Chris Mills, Drums & TubaPlush, Saturday, Nov. 19
Let's right away dispatch the obligatory King Crimson reference, and then concede that Drums & Tuba doesn't consider "progressive" or "experimental" to be four-letter words. "Jammy" doesn't apply; the arrangements are too complex and interdependent for anyone to riff out on their own.
The band is not nearly as predictable as all that implies, though, not least of all in the epic, two-year reinvention they undertook in making the September 2005 release, Battles Olé. Nor, it appears, in the new material they've brought for upcoming recording sessions with Craig Schumacher at Wavelab.
The trio, including genre-hopping, avant-jazz guitarist Neal McKeeby, has long taken advantage of digital technology, packing as much sampling gear and effects per player as their van can hold. The newest innovation is vocals in the mix. How lead songwriter Tony Nozero keeps track of all the songs' intricate time-signature changes while singing is a miracle, but the live performance proved it was no studio trick. The real wonder is that he hasn't sung before, as he has so much to say, and such an emphatic delivery.
Fans of the bands' previous, groovier work were likely surprised to find the more-recent material darker, more volatile and less danceable, but not a sign of discontent was to be seen among the sizable crowd. Those closest to the stage, at least, seemed as willing to invest themselves in listening as the band was in crafting this exceptionally well-played set of mostly new music. As for Brian Wolff ... who knew tuba could be so versatile? Wolff coaxes fluidity from it comparable to that of an electric bass or keyboards, and sometimes both.
Opener Chris Mills brought new music, too, via his occasional rock incarnation, replete with arresting stage theatrics. Mills' enthusiasm for performing is infectious, and the crowd responded more and more as it grew throughout his set. His songs stand up to any configuration, including solo-acoustic, so the 17-piece modern-indie orchestra of The Wall to Wall Sessions wasn't especially missed. "You Are My Favorite Song," which is, wasn't included, because it relies so much on the bigger sound. But the trio successfully evoked the spirit of Mills' most Phil Spector-like song "The World Some Sad Hour" with its ice cream changes and girl-group cadences.