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Published: 2003/01/30
by Jesse Jarnow

Brothers Past, Knitting Factory, NYC- 1/25

NYC ROLL-TOP: Knitting The Mature Scene

The Brothers Past show at the Knitting Factory on Saturday – the closing
night of their January residency – was the first real Brothers Past show
I've seen, in the sense that there was a genuine scene there. For the past
two years, the band has been playing New York City on a nearly monthly
basis, to depressingly sparse crowds. Finally, with the release of A
Wonderful Day, the band seems to be gaining some real momentum. And
deservedly so. The band has worked hard, and – despite some of its flaws – the album is a real, uncompromised achievement. Without losing a bit of
their epic, dramatic sprawl, the band has created a flowing document of
their melancholic conceptualism.

Their paranoia might not be for everyone – nor will it probably ever be – but it seems to have found an audience. It's surprising what a good crowd
can do to elevate a band's music, especially a band like Brothers Past. At
the Knitting Factory, as the band dropped into the title track of the
record, the crowd roared. Guitarist Tom Hamilton responded by delivering the
song with appropriately theatrical hand gestures as he sang the vocals.
Simply put, the music made far more sense in the context of an appreciative
crowd. The Brothers Past have always strived for a kind of
self-referentiality in their music, arranging their shows into carefully
sandwiched suites. It's a kind of attention that means nothing without an
audience, but means everything when there's a crowd that understands what's
going on. It creates an aura in the audience that completely informs the way
one experiences the show, even if he has no idea what's going.

There is a careful balance in the Brothers Past's music. On one hand, it's
kind of pretentious. That's not a bad thing, but the band definitely takes
themselves way seriously. It's not so much illusion or disillusion as it is
a way of doing things. A devoted audience is needed to sustain that kind of
approach, to support it and reinforce it. Where it is the conceit of
insomnia that holds A Wonderful Day together, it is the crowd that
makes the band's long, segued sets work. One almost has to surrender to
becoming a complete and addicted fan in order to appreciate it all.

But only almost. There are enough reference points in the band's music to
draw in neophytes, and at least clue them into the fact that there's
something happening. The band's improvisation has improved to the point
where, from moment to moment, it's possible to jump straight into a jam (as
a listener) and dig the hell out of it. In that regard, drummer Rick
Lowenberg has grown remarkably in the past year, becoming increasingly less
stiff, while integrating electronic drums into his set, and mixing and
matching their sharp, metallic textures with grace. Likewise, Hamilton has
gotten better and better at learning when to abandon his guitar for his
percussion kit. Working together, Lowenberg and Hamilton have become adept
at creating dense layers of rhythm underneath dirty, claustrophobic noise.

It is in the claustrophobia that the band finds their most original sound.
There is very little space in the Brothers Past music. They don't lay out
into ambience too often, nor is there anything straight-out uplifting about
their music. (Though one hopes they will eventually find room for the
former.) If there is joy, it either comes at a price or it has to be earned.
And that's something mostly new in the jamband scene. On one hand, who wants
to go to a show to be reminded of depression? But, on the other hand, who
wants to go to a show that is nothing but mindless escapism? Now that they
seem to have an audience ready to congregate around them and celebrate, it
will be interesting to see how long gloom remains the predominant theme in
their work.

Jesse Jarnow woke up sucking on a

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