all words: JEB Gavin, all photos: Ryan Kelly
Consider the possibility psychedelic rock isn’t dead. Turn that thought over in your mind. Stripping away the sludge metal psychedelia, the fripperous folk freaks, the pointless absurdity of electropop trying ever so hard to be Funkadelic, and admit you didn’t ever give a shit about psychedelic rock.
It was a phase you went through in high school or perhaps college. You listened to Sgt. Pepper’s on repeat for three weeks, burned out, and never returned. Having seen Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger (bonus: read our interview with them here-ed) this past Monday night at U Street Music Hall I can tell you, psychedelic rock might be making a comeback.
In truth, I’d gone to the show to see opener Jeffrey Lewis (bonus: we’ve interviewed him too. Granted, 5 years a go, but still!-ed). He’s an anti-folk singer and comic book artist who writes overly wordy songs about the nature of art, the human condition, modern world history, monsters and so forth. Live, he accompanies himself on tape while describing the Vietnam War and flipping through a comic book about the same, or explains what it’s like to be an opening act lamenting the lack of power and need for sycophantic hustle.
At one point he reeled off a poem about “What Would Pussy Riot Do?” The effect is not unlike hearing a drunk, mildly neurotic Raffi read to you from old copies of The Economist. I was worried his live show might just be him mumbling into a microphone and nervously changing his set list unsure of what to play. I mean, it was, but it was delightful and brilliant all the same.
Then after a brief hiatus to eat at Tacos El Chilango (lengua por la victoria!) around the block, GOASTT came on and melted faces. The six piece band ground through an hourish long set of their own music and at least one cover I caught, pumping out haunting organ and Mellotron sounds over dark, brooding guitar riffs and hypnotic bass lines. I went into it with no idea what to expect. I knew it was Sean Lennon’s band, and somebody once told me he’d started it as a joke with his girlfriend, bassist Charlotte Kemp Muhl.
This band doesn’t sound like a vanity project started in jest. So often when people try to make psychedelic rock these days they find themselves spinning weirder and weirder mythologies more often associated with progressive rock, then over-driving their guitars and perhaps working in some light percussive elements. The end result is a uniform, frankly boring sound- a regression to the mean of the genre, like anyone trying to make heavy psychedelic rock is shooting to be the Nickelback of heavy psychedelic rock. GOASTT seems to sidestep this whole process. The songs themselves are tight, melodies are smartly written and sound emanating forth happens to be a swirling drone of rock and roll, rather than attempting to approximate what the audience might expect.
People are going to make assumptions about GOASTT given the famous name attached to the project. Let ’em. Lennon’s a pleasant, funny little guy making excellent music, and joking about the feedback in his monitors between songs. He and his model girlfriend might not be who you’d expect to play wild, heavy rock and roll, but give them a chance. They’re exactly who should be experimenting with it. Sometimes you take a chance and it pays off big. Sometimes you catch the opening act and find a new favorite. Sometimes you come to see the opening act and stick around only to fall in love with the top of the bill.
AND NOW FOR MORE PHOTOS: