Steve Gunn & Lee Ranaldo

Steve Gunn & Lee Ranaldo

Meg Baird

Tue, January 10, 2017

Doors: 6:00 pm / Show: 6:45 pm

Arts at the Armory

Somerville, MA

$16 advance / $18 day of show

This event is all ages

Steve Gunn
Steve Gunn
People have written about roads for as long as they've been around. And before there were roads, they still wrote about travel and about landscape. Landscape is the stage upon which our greatest experiences and desires play out. Steve Gunn's music has always embraced expanse and movement. It springs from the simple and profound relationship between humans and their environment. Eyes On The Lines is his most explicit ode to the blissful uncertainty of adventure yet.

Gunn's roots in the underground run deep, from his days in GHQ to his collaborations with Black Twig Pickers and Mike Cooper. He's toured and recorded with Michael Chapman, and released two remarkable duo albums with drummer John Truscinski. His solo ventures, emerging over the past decade and culminating most recently the highly-acclaimed Way Out Weather, have been pastoral, evocative affairs. Here he embraces his urban surroundings through a series of songs that fully showcase his extraordinary ability to match hooks to deftly constructed melodies. Gunn is a consummate guitarist, that rare fingerpicker who can harness the enigma of the American Primitive vernacular without lazily regurgitating it. His playing is inventive and full of personality. His instrumental virtuosity calls upon a vast library of technical skills at will, but he's never showy — his riffs and runs are always in the service of the song at hand.

And what a pleasure to have this music presented to the wider public.

This song cycle melds thoughtful inquisitiveness with poetic reflection, fully embracing rhythmic uplift, allowing personal stories and impressions to live their own lives on their own terms. Gunn is more narrator than diarist; he pours real-life moments and real-life people into vibrant and evocative tales. Dreams and encounters spiral out – they form their own dramas and illuminate their own truths. Indeed, Eyes On The Lines works like a book of the finest short stories, its songs interlocking with an urgent necessity, forming an ever-questioning whole. In Gunn's own words: "The music isn't about me. It's about characters, either real or fictional. It's about images."
And what are lines if not one of the foundational aspects of images? Lines on the road draw one's attention to the lines comprising the landscape. Gunn's music runs ahead and twists – like time, like the road itself. Guitar lines are highway lines are lines carved by the view out the window are the lines one waits in to get a quick meal on the way from one destination to another are lines one draws in the van to stay amused. It's good to be out on the road and it's good to be home, and each feeds into the other. This record sees lines run together and leap across one another.

He's honest about the necessity of being comfortable in being lost. His music values the unknown, so it is always born of the present. We lose ourselves to find ourselves. With all of this comes humility. And gratitude. Listen to "Nature Driver," a statement of thankfulness for the generosity of the plethora of kind souls who welcome travelers into their homes.

"Ancient Jules," which opens the record, is a travel fantasy of a different sort. Built around a head-nodding motif, the song bobs and weaves its way through a tale which foregrounds the surprising joy that can come with a break – a deep sigh in the midst of an onrush, punctuated by the finest example of Gunn's electric soloing to emerge yet. A song like "Conditions Wild" also rambles through strange clouds of roving. Interlocking strings, percussion, and vocals join in an irrepressible rush. This record is like that – the songs get lodged in one's head because they're catchy, but their atmosphere sends the mind reeling into memory and mystery.

These are songs you can take in quickly, but spend all the time in the world devouring. The very large and the very small are present in equal measure. The inability to categorize them within the avalanche of impotent diatribes that pass for categorization is a testament to their power.

Stories give us ways to discover meaning. They provide us with signposts – when we recognize our own lives within them, we clarify our existence. "Far from the world is the mystic fool," Gunn sings on the opening track. The fool may be far from the world, but that doesn't matter. The so-called fool is jacked in to the cosmos.

Matt Krefting
Holyoke, MA 2016
Lee Ranaldo
Lee Ranaldo
"A solo record works best when you feel like you're opening a window into somebody's life, experiencing the things they're going through or thinking about, places they're seeing, through their eyes. At its best, you find a universality in it." – Lee Ranaldo

Only those directly in its path know for certain, but there's a good chance that when Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeastern United States in October 2012, it felt like the end of the world. When the storm finally left New York City alone, many residents dealt with destroyed homes and tattered lives but they also received aid from empathetic strangers.
Lee Ranaldo and his family were among the lucky Manhattanites. but for a week, they had no electricity, running water or heat. He did, however, have an acoustic guitar and, as has been the case of late, some new songs began spilling out of it, reflecting a prolific period imbued with eerie uncertainty.

Ranaldo had finished work on his last album, Between the Times and the Tides (released March 2012), before Sonic Youth went on hiatus in the fall of 2011. The record followed an informal period of songwriting, borne of acoustic guitar fiddling and more direct lyrics from a poet known for emotive abstraction. His plans to record a low-key acoustic LP soon evolved and many friends (Steve Shelley, Alan Licht, Nels Cline, Jim O'Rourke, Bob Bert, John Medeski, wife/artist Leah Singer) dropped by to conjure a vaguely psychedelic pop-rock sound that served Ranaldo and SY fans well.

A core unit came together, getting tighter after some roadwork, and soon Steve Shelley (Sonic Youth), Alan Licht, and bassist Tim Lüntzel became The Dust. The band dug in at Echo Canyon West thru the winter, evolving a new set of songs with a decidedly more group dynamic. Yet even though he was tracking new songs with the band (plus the always-welcome Medeski), Ranaldo wanted to present songs that were even more personal and adaptable to various live contexts.
The songs on this LP are darker, longer, and more intense than those of its predecessor, which was comparably upbeat. Despair and rage ripple through its atmosphere, but are held at bay, never quite able to touchdown. Ranaldo lives near Zucotti Park, which was HQ for NYC's Occupy Wall Street movement. He has visited Occupy encampments in Toronto, São Paulo, and wherever else he can, often bringing his kids with him so they can witness left wing, non-violent democracy in action. Unlike his last record's "Shouts," there is no specific tribute to OWS, but there is a yearning for some real, societal shift. "Every time I wait for the revolution to come," Ranaldo sings on "Home Chds." "Every night I think itʼs here and then itʼs gone."

At the same time the songs on Last Night on Earth reveal a guarded optimism. The term "hope" has been politically co-opted and devalued but it's a key element on Last Night on Earth. Ranaldo sings of land and water and love and certainty—external life forces that can turn on us at any second—from an exploratory, inviting place of co-existence. When the world ends, we're all in this together, and that's a really beautiful, scary thing.

+ + + + + + +

Lee Ranaldo – composer/visual artist/writer etc – is a founding member of Sonic Youth, now in 32nd year. Although songwriting and performing with his band The Dust (Steve Shelley, Alan Licht, Tim Lüntzel) is his current focus, Lee also premiered a new work "Hurricane Sandy Transcriptions," for Berlin-based string ensemble Kaleidoskop (with Lee on guitar) at the Holland Festival in June 2013, with more performances to follow in spring 2014. Lee continues to perform experimental events with partner Leah Singer as well. Their recent live performances have been large scale, multi projection quadraphonic sound+cinema events, with Lee performing suspended electric guitar phenomena.

Lee's visual and sound works have been on view this year in gallery and museum shows in Porto, Vienna, Prague, Antwerp, Tampa, Bratislava, Auckland, Salt Lake City and in Brooklyn and Manhattan. Recent solo recordings include Glacial (LR/Tony Buck/David Watson) [Three Lobed, 2012]; Les Anges Du Peche: Thurston Moore/Jean-Marc Montera/Lee Ranaldo: Guitar Duets [Dysmusie, 2011]; and Afternoon Saints: The Shirley Jangle (with Christian Marclay, Gunter Muller, David Watson) [Kraak, 2009]. His latest collections of writings, How Not To Get Played On The Radio [SoundBarn Press 2011] and Against Refusing [Waterrow Press, 2010], enlist internet spam as a springboard for poetry.
Meg Baird
Meg Baird
MEG BAIRD IS BACK! Don't Weigh Down the Light is her first album since 2011's Seasons On Earth, and it arrives alive with mystery and color — buoyed by a voice that's a warm, mesmerizing call across time.

Meg Baird's last decade would be remarkable by any artist's standards. She co-founded and recorded three albums with Es- pers — one of the most distinctive and hypnotic bands of the cen- tury's first decade. She recorded two solo LPs for Drag City: Dear Companion and Seasons on Earth. She also collaborated with Will Oldham, Kurt Vile, Sharon Van Etten, and Steve Gunn and toured with the legendary Bert Jansch.

And while it's been four years since her last release, the days since have been anything but restful. She played drums and recorded with Philadelphia cave punks Watery Love, and toured with Michael Chapman, Michael Hurley, Vile, Cass McCombs, Hiss Golden Messenger, and Lambchop. And after more than a de- cade as a fixture in Philadelphia's boiling-over musical scene, Meg moved west to San Francisco where she joined forces (as drummer and lead vocalist) with members of Comets on Fire and Assemble Head to form the moody and thunderous Heron Oblivion.

She also wrote and recorded this LP — Don't Weigh Down the Light.

Like Meg's previous LPs (and much of Espers output,) the foundation of Don't Weigh Down the Light is her lyrical, precise, and propulsive fingerstyle guitar work and a voice that moves from soaring and tender to soothing and spellbinding. A voice that more than a few have likened to folk's greatest female voices: Sandy Denny, Jacqui McShee, and Shirley Collins.

But where Dear Companion and Seasons on Earth were relatively minimalist affairs, Don't Weigh Down The Light is multi-hued and swimming in texture. Electric guitars and organs float and dart around Meg's intricate picking and voice like ghosts. Distant drums thump as heart- beats. Piano and electric 12-string guitars shimmer like sunlight on rippling, crystalline seas.

Don't Weigh Down The Light is also a record of its time and place — recorded in a city desper- ate to remain a haven for dreamers, freaks, and weirdoes while a new Gilded Age rolls over the land like a flood. So it's a record that finds Meg casting a cautious sideways glance — questioning sweet talkers and promises of easy illumination. It's also a loving embrace — and a reverent saluta- tion — to the sunshine-melancholy artistic traditions of California and the City.

For all the moods and quiet elegance on Don't Weigh Down The Light there is nothing too precious or immaculate in the production. It was recorded at Eric Bauer's Bauer Mansion studio: more famous for producing fuzzed-out and unhinged work from Six Organs of Admittance, Ty Segall, Mikal Cronin, and White Fence.

The studio's informal setting was a perfect match for the stew of pop-song architecture and impressionistic moods that are the backbone of Don't Weigh Down The Light. Songs forged from Meg's deep, natural Anglo-Appalachian instincts and wed to the deepest, most longing sounds of Skip Spence and Ben Chasny, Virginia Astley's pastoral abstractions, Opal's dusty, paisley West, Gene Clark's Byrds-era torch ballads, and Popol Vuh's dreamscapes.

Inevitably, some songs reflect the solitude of leaving and arriving anew. But there's also a sense of strength in friendship and home, with lyrics full of affection, care and guidance. And in spite of that wry, wary, sideward glance at power and promises, they are a plea to live, to thrive, and to stick around. A reminder that we need the dreamers — even if it's wake-up time.
Venue Information:
Arts at the Armory
191 Highland Ave
Somerville, MA, 02143
http://www.artsatthearmory.org/