As recently as a year ago, this gig would not have been possible – at least in the order in which the acts took to the stage on Saturday night.
Local act Adebisi Shank’s career trajectory has been well-documented in these pages (though whispers of a US release in the offing may well be new), but the rise of Chicago’s Maps & Atlases has been steeper still, from a college band mixing Tera Melos-inspired math rock with freak folk to cracking the Billboard charts with their debut LP, Perch Patchwork, earlier this year. Saturday’s stop in Whelan’s was the final one on their first European headlining tour – an event drummer Chris Hainey’s parents marked by flying over from the States (and boy did they stick out, as American tourists are legally obliged to do).
It turns out Maps & Atlases weren’t the only ones saying goodbye, though Adebisi Shank will surely be more relieved than sorry to see the back of this country: the Wexford/Dublin trio are to take on Japan for the jillionth time in support of the recently-released This is the Second Album of a Band Called Adebisi Shank. Taking to the stage around the 8.30 mark (a relatively early start for a two-act performance), the Shank pushed all the right buttons, sounding markedly tighter than they did even a month ago when they headlined the State vs. Nialler9 gig in Dublin’s Mercantile Bar.
There’s an old football cliché that says the sign of a great striker is that he makes scoring goals look easy. Well if that’s true then guitarist Lar Kaye must be a fairly prolific goalscorer, as he makes playing a blisteringly fast flurry of notes look effortless. More to the point, when he plays chords he tends to leave his middle finger sticking up, as if he’s flipping off the audience – very punk rock. Musically, the new material is a giant step forward in terms of layering and sonic texture, and this is visibly clear from the live performance where just about every track involves a loop or sample at some point.
The band played for almost 40 minutes, packing in most of the new album and a couple of older tracks in a high-energy set that only really let up when bassist Vinnie (he of the scary red hood) was allowed near the mic. He was in typically excitable form on the night, announcing mid-set: “I was just saying to Mick, they’d have had no trouble finding their way here, being called Maps & Atlases.” A chorus of groans ensued. Perhaps he’d be better off playing the silent, Buckethead role in future.
A short turnaround saw Maps & Atlases take to the stage around 9.30. Maps & Atlases are, to put it lightly, a hairy bunch and none comes hairier than frontman Dave Davison:an honest-to-god mountain man in a world of moderately hair blokes, like a freak hybrid of Ted Kaczynski and Al di Meola. Not that that’s a bad thing. A big bass drum set up on stage left (dutifully manned by bassist Shiraz Dada) suggested this set was going to be something a little bit different. That it were.
Perch Patchwork shied away from the frenetic two-handed tapping and odd timing seen on Tree, Swallows, Houses (an essential listen available on Bandcamp), emphasising instead the band’s folk and indie rock influences, though technically and harmonically Davison and fellow guitarist Erin Elders remain light years ahead of their contemporaries. Then as now, the most striking aspect of the band’s sound – initially at least – is Davison’s distinctive high-pitched voice, which could most closely be compared with Devandra Banhart’s – and even that’s a stretch.
Opening with ‘Living Decorations,’ the band again drew primarily from their new album, though EPs Tree, Swallows, Houses and 2008’s You Me and the Mountain were each represented by three and four tracks respectively, with the chaotic ‘Everyplace is a House’ and ‘Ted Zancha’ particular standouts; ‘Solid Ground’ and ‘Pigeons’ flew the flag for the newer material. It all led-up to the real showpiece segment, the encore, which saw the band make room in the middle of the floor and perform the final three songs acoustically.
Strictly speaking, it wasn’t fully acoustic as Davison played his hollow-body electric and Dada what sounded like an electric clavichord, and Whelan’s being Whelan’s there were plenty of folk conducting urgent and important conversations to dampen the mood. Nevertheless, it was to prove the highlight of the night, as Davison closed a successful Dublin debut with a solo performance of ‘the Ongoing Horrible,’ which really needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. On Saturday night’s evidence, odds are it won’t be long before it’s seen again on these shores.
The Ongoing Horrible:
Photos: Loreana Rushe.