New York

Live: MTA Workers Protest…With Guitars!



Ladies and gentleman, Jesus Christ on drumkit

The Psychic Ills
Knitting Factory
December 15

MTA’s gonna strike, fitting that the Psychic Ills had one song they could play last night: “Tomorrow Never Knows.” I had seen these guys (and girl) do their Hawkwind-minus-riffs (doremi w/out fa or so, dig), Chrome Apples 60s psyche outrock-by-default bit at CMJ, wanted to hate it because the bassist really couldn’t keep time during the percussion breakdowns and the percussion breakdowns seemed like another schlocky 11211 cover-up for bad songwriting. My Warlocks rant hadn’t dropped yet but I had been mulling over this shit, the extent to which “restraint” and “groove, man” gets confused (audience and musician alike) with “we haven’t written a b part yet” and “just nod over here when you want to end the song, doggies.”

Still I like to think New York hasn’t gotten to me so much that I can’t like something spite my critical sensibilities, and turns out the Psychic Ills have that dance band-by-accident thing going for them in a big way. Everything about them is bewitching, really, evacuating. We never saw a face (their look, said a friend, was Fleetwood Mac), never understood a single word off the glazed mic (same friend, “he’s no Enya”), and save the drummer’s necessary movements and the bassist’s occasional Tia Carrere shoulder blitz, they stood there consumed by something invisible to the rest of us. The very sounds of the percussion they took up am beginn — all kinds of snakecharmed rattles and djembe and the coughy fretboards — interacted like paints mixing together, gorgeous hues fixed to the mathematical/rhythmical type stuff. Throw in all the kling-klang guitar noise, sometimes shimmering, sometimes sheety, and the Ills got themselves into an unlikely future-primitive grind, something as if (say) rave music and shoegaze were exactly the same thing.

Listen, I’ll admit the songs were samey. The basslines stuck to the root (and the quarters), traveling down a note but coming right back up, the occasional gliss here or there. The tom-heavy drumming started strong but locked into grooves somewhat impossible to break out of, at least without derailing the funktrain — he propelled the Ills’ cumulus chill-out, and he knew it. And wooftown, the last six or seven minutes of the Psychic Ills set got into some garbage last-song make-it-count, lots of epic pronouncements, reminded me why I was so skeptical of them in the first place. (Of course, this is one of the two songs I can link to for download, oh well.)

But for how big of a sound they manage, for all the hippie-dippieisms, Ills make some sharp minimal dance music. It’s trance-dub, really, or a fuller ESG, where the only thing that might change in a song is that the drummer thwops the snare a different pattern for the bridge, or the bassist rubbers out an ounce more, or the mad professor dude on crazy guitar fixes his glasses and suddenly something, I’m not sure what or how, sneaks up and kicks my ass again.

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