Almost exactly a year ago musician Conor Perreault was at Never Ending Books starting a new experimental music series, which at the time did not have a name.
As of this past Saturday it still did not, but it was flourishing and filled with the types of musicians and music that can be difficult for some to label as well.
“I’m always trying to make it more free,” said Perreault, who also in this past year became co-organizer of the Elm City Noise festival. “I’m always encouraging people to let out what they’re holding back.”
On this cold February Saturday night, four acts gathered with a small interactive crowd and warmed each other with both sound and sentiment beginning with Perreault himself, joined by musicians Sam Moth and Em Kelner. The three remained seated on the floor of the stage for the entirety of their act and used the instruments surrounding them, some they had brought to the stage themselves and some already sitting there. Perreault began by dragging a bow across a bass placed upon his lap while Kelner played the harmonica and the balalaika. Moth joined in with a Tibetan singing bowl and Baoding balls. Each switched to other instruments as the need came to them, Moth and Perreault eventually adding subtle vocals until the sound became almost meditative. After it ended Moth asked the crowd “anyone know how long we’ve been up here?” which was received with laughs from an audience that had no idea, having been entranced by their sounds.
The trio’s next piece began with each picking up a wind instrument. They almost immediately abandoned it.
“That wasn’t working so well,” Moth said.
“Yeah, let’s get back to what we know,” Perreault said. This included, for the next piece, Moth gently tapping and dragging a receiver-type piece resembling the head of a stethoscope across various objects on stage while Perrault plucked a banjo and Kelner strummed and tapped the balalaika. It was definitely one of those fun and free moments Perreault was hoping for.
“Lucas Brode is gonna wail on guitar,” Perreault announced before he left the stage. Brode, a musician from New York, set up in front of the small stage with his guitar, two pedals and an amp while the crowd mingled and chatted.
“Should we shush people?” musician Adam Matlock said to me and Kelner; we were sitting in the front row. But Brode’s playing was enough to get the room silent on its own, as he used seemingly every part of his fingers and hands across seemingly every part of his guitar at varying speeds to create a sound that captivated this audience. At shows such as these it can be difficult for this reporter to film or take pictures during such acts because one can become so enraptured, watching the musician’s hands become frantic then delicate then back again. It is almost as if one is eavesdropping on a private conversation, but then at once you recognize your own self in it. The crowd erupted in applause and cheers afterward.
With Perreault’s encouragement, Kelner returned to the stage solo with the balalaika after Brode left to bring a more straightforward and sweet acoustic tune to the crowd. It was a lovely intimate moment that made this reporter look forward to hearing more from this performer.
Perreault announced after Kelner’s song that Matlock and Chris Cretella would be up next “to blow your face off with their rock action,” which received laughter from most and a loud “what?” from Matlock.
The duo, who released a new album last week, came to the front of the stage joking, introducing each other and talking about their latest work before launching into their almost conversational guitar and accordion piece, continuously meeting each other, never overpowering but definitely at times getting, dare I say, kind of face melty. This is the improv of two stellar musicians who also have a stellar knowledge of the other and what they can and will do, Matlock even eventually adding vocals that ranged from guttural and throaty to pitch perfect. After their piece was over, and Perreault thanked everyone and asked them to come back next month, the duo continued to play a bit and then chatted up with the other musicians, also planning an off-the-record project, because that’s what these shows inevitably do: become the impetus to try and create something new.
Feel free to check out this series every second Saturday at Never Ending Books. More info about the shows can be found at the Elm City Noise Festival Facebook page.