Thursday, June 02, 2011

Gayngs and White Hinterland at The Independent, San Francisco

The Minneapolis-based rock group Gayngs performed at The Independent in San Francisco Wednesday night. It was their first visit to San Francisco. I became aware of Gayngs during the past year, after hearing a track by the Rosebuds in the film Easier with Practice. That led, via Ivan Howard's connection with both bands, to my stumbling upon Gayngs. It's a remarkably tight ensemble of talented musicians who display a high level of sophistication and precision. A year ago they released their acclaimed debut album "Relayted". (Apparently all the tracks were recorded at a tempo of 69 beats per minute, 69BPM, adagio to classical musicians.) Wednesday's playlist was entirely from the album.

Though I arranged with the band's manager to get a "photo pass", at the door I learned that photography with SLRs is limited to the first three songs "then you have to move away from the stage". (Except for flash use, cellphones and small point-and-shoot cameras are not restricted.) I knew that it was a sold-out show, but when I saw the crowd swell to capacity just as Gayngs was about to come out, I decided it wasn't worth jostling just for a blog photo. So I parked myself in the balcony and (under the influence of a couple beers and an atmosphere laced with marijuana smoke,) took some long, slow shots. Next time, I'm simply going to enjoy the music (and maybe jump into the crowd and get jostled!)

Gayngs open with "The Gaudy Side of Town". Ryan Olsen, co-founder, with the Mac.

From the Gayngs Website:
Relayted CD / 2XLP (JAG165, released: 05/11/10)

When Ryan Olson decided to make a record with Solid Gold members Zack Coulter and Adam Hurlburt, it was clear to them what the result would be: a collection of drugged-up keyboards and slick bedroom production almost exclusively inspired by 10cc's "I'm Not In Love." To be fair, they weren't entirely off. What they didn't know was that it would spiral into a project of epic proportions, enlisting the talents of over 25 musicians from various scenes around the country, relocating the base of operations from Olson's Minneapolis bedroom/studio to the Wisconsin-based studio April Base, and the genesis of a musical family, GAYNGS.

From the moment anyone heard Olson, Coulter, and Hurlburt's rough version of their first composition "The Gaudy Side of Town," they wanted in on it. To most of the players involved, this genre of music was quite foreign yet entirely familiar. Olson knew this, and began calling upon an eclectic cast of contributors whom he thought would share his vision, and relish in the idea of exploring uncharted musical territory within them. The first people to join the cause were North Carolina's Megafaun (Joe Westerlund, Brad Cook, Phil Cook), and with them came Ivan Howard (The Rosebuds), and Bon Iver's Justin Vernon and Mike Noyce. By mid-2009 the studio sessions were becoming more and more frequent, bouncing back and forth between April Base and Olson's bedroom. In Minneapolis, Olson brought in Rhymesayers rapper P.O.S and his fellow Doomtree artist Dessa, psych-rockers Jake Luck and Nick Ryan (Leisure Birds), song-birds Channy Moon-Casselle and Katy Morley, jazz-saxophonist Michael Lewis (Happy Apple, Andrew Bird), retro-pop duo Maggie Morrison and Grant Cutler (Lookbook), and slide-guitarist Shön Troth (Solid Gold).

Vocally, GAYNGS is a triumph. Zack Coulter (Solid Gold) shines from the jump, floating over the record with his airy, haunting melodies. Fans of Bon Iver will recognize Vernon's familiar falsetto, but will flip when they hear his Bone Thug's-style R&B. Ivan Howard sounds right at home with his sensual and breathy leads, while P.O.S. abandons his genre entirely for a soul inspired tenor. With over a dozen people contributing vocals, its incredible how cohesive the album sounds.

After a year of tracking and mixing, GAYNGS is officially ready to release the album, entitled "Relayted." The initial goal was achieved perfectly, yet "Relayted" sounds refreshing and modern. With each song written at 69 BPM's, and tripped-out transitions from song to song, it is truly an audio experience from start to finish.

Speaking of walking, the second song in the set was "The Walker", one of my favorites from this group. Ivan Howard sings lead.

For the show at The Independent, the ensemble numbered ten (of the up to twenty-three musicians who contribute to the Gayngs artistic enterprise.) I missed two of my favorite guitarists and vocalists of the bunch, Justin Vernon (with his notable falsetto) and Mike Noyce (both of Bon Iver) and felt it was a little bit like having the Beatles perform without Lennon. That's part of the difficulty with large ensembles (and perhaps small stages.) How do you coordinate schedules for twenty-three independent artists so that you can build a tour?

The third song this evening, their remake of Godley and Creme's "Cry".

Michael Lewis sax solo

Har Mar Superstar (his stage name) has a fine voice, but his comedic antics, I thought, detracted from the overall performance. And sadly, his falsetto doesn't come near that of Justin Vernon's.

Gayngs in-studio performance of "Faded High"

Ivan Howard in white, and on guitar in the below video

The following wasn't performed last night, but I enjoy the simplicity of the video:

Solo by Channy Moon Casselle, the lone female voice in tonight's line-up

Finale: The Last Prom

Below, White Hinterland was the opening act for Gayngs. The duo is comprised of Casey Dienel and Shawn Creeden. They recently released the album Icarus.

Earlier in the day, I had listened to some recordings of their music, but tonight, because of the heavy layering of loops, effects and a general imbalance between voice and electronica, I was completely unable to discern the lyrics - not a single word. I thought it was perhaps the venue acoustics, but when Gayngs came on, their lyrics strong and clear, I realized it was more an "engineering" issue for White Hinterland, something that shouldn't be difficult to remedy.

One of the more striking revelations this evening happened well before the show began. A DJ was spinning records, the music amped up so that the floor and walls (and my entire body) shook. The gathering crowd milled about, drinks in hand, noisily chattering over the music. Suddenly, a particular song came on and I looked around to see people, unconsciously it seemed, suddenly moving to the contagious rhythm. I went over to the DJ and asked what he was playing. He pulled out the album. The song was Fleet Foxes', "Grown Ocean". Some of the other stuff he had played was painful to my ear, but this was a joyous celebration.

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