Monday, July 22, 2024

Becca Pasley, left, and Federico Balducci play The Lilypad in Cambridge’s Inman Square on Sunday. (Photo: Michael Gutierrez)

A friend and colleague in music journalism tweeted out a string of photos he took recently at The Governors Ball, an annual music fest in New York City. Chappell Roan, Cannons, Reneé Rapp, The Killers littered the feed. As the tweets posted one by one, I started to experience a sense of déjà vu. Weren’t all these same artists on the same Boston Calling bill a week earlier?

I fired off a tweet to that effect, lazily surmising that both bills were “corporate copy & paste jobs” or something similarly glib. That’s one use for social media, I guess: spouting off unsourced and unsubstantiated claims. Happens to the best of us – own it and recant!

In fact, if you dig deeper, there is remarkably little overlap between the two festivals. Add three or four acts to the ones I’ve already listed and that’s it. Given that the festivals are only a week apart, proximally located and each have three days of musical programming to fill, you might expect more “double-dipping” in the lineups. But that’s not what we’re seeing.

What does that mean? Well, it means whoever books these fests is good at their job, curating exciting, diverse and unique lineups tailored to fit the local fanbase. And by “fit” I don’t just mean booking the artists the locals presumably love already based on geo-segmented music streaming data. I also mean booking acts the locals might not have heard before that can challenge, grow and evolve what they love in music.

Lucky for us, whether it’s a big mainstream fest such as Boston Calling, a (still very big!) locals-only affair such as Nice, A Fest at the end of July or any of the one-off club dates below, there are bookers and promoters out of the spotlight, making the magic happen on the local music scene. Respect!

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Saturday: Twen, Raavi (Warehouse XI, Somerville)

Twen has released enough singles in the past six months to make a short EP. Or are they gearing up for a full-length album release? First things first, the psych rock outfit (with some Britpop tendencies) needs to survive what’s shaping up to be a gnarly tour schedule, crisscrossing the country and Europe before the end of fall. Landing spots include everything from Pop Up in Paris to Raccoon Motel in Davenport, Iowa. Catch the band in Somerville before road fatigue has them seeing double. Rock ’n’ roller Raavi opens.

Sunday: Clifford, Virginia Creeper, Ribbon (State Park, Cambridge)

There are at least two Clifford bands in town. One is death metal, the other is indie rock. This is the indie rock one. Last time Austin’s Virginia Creeper played The Lilypad, the band was fronted by a plastic goose wearing a bonnet. And Ribbon just released its first album in April, titled “I Watched the Ribbon.” It’s a moody marvel that uses ethereal cello, negative space and slow tempos to create a kind of “I Could Live in Hope”-era Low atmosphere. Also, this show is free. Bring money anyway.

Wednesday: Searows, Runo Plum (The Sinclair, Cambridge)

The North American Tour 2024 graphic published at the Searows website lists The Sinclair date as “sold out.” Too late to buy a ticket to the ASMR-meets-folk act out of Portland, Oregon? Last I checked there were still tickets to be had for the local gig, albeit resale. In fact, excluding Washington, D.C., every single supposedly “sold out” date on the tour still has tickets available. Some resale, some sale. Bloomington, Toronto, New York City and Boston (er, Cambridge) rejoice! Also, scratch your heads a bit. The Justice Department might break up the Live Nation-Ticketmaster monopoly, but there will still be plenty of funny business going on in the world of buying and selling tickets.

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Live: Sonic Environments at The Lilypad

Stand-alone titles for tours are par for the course with large acts. Sometimes the titles are simply recapitulations of the most recent album title, like Beyonce’s Renaissance Tour. Sometimes the titles get a little more abstract, like Taylor Swift’s Eras Tour, which gestures to her genre-shuffling ambition. And sometimes the titles are just plain dumb. The urge to pun overwhelmed everyone’s better judgment on the joint Nine Inch Nails and Jane’s Addiction NIN|JA Tour back in 2009.

The shows at your small local club can have titles too. Sonic Environments rolled through the Lilypad on Sunday featuring a night of concerted musical invention from Killick Hinds, Federico Balducci and Becca Pasley.

What kind of title is that? Not an album title, not a punner. File it under the abstract header.

Abstract, and conspicuously nondescript. Every environment under the sun is a sonic environment. A classroom, an opera hall, a boardroom, an empty reverberating cistern are all sonic environments, trading different kinds of sound waves within their airy recesses.

Calling a show a “sonic environment” doesn’t make specific promises, unless you read it within a certain kind of post-John Cage musical hermeneutic, embracing radical openness to the full spectrum of sound experiences including composed sounds, found sounds, ambient sounds and, in the esteemed limit case, silence. Achieving such radical openness in music appreciation is akin to attaining nirvana in Buddhism. You’re probably not going to get there, but making an honest effort is the next best point of departure for truly grokking experimental music.

Balducci (electric guitar) and Pasley (upright bass) opened the night with a spacey, suspenseful, and cinematic duet. Pasley, who once recorded an entire album in the aforementioned “empty reverberating cistern,” used a bow to coax strange and liminal effects from their instrument while Balducci fed his guitar signals through an effects randomizer.

Unlike your average guitar effects accessory, which modulates signals at the player’s direction (usually with a light tap of the foot on a stomp box), the randomizer does what it wants, when it wants. Delay, reverb, echo, phaser, flange, whatever: Effects were dropping out of the sky and all over the place like frogs at the end of Paul Thomas Anderson’s “Magnolia.”

This type of experimentation shades off into a school of music known as aleatoric music. Basically, compositions that internalize elements of chance into themselves. Neither Balducci nor Pasley knew quite where the randomizer was going to take them, forcing them into a posture of musical coping. The controlled chaos can breed a kind of inventiveness distinct from pure improvisation, a horse of an entirely different color.

Killick Hinds’ brand of experimentation was more physical and hands-on. The electric guitarist, visiting from Athens, Georgia, played with a variety of accessories atop the fretboard, eschewing the traditional strumming and picking for more esoteric styles of engagement. There was a vibrating disc; a tubular slide on a hinge; thimbles on each finger, which he paraded up and down the neck of the guitar like veterans on Memorial Day. Not every gimmick landed, but guaranteed you didn’t hear anything like it at The Eras Tour.


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