Bad Plus Good

Judging by the rave reviews, and heavy promotion from Columbia, it might seem that the Bad Plus are heading for the arena-rock stardom of that other cross-genre piano trio, Emerson, Lake & Palmer. Don't believe the hype—you won't see frontman Ethan Iverson strapped to a gyrating baby grand anytime soon; that might muss his natty, double-breasted suits. With his immaculate bald dome cast in stark relief against the exposed brick of the Village Underground, the pianist radiated jazz reserve on April Fool's evening. Bassist Reid Anderson personified Midwest grunge in his scruffy T-shirt and jeans ensemble, while drummer David King's protruding brow, rictus smile, and maniacal bobbing called to mind a pogoing British soccer hooligan. Such disparate parts sum up their show: rock's blunt, repetitive hooks mutated and burnished through jazz alchemy, all of it leavened by Iverson's stage patter, which flatters the audience's ability to endure avant-garde dissonance while reveling in levitations of club-footed melodies like that of Sabbath's "Ironman." A seamless combination of two originals, "Neptune" and "Silence Is the Question," thrilled the house, as King stroked his kit with the antennae of toy walkie-talkies, coaxing ethereal feedback from the tiny speakers. His asymmetrical rhythms anchored Anderson’s expansive bass while barely containing the spun gold swirling from the ivories.

Takin' you hi-yah: Electric Six's Surge Joebot
photo: Cary Conover
Takin' you hi-yah: Electric Six's Surge Joebot

Rock is for drinking, fighting, and fucking, and that will always put more fannies in the seats than the subtler, more complex emotions of jazz. But when the Bad boys lean into their signature cover of "Smells Like Teen Spirit," the battered, twisted chords they weave around the original tune tap a potent cultural slipstream. When you've got the talent and insight to expose a slashing rock anthem as a coming American standard, and don't care what anyone thinks, yeah, there's a lush life indeed. —R.C. Baker

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