Incredible String Band
After almost 30 years apart, the three original members of the Incredible String Band reunited in 2000 to perform in their native Britain. Monday evening, two of those musicians played at the Birchmere -- but it wasn't the right two.
Mike Heron and Clive Palmer, who are undertaking with Lawson Dando a U.S. tour as the Incredible String Band, both appeared on the Scottish group's 1967 debut album. But Palmer departed after that, leaving Heron and Robin Williamson as the core of the band that endured till 1974. They expanded the original trio's rough-hewn folk music to encompass ethereal melodies, Asian instruments and a decidedly psychedelic worldview.
With the support of multi-instrumentalist Dando, Heron conjured some of the sound and spirit of the group's classic late-'60s albums. Such tunes as "Painting Box" and the epic "A Very Cellular Song" sounded a bit cracked with age, but retained much of their original charm. Palmer, however, contributed blunter material such as "Empty Pocket Blues," which suited his narrow vocal range but clashed with Heron's rapturous tone.
Although they were once contemporaries, the two men have aged differently. The outgoing, upbeat Heron was still a reasonable facsimile of his younger self, while Palmer seemed a crusty codger, forever committed to the trad-folk music that in Britain was supplanted by Fairport Convention and the post-Palmer Incredible String Band. There's a legitimate argument for (or against) either style. What Heron, Palmer and Dando failed to do was make the case that the two fit together.
-- Mark Jenkins
Now is about the time we should start seeing bands populated by young men who were inspired by the first Strokes album. Brooklyn foursome the End of the World sure sounded like they were writing a love letter to Julian Casablancas and company at the Galaxy Hut on Monday night. And during their warm-up set for the Narrator, they didn't show many indications that they've yet developed anything more than a penchant for earnest imitation.
The End of the World did seem to win the admiration of the evening's headliner, though, since the Narrator actually covered one of the band's songs during its brief but explosive set. The original songs by the Narrator, a Chicago group, were far more interesting, however, a boiling combination of stabbing guitars and quick-cut tempo changes that barely hung together to the finish. When they did, as on the hammering "All Are Assassins," the Narrator sounded close to brilliant: a headlong metallic charge from the rhythm section, a scraping guitar riff and a vocal pleading for something or anything to make it all stop. It was pure punk emotion, of course, but the deliciously unpolished song structures indicated that the Narrator boys -- especially talented drummer Nate Heneghan -- have kept an ear open to their home town's post-rock scene.
The group's "Youth City Fire" EP isn't consistently enthralling. But it contains enough moments -- confirmed by the band's loose but fascinating performance -- to mark the Narrator as the kind of group that, in a sane world, really should be considered for a Best New Artist Grammy.
-- Patrick Foster