In the Crowd: Khanate/Kayo Dot
Live at Great Scott
Sept. 18, 2005
The pairing of Boston's Kayo Dot and NYC's Khanate was one of the first shows of the weeklong, citywide N.E.S.T. series of shows put together by a confederation of local independent promoters. Despite a few other notable shows going on this night, this show predictably drew a healthy throng of the metallically inclined to see what was a deeply satisfying double-bill of two intriguing, uncompromising, and to use a short-cut term I will use throughout this review, HEAVY bands. I took two Advil before the music started.
Even if their had been other bands on this show, I don't think there would've been room for their gear. Emil Beaulieu of RRR Records was mentioned as a possible guest but never materialized. Between the immense array of 7-piece Kayo Dot and the stacks of Khanate, there was enough wattage to power 15 of the shitty rock bands that used to occasionally play this bar reclaimed from the heart of college dive darkness. In the past year or so it has been in the hands of a team of local promoters who book a diverse, regular schedule of local and touring bands and DJ's. The room is long but the stage area is intimate, the sound system is good, and although the stage has railings it allows people to stand either in front or stage side.
Kayo Dot was up first and arranged themselves both on stage and on the floor. I have seen them deal with small stages in this way before and it always makes for a good show. In this case, the guitarists (well most of them) were in front on the floor while drums, horn/guitar/vocalist Forbes Graham and violinist Mia Matsumiya enjoyed some room in front of Khanate's amps. They benefited from a good mix from live sound engineer/samplist D. Thomas Murray and presented a powerful set of remarkable continuity to an attentive crowd. They played songs from their 2003 Tzadik full-length Choirs Of The Eye and newer songs that will presumably appear on a forthcoming Robotic Empire release. As the Tzadik affiliation suggests, they play progressive metal of highly refined composition, classical instrumentation, and avant-garde technique. Which is not to say they are "boring" or "not metal" as the close-minded are want to say. Their songs are expansive and slowly unfolding, the heavy passages of crushing distortion comprising sections of larger, evolving epics. A song may start with sparse guitar chording suggesting Derek Bailey, then build to devastating volume and depth of tone to rival the heaviest of bands. In between there is weeping violin, textural extending breathing trumpet, soft brushed snare and grind blast beats, the aural and visual presence of upright bass and euphonium, vocoder, ambient electronic samples. It could all very well become a mess, but on this night the sound was crisp and vivid and they were in complete control. Their set concluded with band members putting down their primary instruments one by one, picking up drumsticks and playing a pattern on metal barrels. Kinda like Steve Reich's "Drumming" but more uh, metallic. On cue from band leader and principal composer Toby Driver, they stopped on a dime and the crowd broke from their near hour long trance to applaud.
Few bands could follow that in terms of a unique approach to metal, but the band that did happened to be Khanate. Comprised of longtime doom practitioners, including Alan Dubin and James Plotkin (both x-O.L.D.) and Stephen O'Malley (Burning Witch, SUNN0)))), Khanate is a big name in this still very underground and misunderstood area of heavy music. Yes, they have a singer who sounds like Sméagol (soundcheck shrieks of "CHEEEECKKKKK!!!"). Yes, people obsess over their records and other bands, whether in terms of collectibility or validity. Yes, they are written about in WIRE and yes those Sunn amps are vintage and not easy to come by (for the record, Plotkin uses Ampeg's). It is the insecure nature of some underground metal fans to gravitate away from any bands that attract outsider attention or too much attention at all, as Khanate has. But if you're a fan of their MUSIC, few bands can execute their distinctive sound in the way that this band can. I personally was buried deep within a KHANATE COMA. Looking around the room at how people react to this music, many others were as well. Eyes closed, heads lolling, absorbing volume and tension. Internally it seemed to be a rough show, the second one into a tour to desecrate their Capture and Release EP (Hydra Head), and the live sound seemed to particularly annoy Plotkin, who kicked over the bass drum mic a few times when it interfered with their overwhelming swells. Here's another band people can call "boring." I was blown away. Is this slow music? In terms of obvious tempos yes, and they played four long songs in an hour, but in terms of density and "sonic events" there is very much going on at all times. It is all about tension and release, from Dubin's intense scowl and impassioned cries, to the incredible drumming of Tim Wyskida, the conductor and most crucial part of their sound. I realized there are jazz aspects to his playing, in the placement of accents, subtle shifts of the beat, buzzing cymbal rivets, deep rolls on the toms. Then there is the dynamic between O'Malley's guitar/amps and Plotkin's bass/amps. The synchronous, annunciated strumming, deviations from and crushing return to structure, intense eye contact. Like Kayo Dot, communication in the moment is essential to keep the entire structure from collapsing. Having had countless cleansing sound waves pass through my skull on this evening, I left this show thoroughly invigorated and quite a bit wobbly.
- Andy Tefft | 2005-10-03
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