Live: Art-Rock Supergroup Soldiers of Fortune Hit Zebulon, Celebrate Their New Album By Not Playing It
Better than: Real-life mercenary work.
No one wants an opening band that can upstage the headliner, but Water Fai tried a little too hard not to rock the boat. The quartet from Osaka, Japan, proudly describe themselves as "post-rock," a genre coinage that's always seemed to say "We've outlasted all the tired old rock clichés and replaced them with a new set of duller ones." Their songs studiously went nowhere, not even in circles; this is music meant to mark the passage of time, and we already have clocks for that. That said, the music was colorful and melodic -- simple repeating guitar notes in duet with tinkling keyboards -- and the drummer, who wore a large, loose-fitting shirt, had nice wrist action on the cymbals: crash-crash as her sleeves went flutter-flow.
Soldiers of Fortune, admittedly, are built never to be upstaged. Just to list all the band-affiliations of these bros qua bros -- who just released their first proper album, Ball Strenth (Mexican Summer) after six years of low-profile, high-decibel jamming -- would fill your screen. Start with three vicious lead guitarists: Papa Crazee of Oakley Hall and (formerly) Oneida; Mike Bones; and Matt Sweeney of Chavez, sometimes Endless Boogie, and occasionally, uh, Neil Diamond. Then add veteran underground producer Barry London on keys, bassist Brad Truax (he of the Broke Revue among many others), and drummer Kid Millions (Oneida, Man Forever). That is the rhythm section of the twilight of the gods.
And yet, a day after their album came out, the Soldiers had no intention of playing anything from it. Their rehearsals consist of simply agreeing what key they'll play in at their next gig; when they convene onstage, they just open up and invoke one massive rock 'n' roll monolith (which they might name afterward). If Endless Boogie are the alpha of rock jams, Soldiers of Fortune are the alpha-a. The bands are elementally different but share one perfect idea: taking rock music past the breaking point and extending it to the vanishing point.
Tonight's beast broke from the gate like a shot, not a beginning so much as the sensation of being dropped into the middle of a jam already in progress, like you just turned the dial to some awesomely arcane 3 a.m. community-radio show from 1974. It was the loudest, most rigorous thing I've ever heard at Zebulon -- a flawed space that might nonetheless be the city's best small music club right now -- and almost too speedy, but it held its integrity and raced onward. At 10 minutes, they broke it down (for the first time) while Kid Millions screamed unintelligibly, his arms an endless supply of firecrackers; then they brought it back a little slower, a legitimate groove that mesmerized band and audience alike.
There was dancing. London morse-codes notes into a blast furnace. The guitarists were all head-down intensity, digging and flying in loose formation. At 25 minutes they moved to the fore, singing in high tones, three notes followed by eight, repeating, sending out marching orders. At 30 minutes -- hey, like, half the room has left! -- they brought it down again, slower, a coda, the guitars now carving up the accumulated mass in a gorgeous lighters-up moment. (No one holds up a lighter, but one guy had been sitting there scrunching his face at a laptop the whole time, what the fuck?)
After 35 minutes, they finally land, bringing it down in a cascade of drum blasts and grins. Everybody's happy, everybody's sweaty, everybody's spent. There's a reason this band only appears once or twice a year -- anything beyond that could be lethal.
Critical Bias: At least four Soldiers of Fortune caffeineate themselves regularly at my local coffee haunt in the East Village, 9th St. Espresso.
Overheard: "We got an album, but we're not gonna play it. Cause we're the Soldiers -- are you cool with that?!" -Kid Millions, starting the show.
Random Notebook Dump: This used to be the sort of gig where you'd find mostly dudes, but this crowd is very evenly split -- and everyone is sexy. Now that's change we can believe in!
Soldiers of Fortune Set List