Recap: Cartilage Party/Sonic J and more, Borg Ward, 11.20.09

Photo of Cartilage Party via MySpace

Words by Jeb Ebben

One of my favorite things about the Borg Ward is its willingness to embrace the weird, to do the shows that simply couldn’t happen anywhere else. Friday’s show was definitely that—a diverse collection of misfit bands, all intent on making a raucous sound.

The night started off with the Peter J Woods Free Jazz Ensemble, an avant-garde, improvisational jazz trio led by Woods on electric bass, rounded out by This Specific Dream’s Patrick Haga on percussion and Frontier Radio’s Jason Wietlispach on sax. Their set started out slow, the rhythm section gradually building while Wietlispach belted out sax lines that never seemed to let up in intensity. There was almost a bit of disconnect between Wietlispach and the rhythm section, and it was obvious that Woods and Haga have a long history of playing together (they were both members of Mysterious Notes Found in Wreckage). The most interesting and dynamic interplay was between these two, who, spurred by only the slightest eye contact, would change direction completely, going from walking scales and soft, rumbling rolls to crushing doom. That’s not to say that Wietlispach was just out there soloing obliviously; the trio still functioned quite well as a unit, and he is an amazing player–I just wish that the sax felt a little more integrated. A lot of my favorite bits were from Woods, who seamlessly incorporated noise and other non-jazz elements, occasionally beating on a cymbal over the soundhole of an old acoustic guitar. At the peak of the set’s intensity, Woods began barking and gurgling into the microphone, creating reptilian, demonic textures weaving between the sax’s piercing, I-can’t-believe-he-hasn’t-passed-out-from-lack-of-oxygen high sustained notes. This ferocity lasted the rest of the set, until there was nowhere else for it to go, exploding like a light bulb in a power surge.

They were a hard act to follow, but All Creatures put on a valiant display, filling the Borg with their loud, rollicking grooves. Obviously owing a lot to krautrock bands like Neu! and Amon Düül, All Creatures had that steady motorik beat that kept your head nodding and foot tapping while the rest of the band riffed on long, indulgent psychedelic jams. Next, Alamut pushed the vibe in a different direction, offering soft, sorrowful songs very much influenced by traditional Persian music. It was a bit too hash-stoned and downtempo for me, but an interesting set nonetheless, and again, not the kind of band you’d expect to see on a Friday night rock bill.

Steeped in 60s psych but with a biting punk rock edge, Sonic J is probably the best Milwaukee band you’ve never heard of. They’re just kids, 19 and 20 years old at best, hailing from Cedarburg of all places—but fuck all that, none of that is really important. What IS important is that they are tight as hell and super energetic, with more sweet riffs than any other band in town and blistering, shredding solos that guitarist Ryan Hargarten makes seem utterly effortless–backed by solid, crushing percussion from Brendt Dondero (who looks all of thirteen but chain smokes menthol cigarettes between bands and clearly started drumming while still in the womb) and the anchoring, Fugazi-like bass lines of Kris Zboznovits. Drawing influences from all over the place (for instance, there were a lot of surf punk elements alongside the more obvious Hendrix and Clapton face-melting electric blues wah-wah stuff), Sonic J kicked out the jams and blew through one of the most infectiously fun sets I’ve seen in ages. You know they’re doing what they love, and you can’t help but be swept up in that energy, and by the time they’re done, you’re sweaty and sore from dancing your ass off and you just collapse and bask in the afterglow.

Well, until Cartilage Party show up with their amps cranked to eleven and begin blasting forth their spastic, idiosyncratic mutant bombast. Cartilage Party represents a dedication to ugliness and the creeping weird unlike any band in this city. They take their cues from all over the place, from spazzcore to Piper-era Floyd, surf, noise rock and no-wave, spewing out a psychedelic mess of sinister carnival music played at superspeed, a collection of parts that don’t quite seem to make sense, all glued together by a thick, warm bass tone acting as the honey to catch the flies—flies which are then systematically devoured by the most piercing, ear-fucking guitar licks you’ve ever heard. Add on top of all this the lunatic ranting and roaring of a flannel-clad anti-preacher (complete with podium) octave-shifted and run through tons of delay, and you have a band playing songs that, in many ways, just shouldn’t work—that should drive people screaming from the room. But instead the crowd stands enraptured, beholding the awful noise, and loving it.

Friday’s show marked the debut of the band’s horn section, which propelled them to a whole new level of what-the-fuck-ness. It gave the already evil instrumentation an urgency that is hard to describe–like a never-ending chase scene in Satan’s favorite B-movie. As vocalist Joe Smith thrashed about demonically, bassist Frank Knaebe banged his head and guitarist Nathan Riddle two-stepped and shuffled about like he was trapped in the Black Lodge. At times, it was almost was more than one could handle, but still left you wanting more. I’m excited to see what these guys do next.

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2 Responses to “Recap: Cartilage Party/Sonic J and more, Borg Ward, 11.20.09”

  1. Anthony Schwader Says:

    Yeah, man. I wanna see the Cartilage Party again. The first time I saw them was indeed a WTF moment.

  2. A Doctor Says:

    Seeing Sonic J is good for your health.

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