by Eric Sandy
I mean it. Their take on that song was just dazzling.
It's May 19, and I can say that last night's Tauk set ranks as the best show of the year so far in Cleveland. From brief late-night conversations with others, it seemed clear that the crowd of probably 25 would agree with me (more on that stat later). When the band took the unassuming Tavern stage, they did so with such simple confidence and swagger that it was tough not to get into the music. They opened with "Dead Signal" (embedded below), which has kind of become the band's aural emblem over the past few years. It's a great song, but more than anything the tune really shines a light on the compositional interplay among these musicians. Guitarist Matt Jalbert and keys man Alric "A.C." Carter jibe so well it's just ridiculous. As the show went on, there'd be lots of harmonic magic to take in.
Carter, while he laid low sort of in the back of the stage, was on point throughout the show. His and bassist Charlie Dolan's washes painted a vivid tapestry upon which Jalbert and drummer Isaac Teel leveled spellbinding energy. Jalbert's lead work at times was devastating. And Teel? Someone once said that he's actually an untamed robot from the future. I have no reason to doubt that. Dude can snap the skins with the best of them. On a dime, in fact, Teel would flip the script and send the other guys into completely different territory (manic minor-key jamming -> ambient waves of major-key grain). Tauk is an impressively tight band, which counts for a hell of a lot when you're dabbling in improvisatory feats and instrumental compositions. Check out the song "Dirty Mouth" for a good example of whatever in the world I was just talking about.
But, yeah, overall the crowd was scant. Those who showed up to hang were supremely dedicated to the cause. That's kinda how it's always been in the jam circles - small but committed audiences who operate on their own wavelengths (and with their own hula hoops). Most of the time, that's fine. But certain bands now and then transcend the scene's limitations and, like a whiskey-wrecked pirate who's shown up in a small but bustling island city, throw their weapons on the table with the determined proclamation of WE'RE NOT FUCKING AROUND. Tauk is one of those bands, though of course they wouldn't themselves use the bizarre pirate imagery. They're just talented musicians out to share their craft.
The guy tuning in stage-left with jaw slack and drink tipping low would like to point out that bands like Tauk don't just waltz into the nearest bar every night, though. These shows are opportunities, people, to connect on a deeper level with unbound creativity and once-in-a-lifetime improvisatory ecstasy. Jalbern, Carter, Dolan and Teel have tapped the main nerve. They are, in the words of Wanyama sax man Charlie Wilson, "gonna blow up."
All of which is to say it's a disappointment that people aren't showing up en masse even as it's so fundamentally clear how much mind-bending talent is out there. Ditto for the local bands slinging gold; we just happen to be talking Tauk at the moment.
One of the rules of artistic culture in mainstream society is that Action Moves Toward the Center. Pop culture is popular because it's so moderate. And while you can't say that Tauk's music is, like, indigestible, their sound certainly isn't packaged for first-time users. They fuck with polyrhythms and their songs don't have words. But it's stuff like that, the somewhat challenging Artistic Endeavor, that makes live music so fun.
Plus, for chrissakes, the cover was $8.
It should absolutely be noted that openers Wanyama and Ness set the stage perfectly. I caught only the last bit of Ness' set (perennial car trouble over here), but they're now on my list. Wanyama, who I haven't seen in a while, reminded me yet again that they are among Cleveland's best "party" bands, though even I can't say what exactly I mean by that. They're incredibly fun to see live. I had forgotten how well emcee Brandyn Lowry can spit; his rap game blends so well with the band's musical contribution to the jam scene in Cleveland. Wilson, again, on sax, is always a frenzy of action in the best possible way. And keys man AJ Therens really hooked up the band's overall sense of melody. There was one song during their set where Therens was doing this sort of jaunty major-key thing in the background; it was joyous stuff.
And to bring things around full circle here, Aqueous will return to the aforementioned Beachland Tavern Thursday night. If you've been paying attention, you know what to do.