75 Dollar Bill Comes to Ace of Cups April 5
NYC’s 75 Dollar Bill has been known to leave a certain brand of music fan speechless. We’re very lucky to have them coming through Ace of Cups on Wednesday (tickets on Ticketfly). When they played The Basement, not often a room suited for adventurous sounds, opening for Six Organs of Admittance two years ago, I saw people stop talking and lean in; people I never see stop talking at a show. The duo, Che Chen and Rick Brown, set up minimal cells of rhythm then pitted those cells against each other. Forms stretched out through focused improv that owed something to Pauline Oliveros’ deep listening and recalled Sun City Girls limitless appropriation. Their music takes rust-encrusted blues forms and microtonal riffs, then seeds them through warm, thick beds of rhythm.
Che Chen first hit my radar when he played Skylab in 2011, opening for and collaborating with lutist Josef van Wissem. The rare empathy he (and their collaborator Robbie Lee) shared with van Wissem had a low-to-the-ground rock and roll flair no matter how abstract it got. That was one of my favorite shows of that year and I burned his name into my memory as someone to watch. Rick Brown set the tone for many of the intersections between rock and the avant-garde since the mid-’80s when he played with Curlew. From his collaborative bands with his wife, Sue Garner, the quirky pop of Fish & Roses and the harder, stretched-out tunes in Run On (with Garner and Alan Licht), Brown’s gone on to add his distinct flavor to Licht and Garner’s solo releases and groups like Matmos and Tortoise.
As striking as that earlier work was, 75 Dollar Bill feels like the perfect vehicle for Chen’s gift for wild, mysterious melody on guitars and Brown’s drumming that goes from all directions at once into a laser-like focus with one stroke. There’s a breathing, natural, heartbeat quality in 75 Dollar Bill that serves as a reminder of what improvisation does when its fused into song forms in an organic, real way that doesn’t give either side too much weight. Ben Ratliff, writing for the New York Times, said Chen “work[ed] in scales that suggested any number of other musical traditions — including what could have passed for American blues or metal in ‘Water in the Lock,’ which swung between an odd meter and a slow, nasty stomp,” while Brown “pset the hierarchy of his material, making the trashy-sounding cymbal or shaker as important to the rhythm as anything else. Now and then, he blew through wind instruments involving metal and cardboard tubes, some with proper mouthpieces, some not.” Sasha Frere-Jones for the Village Voice commented, “At some point during a 75 Dollar Bill song, it is likely you will try to pinpoint the band’s placeless origin. West African? The American South? Somewhere in Eastern Europe?”
Last year’s Wood/Metal/Plastic/Pattern/Rhythm/Rock (on Other Music) was a breakthrough for the duo. Songs that catch and rattle around in the listener’s brain without sacrificing one iota of their freedom or openness, with thicker arrangements using strings, reeds, and brass that never overpower the two instrumental voices at the heart of their sound. For the New York Observer, Brad Cohan said, “The sound may be bigger with a sweeter shine yet it remains unmistakably 75 Dollar Bill: epically shambolic, thrifty and jazzy guitarscapes dripping of ecstatic hypnotism.” In his year-end list, Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone called it “One monster of a groove record – especially the climax of “Beni Said,” which sounds like Fairport Convention covering “Sister Ray” while their hair catches fire.”
Sue Garner opens for 75 Dollar Bill on this run, and she’s a must-see. Beyond her work with Brown in seminal bands like Run On, she was a member of NYC alt-country pioneers The Lost Roundup (which also gave the world singer-songwriter Amy Rigby) and run the gamut from the power-pop of Chris Stamey to the muscular rock of Antietam’s Tara Key through solo records that range from one of the most beautiful covers of Merle Haggard’s “Silver Wings” you’ll ever hear to delicate miniatures to riff-rock that would appeal to fans of Sonic Youth. She also expands 75 Dollar Bill to a quartet (along with Steve Maing) in their second set. Locals Egon Gone and the Sun Dogs bring their take on cracked pop songs to get the night rolling.
Give them a listen at: https://75dollarbill.bandcamp.com/