Taking to the stage in the plain, thrifty anti-uniforms indicative of an indie collective, the extra-terrestrials of Celestial Shore were not so ignorant as to adopt the coverings of a gaudy tourist in the way that jovial science fiction might predict. The irregularity of Celestial Shore’s sidereal strata was exposed within instants of the performance’s initiation, for a deceptive pseudo-Afro-Cuban beat split between the snare and a woodblock is what informed the audience that the show had begun. The roaring yield of the calculated sound that suddenly exploded out of the unorthodox intro captured the audience at once; even the subtly bobbing heads of a few stoic record collector types were caught in the undertow of the first song’s oceanic clash of currents.
Within minutes, the combined oscillation of the eccentric guitar parts, drag race bass, and hybrid beats had tumbled the stones littered about the Celestial Shore so as to round off their rough protuberances and allow them to assume a comfortable hexagonal packing, locking the audience into the band’s tight configuration and curious grooves. Typical opening band prejudice soon vanished as it became clear that a truly major triad had taken the stage: on the right, Max Almario, the ballistician, blasting his drum set off the ground with multifaceted beats, on the left, Greg Albert, wielding a monster bass that appeared to overwhelm even him with its plush pulse, and center stage, Sam Owens, toting a black and white guitar with a rainbow strap straight out of a coloring book.
In the paragraph above, I may have only informed the reader of an already apparent fact: the name of the band whose concert I attended is irresistibly prone to imagery. Ego mutinied against my supposed sovereign role as the reviewer to explore the parallels between the ethereal dreamscape conjured by the band’s choice of title and their performance. At times the performance was gracefully delicate, but the apparent burden of tension in the limbs of the band members informed the audience that the halcyon daze would not last. Each song featured spurts of spasmodic musicianship, delivered through brutally quick tom-tom fills, chromatic sprints up the neck of the guitar, and a bruising bass assault. The fills in particular skyrocketed the music to a degree of seriousness transcending the already intimate relationship between guitar and bass; at some moments, Sam and Greg were playing the same parts, so that the audience watched the song decay into disarray in partial unison with the help of unleashed drum accompaniment. I found that I had begun muttering to myself after each of the fills, astounded and cursing in amazement. One song had a section in which the band appeared to have been caught in a loop of the same jarring blast beat and progression of thumping notes, dragging the audience back and forth against the dance floor with each repetition. Just when it seemed that the song would never return from this sadomasochistic dungeon, the riff changed slightly, and the band began soaring once again. Each of these perverted musical journeys showcased the band’s devoted originality, and restored the audience’s enthusiasm. Like their genre-pranking brethren Deerhoof, the transitions between each quirky riff and beat were cause for disbelief. Following the thump fest of the aforementioned song, an audience member called out, “I like the chaos,” to which Sam responded, “Oh, we can do chaos. The question is can we do anything else?”
The technical performance of this up-and-coming outfit was indubitably impressive. Drum beats would periodically dive beneath the music and reemerge in a totally mutated form, mixing with polyrhythmic guitar patterns to produce a surprisingly pleasing whole. When the songs reached their richly chaotic climaxes, I often started counting myself to try to determine the rhythms that I was hearing, only to give up as the number of beats kept changing to form lopsided hypnotic loops. Truly, it was unnecessary for me to try and derive the structure of the music, for my hips were unconsciously keeping time to the beat. It was only when the songs quieted that I noticed my unconscious whirling, while others around me made similar realizations on their own. In the more tranquil moments of the songs, intimate soprano harmonies were split between Sam and Greg, each leaning into their microphone tentatively as they began to sing. Like aliens, the foreign dialect was hypnotic, especially in the message of one of the few songs with decipherable lyrics. Chanting tenderly, Sam softly repeated, “We evolve,” conjuring up ironic images of the crimes against humanity committed by our enlightened industrial world.
Reaching the final selection from their set, the band paid homage to the other acts performing that night: the bold Asian rap mistress Awkwafina, and the enchanting and extremely formative Deerhoof. In his last words to the audience, Sam assured us that we could dance to Celestial Shore’s final song if we liked, just as we were bound to dance to the two bands yet to come. As an invitation, he ignored the boundaries of the stage and unwound his guitar cable to step into the crowd and turn towards the stage. Though his back was turned to most of the room, I could still see that he had a wide smile on his face, vividly projecting the attitude of the concert attendees gathered behind him.
In the end, the most promising aspect of the band’s performance was not the outlandishly proficient drumming or the juicy combinations of bizarre guitar chords, but the authentic energy and character of the band itself. I will never be able to actually experience the 80’s underground scene, but in the basement of the Space, the essence of this era was resurrected. Greg’s wide eyes were frozen in an astonished expression, as though he was not ready for the supreme dominion over the lower octaves that he provided for the song’s grooves. Max occasionally jumped up from the drum throne, as though his brutal fills had seized him by the lapels and yanked him skyward (half a cinderblock sat in front of the bass drum to stop its forward momentum —
otherwise it might have bolted out of the room for fear of its master). Finally, Sam dramatically clenched his guitar to harness dissonant shrieks, keeping his lower body stationary while his upper half looked like it was trapped in a vortex. Whether relying upon a wash of chords straight from the Sonic Youth back catalogue or a death march through twenty-seventh fret Deerhoof territory, the band’s beastly backbeats and gelatinous guitar work definitely permeated the entire audience. An opening act with an impact, the neon glow of the universal punk experience was reflected on the incandescent banks of the Celestial Shore.
Celestial Shore’s second studio album will be out this September. Their set was made up entirely of material from the upcoming release, which is bound to be a departure from their debut, in the style of Deerhoof’s album to album evolution. The band is to play at Cafe Nine in New Haven, CT on June 6th with Nat Baldwin (of Dirty Projectors) and Throw Vision.