Photos and update by James Bailey
A late night, mixed with the bright sun of the dessert, creates an all encompassing sleepy feeling in the van. The Seattle band, Ravenna Woods and I had driven quite a distance the previous day. The trip had consisted of most of the 450 mile gradual downgrade from the high cool elevation of Denver, CO, to the dry lowlands of New Mexico, where we stopped for the night in the small town of Raton.
The next day we arrived in Albuquerque around 4 pm and made our way to the venue, Low Spirits, where the boys would be playing at within a few hours. It was on the northwest side of town where there wasn’t much around but empty lots and gas stations. Making the best of the spare time before the show they removed their instruments from the van and began to practice a few songs in the parking lot.
While waiting outside the sun fell fast. Painted clouds began to fill the sky. The sunsets of the southwest are unlike any I’ve seen anywhere else. They consist of some of the most vibrant and intense colors that I can imagine exist in nature. It’s such a sight that I strongly recommend a trip to that region of the country if you’ve never been there before.
The first band had a singing saw! It’s always a joy when someone has one at a show and can put it to good use. It was played wonderfully by a girl named Sharmini. The bands name was East Cackalacky Ascetic Marching Death Band.
Singer/guitarist, Jack Littman, who resides in Los Angeles, was also on his way with his band to SXSW. Ravenna Woods drummer, Matt Badger, described his voice reminiscent of the late Nick Drake.
The boys were up next. They brought the crowd close and played their hearts out. So much so, that Chris Cunningham (singer/guitarist) had to stop momentarily mid set. He asked if anyone had any finger nail clippers on hand, he happened to rip part of his finger nail in half and needed to cut it to continue playing because he doesn’t usa a pick. Jack Littman sprang to the rescue and pulled a pair off his keyring. Chris thanked him profusely after cutting the nail, and went right on to finish the show.
After being surprised and delighted with the first band having a saw, I never expected the final group to have it’s electric cousin, the theramin! For those readers unfamiliar with a theramin, it’s a musical instrument that changes notes and pitch based on how close the users hand is to the 2 metal antennae. While incredibly easy to play, they take years to master.
Jenny Invert are a multi-instrumental masterpiece with a mishmash group of 5 members. They performed many gorgeous songs with extraordinary precision. They did this feat even with some of the worst stage lighting I’d ever seen. It wasn’t the usual constant red light that would bug me as a photographer but the fact that the lights were being turned slowly on and off, sometimes leaving the stage in complete darkness for a few seconds. Definitely not okay when you need to move your hand placement across the neck of your guitar or have an intricate picking solo. But these guys knew their stuff and played through it with much gusto. Some of the audience even went up and danced during a few songs.
After talking with Jenny Invert’s frontman, Sam Miller, we were pleased to learn that most of the band would be moving to Seattle in roughly a week (keep your ears open for them soon!). The bands exchanged introductions between members. I discovered that Sam and the drummer, August Johnson, were the main two who would be moving first. Sean Alkire was once the bassist, but became the guitarist only a week prior to this nights show and was replaced by a completely new addition, Aliza Gerstein. They both learned the songs in record time but had to practice many hours every day to make the amazing endeavor happen. Sean switched to guitar so he could stay in Albuquerque and finish School. The great trumpet and synth player, Poncho, will hopefully be moving North to join his bandmates in a few months.
Some of the members of Jenny Invert shared a house in Albuquerque and offered us a place to stay for the night. We packed up our respective vans and followed them across the city.
Once at their residence, nicknamed the Key House, they made us feel at home and showed us around. A few of the boys from both bands went directly into Jenny Invert’s practice room to have an impromptu late night jam. For me, it turned into the second show of the night. Sam hopped onto an interestingly painted piano in the corner of the room. The entire thing was black and white except the keys, which were all vibrant and pastel colors. Matt was in his usual spot behind the drums but at a standard setup that was odd for me to see him play. Chris went out to the car and gathered his guitar. Poncho went to the kitchen and brought back two metal spoons to slap, while Aliza fetched her violin. What happened next I believe was unexpected to everyone.
After only a few moments it sounded as if the group had been playing together for years. Blending so organically they fed off each other’s rhythms to change tempo with such a flow that I could only stand there and watch in utter amazement.
We fell asleep far too early the next morning after one of the most wonderful nights of tour… so far.