Photo by Sean Patrick Leydon
Right to left: Ice Balloons members Kyp Malone, Dan Scinta, Sean Powell, Sean Kennerly, Dani Miller (seated), B.A.
The Outer Space is something of a unique venue for Arcata. The only DIY, all-ages, sober/safe space in town, it sits in a building in the southwest section of the Nilsen Feed lot, on the corner of 11th and M streets. Drugs and alcohol are strictly forbidden, and children run through the floor plan past book and record shelves and an ad hoc art store. On Sunday night it hosted a disparate and sometimes noisy show, with Shiveley locals Blackplate opening for Los Angeles’ Sun Foot and Brooklyn’s Ice Balloons.
Blackplate is one of my favorite local bands. Comprised of a father/son guitar and drum dynamic with Sean Casement and the talented young Valis Vanderlinden-Casement, Sunday marked the debut of new bassist Max Brotman, whose heavy tone and tight playing brought new life to the trio. I like to call Blackplate our homegrown version of the Melvins, but that's a lazy comparison. The song structures come from the same pre-grunge/post-punk neighborhood, but Sean’s fiery guitar displays and extremely personal songs make them a rare mutant in their own genus. Tunes like "Sliding" and "The Lament for a Dead Brother" feature slide guitar histrionics melting into a ubiquitous, and in the case of "Brother," haunting groove, while the tremolo-feedback bridge of "Self Fulfilling Prophecies" speaks in stranger tongues. Sean writes songs about arsonists he has known, personal reminders not to be “a jaded fuck,” and getting ill. They cover a Flipper song. They are great and worth your time.
Coming on like a YouTube instructional video on whispering into a lavalier microphone was Blackplate’s sonic foil: Sun Foot. Made up of drummer Ron, bassist Chris Love and guitar player Bri Bri 22, the three bespectacled Sun Footers play at such a low volume that the movie projectors running spliced videos of DNA and animals on the back wall were never far behind their threshold sound. Ron tapped out patterns on a digital drum pad, while Chris and Bri Bri played staccato riffs and repeating patterns which sounded like Devo covering Arthur Russell tracks with Mr. Rogers producing. Good stuff. Quiet stuff.
Finishing the night was Ice Balloons, featuring Kyp Malone from the fantastic TV On The Radio seated and playing synths while tapping sequencer triggers with his bare feet. An astonishing backdrop visual display came from artist B.A., whose images of flies, monkeys, and dancers of every kind were flashed in wild colors from a projector/laptop set-up she controlled with a keytar. Meanwhile, bassist Dan and drummer Sean kept things vintage art punk in the rhythm department. Singer Sean Kennerly wore a fly mask and screamed out echoplex arias which walked the line from the Butthole Surfers to KRS-One at an auction while Dani Miller sat on her amp and used her synth to make what she called “alien noises.” They played nearly all of their recent release "Fiesta" and live the songs bled together until we were left at the very end with visions of a monkey on the backdrop while Kyp’s synth screech faded into an ear-pillow of gentle echoed hush. Perfect.