The Alverno Death Blues shows last November were magnificent productions, but I have to confess, sheepishly, that in purely musical terms I found them lacking. The simplistic hypnotic drones didn’t contain enough dynamic to captivate me by themselves. I got the feeling that most people there had never heard music like that before, but I had. The unique overall experience and the sheer force of Jon Mueller’s will bolstered the songs, and through that they became great. Stripped of the accoutrements, I wasn’t overly excited about seeing them played again by a three-piece band, but the chance to relive the Death Blues experience wasn’t something I wanted to pass up; it never completely left my consciousness.
Saturday night at Cactus, the songs were still mere frameworks, but the music that emerged was no longer simplistic. It was the musical equivalent of letting go of preconceptions, of upholding no previously conceived image, of surrendering to bare honesty. As the band played I felt ashamed for a few minutes, because I realized I had projected a degree of pretension on the initial Death Blues experience. This performance was as far from pretension as you can get.
I can only speak for myself, but I went into a meditative trance and was on the verge of losing control of my emotions. Major spiritual catharsis. The music shot through me like a live wire and my need to portray myself melted away. That need has since returned, of course, but maybe not as strongly, maybe with a slightly new intent.
Musicians often speak of channeling rather than consciously creating; that conduit was surely running directly from the universal ether through Mueller’s mouth and limbs and into the audience. In the face of this unfiltered expulsion, it was impossible to be concerned with any self-imposed images or limitations. For the first time I can recall, my brain actually went, 'You know what? Who cares if anyone listens to a word I say? I will keep having these experiences regardless.’ Selfish, but invigorating.It wasn’t just Mueller, either. It was A BAND. Whether they’ve been rehearsing like crazy in secret or the planets just aligned on this night, it was voice, drums and guitars spewing forth soul-realigning works of spontaneous art. Over and over, as soon as I thought it was as intense as it could possibly get, it got more intense. The way the waves of sound pulsed around the room in three dimensions as the interplay between instruments evolved was a miracle of physics. Yet it never got damagingly loud; it only seemed to. This version of Death Blues really IS like nothing else I've ever heard, and if it's finished now, I must apologize to anyone who missed it for not insisting that you go. Sorry ‘bout that; I had no idea it would be that good.