Friday, May 18, 2007

Tuesday Night Gypsy Bacchanal

Secret Chiefs 3
with Dr. El Suavo
Live at the Factory Theatre, Sydney, May 15th

For the second time in two weeks I found myself at the Factory Theatre watching a bunch of guys dressed as monks play some real crazy music.

Secret Chiefs 3

Secret Chiefs 3 is the project of one Trey Spruance, who of course we all remember as the guitarist (and number two personality after Mike Patton) of Mr. Bungle. Their music is a unique and harmonious blend of death metal, Mr. Bungle style cheeseball rock and traditional music of an ethnicity that is best categorised by the useful Australianism 'woggy', meaning Eastern European, Middle Eastern or Central Asian. Shamefully I only own one of their albums, which I loved when I first bought it and which I loved when listening to it in preparation for their gig, but which fell out of my favour in the intervening years. I suspect this was because it's one of those albums that works a lot better when listened to as a whole than when the songs occasionally come up on the random shuffle. Nevertheless I was very curious to go along to this gig, and I'm glad I did because it was totally fantastic.

Metal monks going metal

I arrived a little late and was greeted by the sight of this guy:

Dr. El Suavo

DJing a whole lot of crazy goofball shit. This was Dr. El Suavo [wp] who I can't recommend terribly highly as a DJ or a stage magician but who was a pretty good comedian:
“C'mon Sydney, even Adelaide was better than this. You're not going to let those serial killing motherfuckers beat you are you?”

“Oh I get it, you're all on heroin tonight. Tomorrow night all the coke and meth heads will come out and it'll be real crazy.”
Well he made me laugh anyway. Plus he gets bonus points for playing a (old-school, non-light based) theremin.

At about ten o'clock Secret Chiefs took the stage. Coincidentally enough dressed as monks (Christian, Masonic and several varieties of Buddhist. I didn't see any Satanists.) The lineup included Trey on guitar, bass, two percussionists, one violinist/ second guitar/ trumpeter, keys, flute/ sax and one guy playing some freaky Asian bowed instrument I don't know the name of, but do have a very bad picture of:

Said strange instrument

Trey's guitars fascinated me, they weren't really guitars but electric versions of traditional instruments and I'd love to know what they were called. I'm not sure but the intonation of the fretting looked pretty unconventional to me, so I'm guessing it was Middle Eastern. In this incarnation Secret Chiefs 3's touring lineup includes two other former members of Mr. Bungle, Danny Heifetz on drums and Bar McKinnon on flute and sax.

You can't really tell from this photo, but Trey Spruance is real fucking awesome

The first set was really good, what came later was even better. During the intermission some random guy came out, assembled the crowd in front of the stage into a circle and led everyone in an Arabic (at least I think it was Arabic) chant. After a while the drummers joined in and it was really pretty cool. You don't get that kind of audience participation at a Lamb of God concert!

The concert had been very good up until then but the second set and the encore were just brilliant. Trey was pretty relaxed and unassuming for most of the show, but in the last song of the second set and the first song of the encore he let it all out for a few amazing solos. I've seen incredible guitar playing up close before in a metal context, but these were traditional style on the traditional instruments. I was so excited to get to see it up close I nearly peed my pants.


However I was even more impressed by the violinist. Maybe it was just the novelty of seeing that instrument in this context (OK Sarena Maneesh (the band that opened for Nine Inch Nails) had a violinist but he didn't contribute a hell of a lot) but I was totally enraptured by him, most notably by his soulful lead in 'The End Times', in which he awakened in me a whole new motivation to become a real musician; so I can travel to the other side of the world and play a gig on a Tuesday night for a bunch of people who have just wandered in after work and just totally break their fucking hearts. If that wasn't enough, he followed up Trey's solo in the encore with one of his own that almost made my eyes pop out with astonishment.

The violinist

They played again the next night and I would have loved to have gone but it was sold out. There was a great vibe and despite the slightly obnoxious drunk people (something it's hard to avoid at any concert in Sydney) there was a really good, intimate vibe between the band and the audience. I'm running out of adjectives to describe all the great concerts I've gone to recently but this was one of the best so far this year, perhaps only beaten by Tool and Isis.

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