There is a level of unpredictability when going to see any performance that could be described as “avant garde” or fall into the category of drone. And while Tashi Wada is a composer and his group are playing the songs of his latest album, Nue, there is still a healthy amount of the unexpected throughout the evening.
The evening opens with the fortuitous last-minute addition of Man Forever. Kid Millions — also of Oneida and myriad other projects — uses his solo outing to tell the story of the car accident he was in a year ago. The spoken word portion of the set is fitted between drum fills and leads into his song “A Clear Realization.” For someone who sustained two broken ribs, a chipped vertebra in his neck, and an impact injury to his lower back, his playing is not only as mesmerizing as ever, it’s absolutely extraordinary.
Wada is joined by the powerhouse backing band of Julia Holter on piano, synths, and vocals and Corey Fogel on drums and an assortment of bells, gongs, and chimes. Fogel is a master of restraint throughout the set; most of the drums and gongs are hit with mallets, sending a muffled rumble coursing through the songs.
Holter is also more subdued than we are accustomed to seeing her as a solo performer. Her piano lines are often a whisper and her vocals are muted and wordless, mostly there to soften the mechanical whine they float over. It isn’t a wonder that, with such reserve from the band, the audience is dead quiet, not even daring to applaud between the abrupt shifts in songs.
It is surprising that, in a set in which personalities are withholding, Wada has become the dominant personality from his post in the shadows. Wada makes himself known in his haunted house synths and the way he makes bagpipes buzzy rather than whiny. The weird universe he has created around himself for the evening is peaceful and maybe a little camp, but it’s a step away from the familiar. It’s a recontextualization of familiar faces and familiar sounds. It’s lightness and stimulus tumbling over each other in between the silences.