Thursday, April 9, 2009

The Bad Plus at the BPC With Wendy Lewis

While the lack of an encore may well have upset a number of fans, there is no doubt that The Bad Plus played at least two thirds of a great show on Friday, April 3rd. During the second half of their set there was something of a lull; they were joined by singer Wendy Lewis (the regular trio is comprised of bassist Reid Anderson, drummer David King, and pianist Ethan Iverson), and after rousing takes on Nirvana’s “Lithium” and Wilco’s “Radio Cure” focused on too many down-tempo songs.

The first half of their set was perfect. Everything, even down to song choice, was exactly what a fan of the trio could have hoped for. In addition to the trio songs on their new album (which include their idiosyncratic versions of twentieth century classical pieces by Ligety, Stravinsky, and Babet), the band played a few highlights from their older records.

These highlights included a run through Anderson’s “Physical Cities” that could only be described by an audience member as “insane.” The song, which begins with an odd-meter funk groove, moves into a series of hits that eventually become the center of the song before transitioning into another funk groove. After Anderson and Iverson solo, the band plays the same hits, extending them for what seems like an eternity. The insane part is that this new series of hits is different, has no defined pattern, and is played in perfect unison by the group, who have memorized it and play as if they are all one musician.

After “Physical Cities,” the undeniable peak of the show, the band invited vocalist Wendy Lewis to the stage for the second half of their set. The first half of the show was good enough that it was clearly going to be hard to continue the forward momentum going into Lewis’s songs.

Lewis, whose contributions on their most recent album For All I Care was essential to changing up the trio’s sound, was not quite as inventive live as the rest of the group, which is understandable due to the fact that the three of them have been playing together without her for more than ten years. Another problem with Lewis’ portion of the show was that for the most part, the live versions of songs were nearly identical to those on the record, and those tunes that didn’t appear on For All I Care were generally dirges (“Blue Velvet” and “New Year’s Day” come to mind). The band’s closer, “Comfortably Numb,” however, made up for these problems with the sort of disaffected energy usually reserved for a rock band.

While the second half of the Bad Plus’s show at the BPC was plagued by some issues stemming from the inclusion of Wendy Lewis, the first half was almost undeniably what any fan would have wanted. The only other major problem with the show, the lack of an encore, was notable more for the fact that audience members perhaps would have wanted to see the trio performing alone together for one last tune.

Next time I'll have a review of Julian Lage's "Sounding Point."

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