Sunday, April 27, 2008

Concert Review: Peter Brotzmann and Han Bennink, Victory Grill, Austin, TX

Last night, I saw two legends of free jazz, saxophonist Peter Brotzman and drummer Han Bennink. To say these two geezers put on a great show would be something on an understatement, in fact in some ways it is almost beside the point. I've been a big fan of free jazz for a very long time now and having the chance to see Brotzmann was pretty cool. I first heard Brotzmann on Last Exit albums about 15 years ago and was totally blown away.

I am generally a non-spiritual person. But I've always thought there was something incredibly and indescribably spiritual about free jazz. But I've had some hesitation over jazz's European practitioners, whether free jazz or more traditional musicians. Something always seemed to be missing. The playing is often cold and technical and seems heavily influenced by the classical tradition, something that didn't cross over well.

I'm not saying that I feel totally different now but there is at least a little evidence in the other camp. Brotzmann and Bennink played the hell out of their instruments. Brotzmann can blow like almost no other saxophonist I've seen. The energy and passion he brings to the music is pretty mind-blowing. Bennink kind of stole the show for me though. He is an amazing drummer. I am pretty unfamiliar with his work except for a pretty cool album he did with Eugene Chadbourne several years ago. Bennink is great at beating out a good rhythm and doing crazy stuff at the same time. He also likes to put a foot on the drums while he plays. I'm not sure what this is supposed to do. It looks cool. He acted kind of goofy up there too, a nice touch to the often over-serious, too-cool jazz musician personality, which Brotzmann clearly subscribes to.

What I found really interesting was the audience. First of all, it was packed. This is fantastic. It is so hard for experimental musicians to make a living. So few people come out to these shows. Even fewer buy albums. The place probably held 150 people or so and I know that there were at least a couple of dozen people turned away. Pretty shocking. The audience was also a true uber-hipster crowd. I guess only the coolest of the cool know about Peter Brotzmann and other old jazz musicians who influenced Sonic Youth and other ultimate indie bands. The fashions were classic Austin hipster. Think regular decent town hipsters, but then they have to compete with each other to see who is even more hip. So lots of waxed handlebar moustaches, asymmetrical hair, enormous glasses, and very expensive shoes. Also, really annoying conversations. These people behind me in line before the show were going on about some terrible sounding Robert Mitchum and Karen Black movie from the 70s. They were speaking properly loud about it of course so that everyone could be sure to know that they were in the presence of true urban trendsetters. It was like a mating call.

In any case, the audience was fantastic. Everyone was into the music, the energy was palpable, and each number received pretty wild applause. I love Austin's music scene but it is a horrible jazz town. Hopefully, shows like this get people to realize that an audience is here and ready for awesome creative music.