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Blades of Glory

Submitted by RamonLP4 on October 1, 2007 – 2:01 amNo Comment
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Instrumental rock has to get over a tough hurdle. If you take away the human voice within a rock context, you’ll find a lot of people keep a safe distance because instrumental music is considered by many to be cold and unapproachable. Thankfully, any performance by Pasadena’s Blades takes this notion head-on. The band’s decidedly unpretentious approach is a kick in the pants to anyone expecting music for chin-scratching intellectuals and last month’s performance at the Mink surely must have laid that notion to rest. That night Blades and their music careened with volume and force: bassist David Ibarra convulsed like he was being electrocuted, Chris Mason swung his guitar like John Henry taking on that steam drill, and Kyle Jones beat his drums with such violence that you’d have almost expected blood to pour from his kit. As all this was going on, the other guitarist, John Dannar, seemed content to play the John Entwistle role with a huge shit-eating grin on his face the entire time. In fact, the only chin-scratching I witnessed was Allen Hendrix (guitarist of Sharks and Sailors) pondering the performance, lowering his head in deep thought, and summing it up by declaring the entire performance “very late-90s spicy with zombie flavor.”

Still not convinced? Consider Kyle who, during our recent photo shoot shouted, “Drop your pants on three!” Suddenly, there is the band standing inside a trailer in their underwear as everyone tries to contain their laughter. Some bands might be stiff or self-conscious during a photo shoot but not Blades – they ran through rock photo clichés and braved dubious construction sites with abandon and glee. That is the thing that strikes anyone about Blades, that despite the serious work behind their music they are hardly serious people. Lance Higdon, drummer from fellow proggy band Tambersauro, is charmed by all this; “Yeah, they are accomplished musicians but beyond that, what sets them apart and puts a skip in my step, is the humor, levity, and humility in their approach. They don’t put on airs.”

But don’t let all this silliness fool you, despite the energetic performances and the general goofiness, Blades puts out some seriously complex music. The Saturday before the Mink show I walked into Francisco studios and found, crouched on the floor over a digital 8-Track, local one-man mobile recording lab John Sears listening to levels as behind him the four musicians were working down some Vietnamese sandwiches and some last minute arrangements. The mood was much more restrained as the band was focusing on recording for its entry into John Sears’ Grey Ghost series*.

As he twiddled knobs, Sears explained, “I can totally see why people are put off by bands like Blades. Unless you are familiar with the music, the changes can seem jarring. But this is music in which you have to make an investment”. He’s right of course. The first time I put on their EP “Who’s The Cream Puff Now?” it was late and I was tired and I wasn’t ready to listen. My reaction was as if I was on an elevator but then, later that week, I popped it in the car stereo and, giving it my full attention, found a band with a sharp emphasis on composition and arrangements. The music itself is very sculpted and can hardly be described as haphazard; the music drops rises and shifts with purpose and the players know exactly where they fit into the picture they are painting. The rewards of investing some time with a band like Blades is there are always new textures or layers revealing themselves upon each successive listen. Even David confesses that he will listen to a recording and hear things he never realized were there.

Kyle elaborates, “David and I hold everything down so really the layers and textures you hear are coming from John and Chris’ guitars. There are times where we go off and improvise but the music you hear is pretty much composed…it’s really cut and paste composition.”

Chris jumps in, “Yeah, we are collage rock. But don’t get the wrong idea. It’s not like we say ‘Do this four times and this five!’ It’s all feel. We also never consider the songs finished so they’re always changing.”

That constant changing, be it the ebb and flow of sound or the evolution of a composition, is the most fascinating thing about Blades. For them, there is always a way to make their music better and challenge themselves as players. Their music moves like water and we in the audience simply need to be willing to put our feet in the river.

You can catch Blades opening up for Don Caballero on November 3rd at the Proletariat.

*The Grey Ghost CDR Series is a John Sears project in which he issues a limited 13 CDR edition of one band’s music for one week for $2 each at Domy. October’s planned releases include Halocine, Li’l Red Lighthouse, and Something Fierce.
Photography: John Van

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