I'm currently on tour documenting the Josh Berwanger Band tour. So what you see below is an abbreviated version of the normal Too Much Rock show accounts. I apologise to the bands that may be slighted along the route, but you all know how hectic it is on the road. We'll return to regular programming shortly.
When Josh Berwanger introduces himself to the sound engineer he always says the same thing: "I'd like it to sound like Tom Petty." If he gets blank stares he's likely to clarify, explaining how he wants the vocals or guitar levels in the mix, but the mere fact that he mentions Tom Petty without irony or hesitation, is unique. Sound engineers often meet this request with delight. So many have expressed frustration with setting up DI (direct in) boxes to feed MacBook Pros and samplers back to the mixing board. Rock may not be dead, but its certainly an endangered species.
Me, I don't really consider myself a rock guy. Sure I can sing-along with any tune that might pop up on the local classic radio station, and I'm all for a good punk rock bashing, but at the same time I'm thrilled by the brassy lope of a trumpet, the twee plink of a ukulele, or the cloying vocals of a co-ed indie pop band. But compared to what I've seen in the clubs for the last week, I'm practically Joan Jett. With that introduction, and now with an explicit declaration, I'll say that I just do not get electronic music. Apologises to those that do and yet have still found their way to Too Much Rock.
Sunday night at the Bug Jar in Rochester, New York began with Ligaments – a solo electronic music (techno according to the band's Facebook page) act created by New York City producer Grayson Cowing. Sitting cross-legged on the floor with a brightly-lit sampler and a computer, Cowing delivered a long 45-minute set of pulsing IDM. While not constructed entirely live, songs were mutated (sped up, cut, etc.) live and at the whim of the artist. Meanwhile, in the back of the club, a hidden accomplice armed with an iPad created a live video show projected to a screen behind Cowing. Curiously unsynchronised to the performance, this off-stage cohort flicked his finger to overlay, mirror, saturate, and decay the repeating abstract and geometric video clips. A sizeable audience watched it all – never dancing – but attentive. This continues to confuse me, no matter how many times I've seen this while on tour. What's there to watch?
While the evening continued with another solo electronic act – Rochester's Precious Kindred led by Jim Dewitt – this second project may have been created with headphones, more than dance parties, in mind. That is to say Precious Kindred isn't afraid of bubbling melodies nor toying with recognisable live music components – albeit the latter only sampled and then reassembled for a different audience. In fact, in one particularly straightforward moment during the acts 35-minute set, I was reminded of experimental indie rockers like American Analog Set. This familiarity invited more crowd participation, and curiously, more dancing than the opening act's dance floor-tailored set. Like the opener, Precious Kindred performed in front of a screen on which projected video was manipulated in real time – possibly even by the same unseen iPad operator. This I almost get.
It was 11:45 when Josh Berwanger Band took the stage. Frontman Josh Berwanger began the set with a precursory thank you to the curious audience members who poked their head in to see the old fashioned rock and roll band. Throughout the set there was little banter, and what there was continued the trend of mock surprise upon discovering some ubiquitous fast food chain wasn't local to Kansas City after all. Tonight it was: "You guys have McDonalds here too. We have those in Kansas, so it made me feel a little more at home." Those that get it laugh, those that don't just think Berwanger is a buffoon. He seems to be fine with it either way. While the crowd remained small, it did slowly build throughout the band's short 25-minute set, giving some indication that the band's well-written pop/rock was making inroads with the electronic music fans.
When NYC-based headliners Infinity Shred began its set, it was already 12:30. On a Sunday night in Rochester, that's late. The trio, however, were undaunted as it slowly eased into its set under dim lights and in front of carefully crafted projected videos synchronised to the band's music. This coincidence doesn't usually work well for live bands – there are too many variables – but the underpinnings of Infinity Shred are metronome-insured electronic beats and carefully timed sequences. Drummer George Stroud adds his full drum kit to the top of these very electronic-sounding beats, adding a pleasingly sharp punch. The guitar work of Nathan Ritholz is captured, looped, and rebuilt, not unlike the samples played by Precious Kindred, though this time in a much more relatable (to me anyway) live fashion. Damon Hardjowirogo plays synthesisers and manages all the electronics of the band, adding the big dub step-inspired drops to the band's music as well as most of the melodies. There are no vocals, no audience interaction, just long expansive instrumentals that land somewhere between the post-rock of Explosions in the Sky, and the dub-step electronica that seems to be popular with everyone except anyone that I know. Maybe late-period Aloha might be a good analogue. The band's set ended forty minutes later, concluding with a long, largely organic piece that I enjoyed despite my heavy eyelids. With this track, Infinity Shred balanced rock bravado, classical composition, and electronic energy in just the right amounts.
As the synthesised sounds reached their final decay, and the house lights rose, Hardjowirogo thanked the audience for sticking around so late. Those with Xs on their hands rushed out quickest, but no one stuck around the bar long. Soon I was alone in the bar, left to contemplate rock and live music in general. The media tells us that record sales are a thing of the past, and that touring is now the real revenue stream, but will audiences really turn out to watch a kid press keys on his computer? I know I won't – I need the snarl of a vocalist, the exaggerated swing of a drum stick, and tight of a guitar string bent ridiculously close to breaking. I guess I'm more of a rocker than I thought.