Theater (14500 Central SW) in the middle of July. I used my front-row seat to absorb a timeless spectacle both heady and haughty. Fagen’s nuanced, sometimes sparse keyboard injectables and toothy growl were admirable and supported by an honest-to-goodness working band complete with charts and chops straight from the other world, aka New York City.
In August, Oakland-based Black Spirituals (Marshall Trammell and Zachary Watkins) brought a sense of grace and good vibes—albeit of the heavily deconstructed variety—to Spirit Abuse (1103 Fourth Street NW). Purveyors of a complex, compositional style that verges on jazz while taking on the behemoth of postmodernism with syncretically noisy aplomb, Black Spirituals performed a set of music both transgressive and transcendent. The opening interludes by Bigawatt and Mesa Ritual were a haunting reminder of how awesome local music can be.
Courtesy of artist
Ian Anderson, center, and his band of Jethro Tull-literate players
Courtesy of artist
Jethro Tull isn’t an easy band to like. Gripped by ornate, flute-driven explorations of English culture, custom and geography, their work is as elusive as it is evocative. Frontman Ian Anderson, who once portrayed himself as an unbound, wild genius, has seemingly revisioned himself as a weathered intellectual elder statesman. That might come off as further pretense if the results hadn’t been so astonishingly phat and fresh. Touring in support of his solo effort Homo Erraticus at the Kiva Auditorium in mid-September, Anderson was in fine form as the knowing rascal with a dark edge to his antic delivery and sublime sense of musicality.
This year’s iteration of Los 15 Grandes de Nuevo Mexico on Nov. 22 at the aforementioned Legends Theater was a solid nod to the rich heritage of musical intensity that each of us has access to as members of the nuevomexicano musical community. Facts are facts: Any opportunity to witness Al Hurricane and his many acolytes in action is a blessing of the same magnitude as bathing in the bright Southwestern sun. Soaking in all that warm goodness at this year’s concert was simply damn good and totally unforgettable.
This week’s column is dedicated to the past, to Michael Henningsen. And to the future as well. Musically speaking, that will be glorious. Stay tuned to this channel for further details as they emerge.