Wide-ranging, well-traveled Battlehooch makes East Village its next destination.
Thursday, January 6, 2011
A few weeks ago, avant-garde rocker Captain Beefheart passed away. The far-out musician left an undeniable and lasting impression on everyone from Tom Waits and Jack White to Beck and David Byrne. San Francisco’s Battlehooch – playing the East Village on Saturday – were also heavily influenced by Beefheart’s genre-bending approach. Its members call their music: “Shape shifting orchestral rock.”
“We don’t feel like we fit into a genre,” says saxophonist/clarinetist/flutist Thomas Hurlbut. “We have songs that are country, songs that are punk, songs that are krautrock; we don’t like to be confined to a genre.”
Battlehooch’s self-titled second album, released last April, is like a deeply textured kaleidoscope of sound and soul. The tune “Caliphate” jumps from genre to genre faster than a chameleon changes its color, without ever losing any momentum or focus.
Battlehooch has also recently brought that experimental sensibility into filmmaking with its “Desolation Videos.” The idea sprouted last March at SXSW in Austin, Texas. They had done a lot of street performing before, but never with all their gear.
“We decided to set up with our full equipment, which is something we don’t typically do,” Hurlbut says. “As the sax player, I usually go without amplification when we perform on the street.”
So the six-piece band plugged all its amps into a portable battery bank in the middle of the Texas capitol and went for it, until the local fuzz put the kibosh on the performance.
“We ended up getting shut down halfway through our first song because it was really loud,” Hurlbut says. “But it ended up being a perfect concept for us: finding places to play along the way [of the tour].”
So far, Battlehooch has made four “Desolation Videos,” currently available on its YouTube channel, and there are plans to release four more. The first in the series takes place within the natural landscape of Sedona, Arizona, a setting that echoes Pink Floyd’s 1972 celestial performance in the deserted city of Pompeii.
“The idea behind the videos is to set up where there are no people around,” Hurlbut says. “In the Internet age, we can perform for people even when there’s nobody there when we’re actually playing.”
One of the trickiest and most memorable video locales thus far was in Florida: They played their laidback acoustic country tune, “Honest,” knee-deep in water with a chorus of cicadas in the background.
“We were standing in a natural spring named after this guy Ponce de León, who was in search of the fountain of youth,” Hurlbut says. “So there’s kind of some lore that goes along with the place.”
And the fourth video installment was filmed under a bridge overpass in New York City, where Battlehooch recently spent six weeks playing throughout the city, including a showcase at the CMJ Festival in Brooklyn and a three-week residency at Pianos in the Lower Eastside.
“The first show we had 20 or 30 people show up and by the end we had between 70 and 100 people in the audience,” Hurlbut says.
It goes to show that the limitless possibilities of unorthodox composition exuded through the music of Captain Beefheart, and now Battlehooch, continue to attract a following. It also signals that this is just the beginning for these hardworking art rockers.
BATTLEHOOCH plays 8pm Saturday, Jan. 8, at East Village, 498 Washington St., Monterey. $10. 373-5601.