Sunday, May 06, 2007

Here’s a quick way to ensure that I won’t go to a show – use adjectives like “Christian”, “hippie” and/or ‘world music” to describe the artists. Christian music brings to mind images of Stryper and of pop songs that replace the word “baby” with “Jesus” and then market the result to home schooled kids and their parents. As far as hippie and world music, I’ve seen too many white guys playing the didgeridoo to ever do so again voluntarily.

And yet, The Psalters, whose show had been described to me with all three of those dirty words, blew me away Saturday night at the Brother Bean show in Seneca. Brother Bean continues to have the most ambitious and varied live music schedule, certainly in Venango County, but I have yet to see a better or wider selection of shows available in Crawford, Mercer, and Erie too. That said, it was my first time to this performance space. It’s comfortable with flaws that are typical to places that are coffeehouses and performance spaces – views are blocked a bit by a large, what I’m assuming is load bearing short wall (shades of the old metropol in Pittsburgh) and a tiny uni-sex bathroom.

Any issues with the space, though, disappeared once the show started. There’s an industrial or crusty punk flavor to the live show – images mixed with text plays on the screen behind them. Bill O’Reily’s voice advising that Muslims should be bombed and bombed again splices in with MLK speeches. Instruments and roles are traded among group members -- banjos are traded for hand drums while a hurdy gurdy drones behind everything and everyone, the guitar builds up Sonic Youth levels of feedback while an ogre of a guy does rhythmic backing vocals that sound a little like Tuvan throat singing. Check out "Amal" to see what I mean.

After the show, the band invited everyone outside and as they played in the yard, two of the female Psalters knelt in the grass and poured what was either lamp oil or kerosene (it looked like lamp oil and didn’t smell like kerosene, but I don’t know if lamp oil would have burned a well as this did) on their contraption built of ball chain and wire and cotton (I immediately wanted to build one for myself), then lit it and started dancing. Fantastic.

Complaints? Sure, no show is perfect. I would have liked a longer set. But, to be honest, the crowd wasn’t giving much back – I mean these guys are fire dancing, can you hang up your cell phone and at least look a little amazed? In fact, overall it was a strange crowd. While I’m used to being the old guy at shows, here I was smack dab in the middle. And although the music pushes one to achieve a sense of religious ecstasy – no one, aside from three sweet hippie girls were dancing – and even they weren’t really hippie dancing, more a grooving sort of thing.

I spent some time talking to the group after the show- it was my litmus test. And they passed. They didn’t try to evangelize me (although I have no doubt that had I brought it up, they could and would have talked about spirituality intelligently and at length - these are guys, after all, who are willing to consider how Christianty and animism have some common ground). Instead, the hurdy gurdy player showed my wife and daughter how the instrument (that he built himself) worked while I spent time talking with Scott about Turkey, diaspora music, Kurdistan, and life on the road. Not once did he ask me, “Have you accepted Christ as your personal savior?” Heck, he didn’t even try to sell me (or anyone) a CD or a patch (although I ended up going home with 2 CDs, a patch and a zine). The psalters understand their faith, their lives, and their music in a dramatically different way – they are living, to coin a phrase, in the world, but they aren’t part of it. However, unlike a trustafarian, they aren’t self-conscious about their difference as a source of their identity. These guys are the real deal. There’s a truth to them and their music that is making me reconsider my musical biases.

Eschewing the contemporary confusion between God and Santa Claus and refusing to allow “Christian music” to only be understood as pabulum like “Jesus Take the Wheel”, the Psalters understand that their art, and their faith is born out of pain, and that pain is useful, as they write in their zine, because it tells the body, and the soul, that something is broken and needs to be fixed.
Ol' Glory (demo version)
badlands (demo Verion)
You can also check out archived copies of their
Friend the Psalters on MySpace.


Anonymous said... for the review. thankyou for coming to see the psalters. we had the added gift of time with them all day sat. and sun. i am so content right now. it was indeed a wonderful night wasn't it it! gwen (brotherbean)

Dittman said...

It was indeed. We'll be back, no question.

Peter A. Greene said...

Yes, but would Jesus like their songs?

Anonymous said...

are you kidding? he'd be singing and dancing!

Dittman said...

Unless you're talking about Jesus Quintana. That dude doesn't like anything.