Big In Japan, Piano’s, NYC- 5/21
NYC ROLL-TOP: Big In Japan, Yo
People sometimes refer to "heavy" improvised music. I've seen the word (and
probably even used it myself) in reference to tons of different acts,
ranging from thrumping jambands to dissonant free jazz blowers to
hyperkinetic jungle DJs. And, despite the fact that it's probably fairly
applicable to all, they're also all very different definitions of the word.
An aging Ornette Coleman fan probably wouldn't agree with a hopped-up young
raver about whether their respective heroes were actually "heavy." So it
That said, Big In Japan – Lake Trout minus guitarists Woody Ranere and Ed
Harris – is fucking heavy in a way that could probably be mutually
appreciated by fans of various stripes of other fucking heavy music. On
Friday night, Big In Japan – normally relegated to side project action in
Lake Trout's native Baltimore – graced the stage at Piano's, on Manhattan's
Lower East Side for a rare road appearance. The star of the show was
undoubtedly drummer Mike Lowery, who called to mind the virtuosic fury of
drummers like John Bonham and Keith Moon without sounding one rhythmic iota
Over the course of the band's set, the trio moved with a single-minded
unity, mining the space somewhere between raging drum-n-bass and punk. Their
ideas, stated in simple repeating patterns by bassist James Griffith and
electric pianist Matt Pierce, were organized magnificently, flowing from one
to another in a perfectly logical stream. The band took few breaks in the
set. Like in Lake Trout, Pierce and Griffith reveled in a musical economy.
Griffith excelled at minimalist two-note basslines (like the distinctive
bass introduction to Radiohead's "The National Anthem" used as an
ever-varying template), employing different amounts of tricks – distortion,
a pint-glass as a slide – to vary his attack. Lowery, the only bandmember
expending an obvious amount of energy, took breaks when he needed them,
laying back and letting his bandmates build momentum before exploding back
in with Dave Grohl-like machine gun rolls.
At their best, nobody was soloing, but everybody was improvising. Sometimes
it was hard to tell if they were playing something rehearsed or something
spontaneous. But they played with such force that the line didn't matter
anyway. For the first half of the set, somebody projected surf videos on a
giant white screen behind the band (also played during part of the set by
the adequate New Deal-like openers, Concentric). Later, the surf videos were
replaced by Fritz Lang's silent German expressionist classic,
In neither case did the band try to play along with the videos.
Nevertheless, in both cases, the images worked in perfect concert with the
music — the waves practically curling and breaking over the band and
transforming their grooves into clearly the most sinister surf-rock ever
made, the dystopian sci-fi abstraction of Metropolis creating a
bizarre visual counterpoint for the music. Big In Japan's set progressed
with such natural drama that it seemed to link with the stuttering workers.
An accidental effect, for sure, but a pleasing one. The Big In Japan show
was mucho fan — a real treat, unhyped, and played casually on a lovely
Friday night. I wish they'd venture 'round here more often.