Too Much Goethe, Just the Right Number of Hollow Slabs of Meat, Never Enough Death Metal

For those with sufficient catholic tastes in music, even the options available in an imitation-metropole like the Atlanta-Athens nexus sometimes get to be too much indeed. One week, Sunn O))) plays a gig in Atlanta, two gigs in Athens. The next, Faust comes to the 40 Watt Club and holds a workshop the next day. The next, Os Mutantes make an Atlanta stop toward the end of their North American tour. Listening to albums of all three artists before the gigs take place, I find my listening, my living, overwhelmed. Alas, such impositions ultimately are welcome, "worth it"....

Sunn O))) gave Athenians a treat - the only town where they played two gigs, even working up a different set for the second night. For the only second time in my concert-attendance life, I wear earplugs for most of the two shows (the first time being Acid Mothers Temple and The Melting Paraiso U F O in 2004 at the second of their several visits to Atlanta). State it outright: Heavy Metal is great when it morphs into noisy droning cacophonies topped with vocal performances residing in the magic lala-land between oral epic poetry and Tuvan throat singing. Or, rather, get rid of the drummer (though not necessarily) and let the guitarists do away with their prescribed movements, instead immerse themselves in sound. Both nights, the sounds exhilarated. Especially when the singer emerged a second time on the second night wearing an outfit decorated in shards of glass. Heaven yeah!

Faust's performance disappointed in one sense: this line-up, featuring original members Jean-Hervé Péron and Werner Zappi Diermaier, plus Geraldine Swayne and James Johnston (also the newest member of Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds) seem content mostly playing material from the group's early period. One couldn't accuse the varied versions of the group that have come and gone since the early 1990's, and the few albums that've resulted, of being retreads by any means. So this by-the-numbers gig was surprising... but great nonetheless, especially the rendition of "Jennifer." If you want some evidence, listen here at the Sloan Simpson's Southern Shelter site (ever diligent in recording Athens-Atlanta gigs, he also captured the Sunn O))) performances).

The workshop they held the next day, like those held by The Shaking Ray Levis, Pauline Oliveros, and Nicolas Collins I witnessed, or participated in, at the Big Ears Festival earlier this year, enabled the attendees to make music - however indirectly, however fleetingly - with the artists. Not surprisingly, many of these attendees are music artists themselves: Vic Chesnutt, Killick, Andrew Rieger and Laura Carter of Elf Power, W Cullen Hart, Derek Almstead, Pete Erchick, and Heather McIntosh (who organized Faust's visit) of Circulatory System, Jeff Mangum and Scott Spillane of Neutral Milk Hotel, Tony Evans of Garbage Island, and many more. Péron and Johnston took the lead in directing the participants in two pieces, roughly twenty minutes long, wherein the participants, having been divided into different sound groups, moved slowly from a dictated stasis of quiet moderation to a freed cluttering of the pent-up fervor of musicians relishing the chance to play alongside - do something, anything - members of the legendary Faust. After all, surely Faust will stand in history's judgment as the ultimate ironic moniker for a band making collectivist music like the best Rock bands tend to do. So why not encourage further collectivist deconstructions?

That said, like most conducted improvisations, by Lawrence Butch Morris or anyone else, a certain pointlessness intrudes. In smaller groupings, there'd be more collectivism, less leadership, and something of greater compositional substance (if not physical presence) would emerge.

Another nagging question too: why don't the participants of this workshop, or those held at Big Ears, engage in such activities on a regular basis? Do they need the sanction and encouragement of those with "cred" or veteran status? In conclusion, though, something inexorably tied to the event at hand took place: the assembled performed an a capella version of "It's a Rainy Day, Sunshine Girl." Any sort of awkwardness or thwarted expectations were surely put aside by such a joyful simple activity.

The Os Mutantes performance didn't match my hopes, largely because the particular context I've placed them in - that of late-1960's experimentation with song forms and electroacoustic manipulations of the mainstream - is not necessarily the way their leader Sérgio Dias Baptista conceives of them, nor is it the way many listeners hear them, especially Brazilians for whom the band ranks as a foundational artist in the same sense that Frank Sinatra or Ray Charles do here in the United States. That is, here I'm again a sourpuss. Wanting more old songs, less showmanship - the opposite of what I'd desired from Faust!

Meanwhile, over the course of the same weekend Os Mutantes came to Atlanta, a few other gigs drew my attention if not my attendance: Broadcast and Atlas Sound; Om and Six Organs of Admittance; Indian Jewelry and Magicicada. To be young again, with so much energy and optimism, with the gas prices cheap as they were in the late 1990's, when I'd traverse between Athens and Atlanta at a moment's whim..... Too little now... too late.

And within the next week, a couple other older artists joined Faust and Os Mutantes on the list of live-performance opportunities I'd never thought would come this way: Leonard Cohen (in Atlanta) and Meat Puppets (in Atlanta and Athens). I skipped Cohen, but thankfully attended the Athens Meat Puppets gig at the 40 Watt. Of course, they'd played these parts not too long ago, in a different version of the band with singer-guitarist Curt Kirkwood being the only original member. Now, with his brother Cris, bass guitarist previously given up for dead because of drug-addiction problems, back in the band (though not drummer Derrick Bostrom) The Meats (as I like to call them) gave a spirited rendition of songs past and present. I could listen to Curt play guitar as long as I could Neil Young - that is, as much as he wants. (By the way, again listen here.)