Oakland's Date Palms Meld Universes at Hemlock Tavern, 3/31/13
Date Palms at Hemlock Tavern. Photos by the author.
Danny Paul Grody
Sunday, March 31, 2013
Better than: Any number of resurrections .
This Easter Sunday, the real blessing comes in the form of an early
show featuring a handful of local cinematic instrumentalists inviting
the mind to unwind. The bill follows a thoughtful arc that begins
with the melancholy acoustic architecture of Chuck Johnson, followed
by the lush guitar loops of Danny Paul Grody, and closes with the
gentle power of kraut/world/post-rock ensemble (and recent Thrill
Jockey signees) Date Palms.
Johnson started at 6:30 p.m., articulating his dulcet yet Byzantine fingerstyle on acoustic 12-string guitar. As some may recall, there was a revival of fingerstyle guitar in the Bay around 2004-05. Many young acolytes of John Fahey, Sandy Bull, and Robbie Basho were unplugging and doing lovely, if unoriginal impressions of their forebears. Originally working in electronic music, Chuck Johnson was late to this game, but now that the dust has settled on that trend, it's clear he was sparing those aforementioned young acolytes some embarrassment. His approach is personal, his technique impeccable, and his compositions devastatingly emotional, retaining every ounce of lush detail when he moves on to six strings. His peaceful performance sets a high bar for the evening.
Danny Grody's music is like a one-man take on post-rock quartet
Explosions in the Sky. Instead of attempting that ensemble's
triumphant climaxes, he takes a more staid approach, plateauing early
and exploring the vista with deceptively simple layers. Tonight his
sound is decidedly mellower and tinged with Eastern accents,
beginning with open-tuned acoustic in a profoundly gentle mode before
switching to his traditional electric looping format. His melodies are
lovely, if a tad frictionless at times. Yet the landscapes he suggests
are so well-wrought, one can't help but get lost in the synaesthetic
spaces they conjure.
After two solo performances, the Date Palms quintet are a veritable orchestra. Their buoyant thrum recalls the droney, psych vistas of Werner Herzog's longtime collaborator, Popol Vuh. An unlikely ensemble featuring electric guitar, bass, keyboards, violin, and the celestial drone of Indian tambura, Date Palms create a lushness where foundation and melodic drive are virtually indistinguishable -- every instrument glides along the foreground and supports the others in equal measure. When they introduce beats, it's as if they're melding trip-hop with Miles Davis' Bitches Brew.
One criticism: Date Palms make an excellent backing band, but want for a lead voice. The textures they create are so captivating, there is a persistent expectation for one member of this capable ensemble to take flight atop these gorgeous foundations. Still, Date Palms are in a very exciting place, having grown from a more low-key duo into an ensemble with tremendous potential. They shift effortlessly from pseudo-Eastern mono rock to modal psych-jazz. The gig concludes, and the patrons of the Hemlock exit to damp streets kissed by a light rain. Happy Easter -- all is well.
The door guy politely requested that people not sit on the floor, so as to make more room for other patrons. All in attendance grumbled after he left.
Early gigs, FTW: Three bands down and it's barely after nine? Take note, local bands -- this is how you win the crowd.