Saturday, May 13, 2006

The music of Pelican and Mono, the two bands top-billed Thursday night at the Black Cat, climaxes in ways that recall such heavy-metal originators as Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath. Yet, these singerless quartets, kindred units from opposite sides of the globe, forgo their predecessors' blues-derived swagger and lament. Playing five- to 20-minute instrumentals that seethed and surged, both bands sounded more in the tradition of Richard Strauss than Robert Johnson.

The headlining Pelican was the earthier of the two, although that might be just because the Chicago band was incapable of reproducing onstage the more delicate textures of its latest album, "The Fire in Our Throats Will Beckon the Thaw." Guitarists Trevor de Brauw and Laurent Lebec opened the 55-minute set with feedback, followed quickly by thudding chords and then speedy riffing. The swift pace of those transitions was typical. The group framed its full-on assault with quieter passages, but spent most of its time pounding and thrashing. The new album suggests otherwise, but in concert Pelican almost seemed as if it wanted to be a rock band.

There was no such indication from Tokyo's Mono, whose classical inclinations were evident even during such moments as the startlingly sudden roar that marked "Yearning's" transition from rippling to howling. Guitarists Takaakira Goto and Yoda stayed seated for much of the 50-minute set, performing extended passages that emphasized mid-tempo chiming and shimmering before shifting to stormy crescendos. Both Mono and Pelican had similar dynamic ranges, but the former was more lyrical and abstract. As on its new album, "You Are There," the band drew on metal's sheer power, but not on its emotionalism.

-- Mark Jenkins

Paul Van Dyk

At 11:58 Thursday night, famed DJ Paul Van Dyk stepped onstage for his final appearance at Club Nation, where he's been a headliner for years. Outside, a potential tornado never arrived; inside, one was about to begin. Sweat-drenched ravers packed the main floor, chanting his name in sync with the rhythm that began flowing from his twin PowerBooks.

Trance music -- the anthem of contemporary raves -- is a repetition of synthesized beats and throbbing melodies that swell larger and faster before their climax, breakdown and rebirth. The cycle of rising and falling builds toward an ultimate crescendo of speed, volume and harmony. Van Dyk, a native of East Germany, is a master craftsman of those crescendos, as his Thursday show proved once again. Like a mad scientist in Adidases, he spun sounds into symphonies, rolling his fans into a frenzied euphoria.

Yet there was something undeniably sad about the evening: Nation, Washington's most famous venue for electronic music, will be closing its doors July 17 -- paved over to put up a parking lot. Every guest knew. They could feel the final crescendo drawing closer.

And yet Van Dyk spun on, pushing well past the 3 a.m. close, refusing to break, so that entranced ravers perhaps wondered whether he could stretch this climax indefinitely, and Nation could live forever.

-- Emil Steiner

Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

Leonard Bernstein famously said that music does not mean anything: It is an abstraction, no matter how hard anyone tries to use it to convey concrete images. This has not stopped many composers -- including Bernstein -- from trying to make music mean something specific.

The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's Explorer Series goes a step further, trying to make music mean some of what art means. On Thursday night at the Music Center at Strathmore, the attempt -- in collaboration with the Baltimore Museum of Art -- was to relate Bernstein, Bach and Michael Torke's "Bright Blue Music" to Matisse.

NPR's Mark Mobley narrated intelligently, and guest conductor James Judd directed superbly, the BSO playing for him with respect and affection. Torke's upbeat work represented the color blue. Its relentless D major is glaring: How long can you stare at a sunny, cloudless sky? The Matisse connection here was tenuous.

CONTINUED     1        >

© 2006 The Washington Post Company