Three men came on stage: one in a banana suit, one wearing Majora’s Mask from the Legend of Zelda, and another in a feathered Mardi Gras veil.
As they sat behind their respective drum kits, a man in the corner began running a flashlight across the wall in front of a computer. Strange zipping noises erupted from the speakers each time the light arched: BZZZWIP. BZZZWOOSH.
Slowly the strange figures behind the drumkits started a rhythm, a syncopated heartbeat pounded out gently on the kickdrum.
Ten minutes later, an ecstatic cacophony of rhythms and noise blasted out from the stage. Saxophone skronked out otherworldy bellows as a gentle, magical guitar melody was plucked out on a lapsteel. The hypnotic beat of the wall of drums made the small group of people watching gyrate uncontrollably, bumping into one another in a primal dance.
King Tears Bat Trip cast a spell over Columbia City Theater last night—it was one of the magical, bewitching things I’ve seen all year.
The three drummers in the group all have an absolutely incredible level of control, tuning their kits to matching pitches so that the drumlines have distinct melodies to them. The saxophone and guitar, which would normally be the melodic instruments, instead are played like rhythm instruments, providing a steady anchor for the drum madness in the background. The effect is incredibly grabbing—there’s a physicality to the music that takes hold and naturally makes your body move around.
If the hope on guitarist Luke Bergman’s end was to make hypnotic music in the vein of the Haitian vodou drums he draw’s inspiration from, the group more than suceeded on that end. These musicians are absolutely incredible on a technical level, which makes sense given their backgrounds in the jazz department at UW. What makes King Tears Bat Trip so invigorating live is how freeform the jazz influence makes their music. The songs build and swell, turning on a dime and keeping the audience firmly on its toes. What can be utter noise at one moment will collapse into near silence at another. It’s refreshing to see music that constantly surprises, ascending to triumphant melodies and descending into percussive chaos in incredibly complex seeming structures. Brandon Lucia’s “Chango,” the afforementioned noise making program that reacts to light, added to the wonder of the whole set, as he waved a light around on a wall like a madman to create spacey sound layers. Last night, in addition to “Stolen Police Car” from the group’s only record, King Tears Bat Trip also performed a new piece: a brilliant, wizardly work that reminded me of some of Kasai Allstars finest moments.
Because King Tears Bat Trip is more of a side-project for its members, who play in a number of other projects, the group rarely play out. If you ever get the chance to see these musicians, don’t miss it. It’ll awaken the ancient, hidden dancer inside of you.