Saturday, October 21, 2006

Unaccidental Cheer (heyo!)

saw Cheer-Accident play last night and it almost broke my heart. Cheer-Accident live is sort of a glorious mess, grab-bag, surrealist sketch show, what have you. plenty of "huh?" stuff, but then the right-on stuff just blows you away--maybe the contrast is part of the effect.

anyway, Thymme Jones--"Thymme" is pronounced "Tim"--is an important figure. this man is a true American musical artist. he is one of the most purely musical people i have ever seen play. i guess what i mean is that he seems completely at home on all of the instruments he plays, but at the same time he makes them all seem like vehicles, like the music is coming out of him and he's happy to use whatever implement is at hand. when he plays drums, he has this wonderful beatific look on his face: he kind of tilts his head back and looks upward and squints, almost as if he's trying to remember where he left his keys. he's not one of those "ecstasy" musicians who grimaces or tries to otherwise portray great effort. his appearance and general bearing are amazing: this is the kind of dude who if he got in line at the bank behind you, you'd think he was some classic rock burnout: baggy jeans, baggy faded blue T-shirt and this huge mane of shaggy greying hair. he just looks like the kind of guy who couldn't not be stoned at any given time. but when you see him play, it's like this angelic force comes over him and he almost seems like a child discovering he can sing and play and he's just as baffled by it as you are. the jokes that are part of Cheer-Accident's music no longer seem conceptual or highbrow or as having any overarching message--it's really just innocent fun from an incredibly sincere band.

aside from Jones's bearing, his playing will floor you. he has this churning groove that can seem laid-back, but then he'll step it up and really pound on certain parts. there's an incredible funkiness and dexterity, but he's one of the most unchopsy players you'll ever see, which is kind of amazing b/c some of the rhythms the band works with would give Neil Peart a hernia. as i said above, his formidable ability really just seems like a means to an end; if that's what it takes to play such awesome music, then that's what he'll do. i remember i first really got psyched on his playing through "When in Vanitas," a mid-'90s album by Jim O'Rourke's This Heat-ish band Brise-Glace. that album has always seemed more like a fascinating curiuosity than a great record--it's basically like these dark prog grooves all cut up and reassembled by O'Rourke; very frustrating at times and not always in a good way, in my opinion--but Jones's beats are just explosively awesome. he likes to do these weird circular patterns where you can't tell where the downbeat is for a few measures. it's almost like some kind of weird lumbering prog-funk, but again, you have to imagine it being played with flair rather than chops.

also he sings and this is where he might make you cry. last night the band did this tune called "Failure" from "Enduring the American Dream." and if you know anything about the band, you know that those titles, which seem like jokes, are deep--when you see Jones sing this song, you know he's really telling you something. it's a strangely timeless piano ballad, with this wistful, almost Broadwayish melody. he sings it mostly in falsetto and the piano (last night Sheila Bertoletti played the parts on a big-ass keyboard) follows along with the occasional strange comment. i once described his voice as "neutered," and i think that's appropriate--it's not an expressive voice necessarily, i.e., there's no throat or grit or wavering timbre, but it's also not an affected one. it's just pure and clear and deeply sad, to me. "Failure" is one of those songs that's so beautiful you feel like you've always known it and you feel like anyone would feel that way about it. it's a clean, sad, beautiful melody that kind of sums up what's so musical about Cheer-Accident.

there was some heavier stuff too, like the first track from the mid-'90s album "Not a Food," and the band really banged it out--top-notch prog with sometimes wacky chords that tell you you're dealing with an essentially Midwestern band. i don't know what i mean by that exactly. maybe i just want to identify with that aesthetic b/c i'm from the Midwest. i don't think Cheer-Accident (they're from Chicago) could be from anywhere else though. maybe that's romantic, but a band that's been around for over 20 years, releasing this incredibly strange, elaborate, inspired music that's completely ignored by everyone but dorks, but they do it with absolute passion and only the wryest hint of cynicism. when i spoke to Thymme after the show, to trade gas money for CDs, as he put it from the stage, i told him i had seen him play in KC in the mid-90s and how i had loved his band for years and all that other crap, and he just sort of kept saying, "Wow, man. Wow. thanks, man." but i knew he meant it. it must be a trip for a genius/lifer like this to go out on the road and see that indeed his work is making an impact, like a really deep impact. i'm not just yapping about myself here: all these dudes from great, sophisticated bands like Time of Orchids, Friendly Bears, Make a Rising, Dysrhythmia, etc. were there feeling the same about it and showering Thymme with happy kudos and wishes and whatnot. maybe Cheer-Accident is a musician's band but i really don't think they have to be. anyone could love "Failure" and i think of it as part of the Great American Songbook in another dimension.

four songs for (Cheer-Accident) beginners:

1. "Learning How to Fly" from "The Why Album" (twisty vocal melody and jacked rhythms. alternate dimension pop masterpiece. or maybe just pop masterpiece.)
2. "Failure" from "Enduring the American Dream"
3. "Find" from "Introducing Lemon" (20-minute epic; first four minutes alone are kind of more epic than the entire song though; heart-rending prog that's as good as Yes but way more down to earth and lovable)
4. "Smile" from "Introducing Lemon" (wistful, sincere, beautiful, sad, smooth-rocking)


Anonymous said...

Funny you mention keys...

Mike Parker said...

GREAT post,Hank! I have so many thoughts (pages and pages) about my experiences listening to Cheer-Accident on record and seeing them play (five times now over the past five years or so), and my thoughts are kinda similar to yours. Something really magical happens in their sets. One of the major avant-rock groups in history for sure.

But I just thought I'd mention that at their Philly show recently, there were a bunch of people who were just sorta "there" and not Cheer-Accident fans or people who had any clue who they were beforehand, and there was an amazing consensus of "wow, that was amazing", which really means a lot because I would kinda expect most people to be totally confused/bothered by Cheer-Accident without any prior context.

Mike Parker said...

Oh yeah, another thing: both guitarists were doing such SICK and great stuff these past two tours! Wow. Squiggle and squirm to the max.

Anonymous said...

Have you heard "George is my Friend"?

Yacub said...

Hey Hank. Just came across your post about Cheer-Accident. Wanted to put in my two cents about this band that changed my life, (along with the Ruins) back in '98 when I first heard Enduring the American Dream. And then went to see them for the first time, hands sweaty, thinking they'd be a bunch of pretentious Chicago hipsters, only to find Thymme Jones sporting a pair of totally ripped stone washed jeans and his huge roadie hair. It'll always bug me that most critics don't give this incredible band their due; that WIRE hasn't run a primer article on them for example. Oh well. Anyway, at least you wrote something!