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    [ Tristan da Cunha ]


    Live Impressions-TRISTAN da CUNHA @ The Charleston--FEB 1st, 2002

    Although nearly every English teacher says that while writing one should maintain as invisible a presence as possible, I feel there is something about me that you, the reader, should know. I am for the most part an indie-rock fan wannabe. In truth, I am relatively unschooled in the world of indie rock and even less learned in the ways of prog-rock, math-rock, mensa-metal, insert-word-here-to-describe-something-other-than-mainstream. While I do not own a Creed record and do love dearly bands like Chavez and Dismemberment Plan I am, for the most part, a frustrated novice. It's not that I haven't tried. But too many times I am ultimately struck by how attempts to re-invent or redefine the wheel often leave me wondering why I don't see a wheel, and what is that menacing looking fish doing there instead? True, most times I'm too busy or lazy to take the time to figure out what time signature a song is in, let alone decipher everything else it presents, but song elements other than catchy choruses and breast implants do impress me. Yet no matter how I try and no matter how much I enjoy a challenge, I still need that tangible something to hold on to, some sort of life raft to cling to while my brain calms the musical maelstrom that the performer calls pioneering the outer limits of sound.

    Recently I saw a band that understands there can be a balance between blowing an audiences' mind and communicating with them, and that tipping the balance can provide one hell of a ride. Tristan da Cunha surfs a razor edge between Sly and The Family Stone and Alban Berg, between Sonic Youth and Igor Stravinsky, between (last one I swear) The Ramones and Paul Hindemith, all the while steering the audience member through their frantic, high-energy aural assault with enough recognizable landmarks to leave one in amazement rather than the dust. While the band is unadulterated indie, their temperament is that of a pop sheep in post-punk-expressionist-explosive-progressive-wolf's clothing (well, with some fangs and howling thrown in for good measure). Impressive too is how clear a vision TdC has of their sound and the desired results, for they displayed a consistency in spite of the wide range and challenging scope of their music. Their regard for the listener can be evidenced throughout their work, from the attention they give to their melodies, to the pacing and duration of their set list and to the simple fact that they love to play for an audience. However, this was all for the listener to sort out after the show?

    The Charleston in Williamsburg, Brooklyn marked the first venue TdC has played in NY during the two years that they have been playing together. While I had heard bits of their EP before, nothing could prepare me for what I experienced this night. From the first downbeat to the final chord, they presented a show that was both visually and sonically a perfect complement to their style of writing. Truly this is rock for the 21st century, mixing an information-aged intellect with primal caveman like energy. The trio played a set of nearly new or unrecorded material, leaving most of their "hits" at home. Highlights of the set included the sexy "Real Real Gone", complete with an adolescent "off like a prom dress" energy and groaning bass player. "Bottle Baby" marked one of the few times in the evening TdC played a unison riff, but it's driving accents and shifting emphases reminded you to keep both hands in the car at all times until the ride came to a complete stop. "Apples Got Sauce" combined the feels of a barndance and nursery rhyme to provide another shining example of TdC's slight-of-hand use of order and chaos. To be sure, the set was full of many other thrilling moments (like the driving power of the chorus to "Magnolia" or the anticipation of what would happen next after the guitarist and drummer switched places for the last two songs of the evening), but sadly, many blurred together like what I imagine a hangover would be like if it could be enjoyable. The whole time they presented their polyrhythmic polytonal wares, the band bopped, hopped, swaggered, smiled, sneered, slammed and knelt (?) along. Dare I say it, these guys were having fun. Ernie, Brian and Steve each presented a feast for the eyes as well as the ears with a stage presence and bravado that would make many of their stone-faced contemporaries? blush.

    This band is certainly exploring and reinterpreting the languages of pop, rock, metal, and dance music, but there are still certain words that most anyone would recognize. For amidst every ear crunching multi-tonal wash, shifting meter and other musical surprises, catchy harmonies, memorable melodies and other sticky goodies abound. In this manner, Tristan da Cuna is breaking ground in re-defining the concept of "the hook" by providing enough musical and visual familiarity amidst the musical chaos to keep us coming back for more. Through their peep-show balancing act mad musical experimentation, Tristan da Cunha has made an unabashed indie fan out of this writer and will hopefully win more admirers in the future.

    For more information on this band go to: www.slendermusic.com/tristan

    Written By: Phil D.