Wed April 6,
Laser Dome at Pacific Science Center, 9 pm, $5, all ages.
w/Dead Meadow, the Out Crowd, the Can't See
Thurs April 7, Chop Suey, 9 pm, $8 adv.
The modern world holds few terrestrial boundaries for Jennifer Gentle's psychedelic spectrum. Sure the band members' passports are Italian and 21st-century dates grace their CDs, but their music easily traverses time and continents. It floats like dandelion seeds between momentary placeholders, creating a delicate patchwork of songs-- dusty edges of Pink Floyd's The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (they're named after a line in Piper's "Lucifer Sam") mingle with innocent adventures through Syd Barrett's shattered audio fractals and Nick Drake lullabies dispensed on a Roky Erickson acid trip. Spastic garage tracks will pop up with accents from chirping birds in an animated morning roll call or get pared down to the bonfire melodies of an acoustic guitar solo, none of which feels out of place in Gentle's kaleidoscopic spectrum, and all of which are accessible to the adventurous, pop-friendly ear.
In the fall of 2003, Gentle's spores landed in Seattle in the form of Ectoplasmic Garden Party, the two-CD import blooming through the speakers at Wall of Sound, when Sub Pop's Direct Sales Manager Dean Whitmore happened to be shopping at the eclectic Pine Street record store. "I made a few attempts to describe what sort of unsettling, alien, awesome, goofball shit we were listening to, with little to no success," Whitmore remembers. "I actually left without [the album] and had to come back and get it 'cause I couldn't stop thinking about it."
Whitmore's obsession soon became Sub Pop's, and the label contracted the Italians to release their fifth album, Valende, which Sub Pop issued in January. Valende is a lysergic-rock carnival that's equal parts modern renaissance fair and antique freak show. It features kiddie kazoo parties, deflating balloon squeals, and manic chipmunk chirps roller-coastering through an acoustic fairyland of glockenspiel chimes and angelic whispers that could win over new-folk followers of bands like Six Organs of Admittance.
One of two co-founders of the Gentle ensemble, frontman Marco Fasolo looked equal parts Brian Jones and corduroy college kid at Austin's recent SXSW music festival. But just as easily as he modifies his exterior, his band--which has grown from he and drummer Alessio Gastaldello to a five- person group--rode the waves of their various showcases with panache. An early opening slot for Sleater-Kinney was performed with as much eclectic experimentation as a more fitting hippie-come-lately party for Arthur magazine at an old church-turned-music-collective. For both shows, the Padova-based band carefully landscaped their musical playground, which ranges from deranged pop ditties to rollicking interstellar space jams--the latter of which become the intense climaxes for both sets.
"I think that's our peculiar thing, that we play so many different kinds of songs," says Fasolo in heavily Italian-accented English. "I like going through many different options when I play. I like the pop-oriented songs and experimenting during jams or darker songs. It's very funny for me just to play a joke--making jokes in making different songs." (This from a singer who, on Valende's "Nothing Makes Sense," uncoils shouts of "yee hee" and "ohh-hoo" like a wooden bird springing loose from the cuckoo clock.)
"I think it's very interesting when a song is a [collection] of songs," he adds, "when it's somewhere between a kind of noise or jam or pop song. The perfect song has to have all of these elements. Pink Floyd had this kind of approach, but they're not the only ones. A lot of '50s bands had the same ideas--or like Joe Meek's productions."
Although it would be wrong to call Jennifer Gentle's music a joke, there is a sprawling prankster vibe throughout their songs. Fasolo giggles until he's out of breath on Valende's closing track, and the band speeds the vocals up to an outlandish helium tone as nonchalantly as they string together nonsensical phrases like "set your eyes to the sun." "I like doing difficult stuff," says Fasolo with a laugh over his goofy musical exploits. "I don't [always] like to understand what I'm saying, either. Over the years I started appreciating English lyrics and I started writing in English more often… but, really, I just like the using the musicality of the English language."
Gentle's basement recordings have found a small but steadfast American audience who appreciate, as Sub Pop's Whitmore calls it, music "made by people in and of their own space."
"I like the way psychedelic bands from the '60s think about music," says Fasolo. "I think that the MTV generation bands are like fast food compared to '60s bands. They're the kind of stuff that you make for teenagers, but in the end it's nothing interesting. Bands in the '50s and '60s played because they needed to play, they needed to express themselves, they needed to let themselves into music. This is the difference… needing to play and having something to say."
Jennifer Gentle at Seattle's Laser Dome
The Stranger's music department knows the high entertainment value of a quality laser-light show. For some music geeks--and stoners--there's nothing better than showing up in sweats, procuring a choice spot on the carpet, and allowing Laser Zeppelin and all of its audio-visual majesty to perform a massive brainwashing for the next 45 minutes. But then you grow up, get a real ID, and move on to seeing double from barstools--or rent DVDs of Japanese anime.
A quality laser-dome spell doesn't have to break with adulthood, however. In the spirit of giving atypical music events (booze cruise shows, tour vans that double as venues) a well-deserved push, The Stranger supports the Pacific Science Center's Laser Dome in experimenting with the possible head trips of live bands playing to customized laser-light shows.
And who better to kick off this concept for 2005 than Jennifer Gentle? On Wednesday, April 6, they'll be previewing the following evening's Chop Suey show with a specialized live music/laser set at the Laser Dome--followed by a set of Laser Floyd with that band's 1967 classic, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. Local pro technician Ivan--who's done over 7,000 light shows in 30 states--will be running the visuals. (Dude even worked on laser special effects for the X-Files in '98.) Ivan tells me that LFI International--the world's "largest, most successful laser display company in the world"--is headquartered in Bellevue, and that it designed all of the Pacific Science Center's goods, so you know that means the quality colored lights will be zipping overhead. Support this performance and who knows who may get their own dome light show next. JENNIFER MAERZ