Friday, July 12, 2024

Coven was one of three heavy metal bands playing The Sinclair on Sunday in Cambridge’s Harvard Square. (Photo: Michael Gutierrez)

The old German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer put music in a category all its own.

Music earned an independent and elevated status among the arts because it cut deeper than forms trying merely to represent or imitate. A painting of a haystack is just a degraded version of the original, at the end of the day.


Music, on the other hand, has bigger fish to fry than representation. Its mission is to penetrate straight to the throbbing, pulsing, honking, steaming heart of the cosmos and serve it up on the tip of your fork. Some people agreed, some disagreed. Many harsh words were exchanged at 19th century salons and garden parties.

Fast-forward to the pop music discourse of the present day and you could hardly get the argument off the ground. Art forms aren’t for ranking – they’re for jamming together into whatever combo gets you your jollies.

That’s where the light show artists come in. Sure, we’ve all seen the reels of late middle-aged fanboys losing their shit at that U2 concert, hunkered down within the visual firestorm of the $2.3 billion Sphere in Las Vegas. But if you think you need to plunk down top dollar and rub shoulders with junk bond sellers in the desert to skip the light fandango, think again. We’ve got trailblazing talent in our own backyard.

Let’s mention at least two local artists of light-meets-sound: Sons Lunaris and Digital Awareness.

You’ve probably seen Sons Lunaris on music bills around town. When the outfit isn’t kicking out their brand of heavy, blues-based jams, they’re smearing tripped-out visuals over the toast of the rock ’n’ roll scene. According to band member Alex “Youngblood” Simpson: “Squished liquid is our bread and butter.”

What’s that mean? Alex makes the magic happen with overhead projectors, glass and oil: “We’ll mix up a couple different immiscible liquids, dye them different colors with inks and watercolors and then squish them together with a smaller glass plate.”

Blast a light through that concoction and who knows what decade it is anymore? It’s a psychedelic stew Sons Lunaris has used to light up gigs great and small. Catch them on New Year’s Eve lighting up the Band of Brothers at the Regent Theatre in Arlington.

Digital Awareness brings a different technique altogether. You’ll find them scrambling among RCA cables in their signature red jumpsuits. Their Frankenstein-style rig looks like a cable access TV station upchucked its lunch in the mid-’80s. Audio and visual signals follow different paths each gig as the creative team rewires the experience through apparati such as Critters, Guitarri IZs, LZX Vidiots and other AV way stations that sound like rejected Terminator prototypes.

What drives Digital Awareness? “Our goal is to make your band look like the last band at the end of time.” Maybe there really is something to that Terminator analogy? The team does its part to fight the robots and save the future through their commitment to analog technologies and keeping the human element central to the creative experience:

“Part of what is unique about Digital Awareness is that the light show is 100 percent live, we are actively DA’ing as the bands are playing. That means all of the transitions, effects and camera work all need to have operators that are locked in and in time with the bands and feeling the music to have good shows. The best nights are nights where we are working with bands who we are familiar with, and both DA and the bands are sitting in the groove.” You can get into the groove with Digital Awareness Saturday at The 4th Wall (Capitol Theatre, Arlington).


And here’s a few other groovy gigs:

Friday: Another Michael, Jodi, Jesus The Dinosaur, Sweet Petunia (Crystal Ballroom, Somerville)

What’s the difference between folk and indie folk? Often, not much. Here’s four indie acts, though, that show how the tones, timbres and textures of the tradition can be repurposed to tell new stories. Philadelphia’s Another Michael headlines what promises to be a soft-spoken night for feeling your feelings to the tune of six-strings.

Monday: Vienna Teng (Club Passim, Cambridge)

The early show sold out, so hop on fast if you want to catch the late show. The pianist and NPR-pop impresario inspires a devoted following. Maybe it’s the “warts and all” vulnerability of her live performances? Most artists would hide juvenilia like a 20-year old video of her performing in the stacks of a local bookstore (complete with preteens wandering the YA section). Not Vienna Teng – the clip is still floating around on her Youtube like an awkward prom photo – and her fans love her for it.

Tuesday: Ezra Furman (The Rockwell, Somerville)

The subtitle to this concert series with Ezra Furman is “doing what she wants.” That’s good enough to sell out the early December gig at The Rockwell, presented by Once. Take heart! Rumor has it that a last-minute batch of tickets will be released on the eve of the show. At the door or online? Don’t ask us, we just work here.

Dec. 8: Girl with a Hawk, Cold Expectations (The Burren, Somerville)

December is a month for getting cozy with a black pint in Irish pubs such as The Burren. If there’s music, all the better. Girl with a Hawk will deliver dynamite Americana in the backroom. Enjoy the joint’s Griswold-level Christmas decor while you’re at it.


Let’s close on the black magic beat. What would Schopenhauer make of the occult lineup at The Sinclair last Sunday? (He’d probably dig it.) Three bands, three above-average levels of commitment to our dark lord and savior Satan. Los Angeles’ Early Moods opened with a head-banging buffet of rootsy, ’70s-salted metal, while the globetrotting Lucifer closed with a set that leaned deeper into early ’80s dark-arts balladry.

The real gem of the night, though, was Coven, sandwiched in the meaty middle of the lineup. The legendary band, featuring Esther “Jinx” Dawson, formed in the roiling, moiling cauldron of 1960s rock ’n’ roll – and they sounded like it at The Sinclair gig. A strong rhythm section reminded you how funky Satanism can be.

The stagecraft included an elaborate coffin-opening ceremony, which required Jinx to remain entombed in claustrophobic blackness for upward of 30 minutes while the roadies did their thing between sets. That’s commitment! Even Arthur’s got to throw up the devil horns for that trick.

Michael Gutierrez is an author, educator, activist and editor-in-chief at Hump Day News.