The Month in Weird: April’s Best Avant-Garde Concerts

Jamie Stewart brings the batshit-weird beauty of his experimental electronic project Xiu Xiu to Greenpoint’s Brooklyn Night Bazaar on Thursday, April 6. Courtesy of Xiu Xiu

The month of April is significant, not just because of the ridiculous influx of must-see shows, but mainly because it’s marked by the month-long celebration of Tony Conrad, the influential avant-gardist and godfather of minimalism and drone, who passed away last year.

Events celebrating Conrad’s career began in March and continue throughout April, including a memorial service that will feature remembrances and a performance of Conrad’s piece, Amplified Drone Strings, on April 8 at 3 p.m. at the Clemente Soto Vélez Center.

Later that night, guitarist David Grubbs and his Prism Rose drummer Eli Keszler will play a duo set dedicated to Conrad at the Knockdown Center (with Das Audit, Mary Jordan and special guest). Not to be missed also is Tyler Hubby’s documentary, “Tony Conrad: Completely in the Present,” playing at Anthology Film Archives.

Click here for full calendar of Tony Conrad Memorial events, and scroll down for the full rundown of everything April has in store. You won’t be disappointed.

A Night with Lydia Lunch for The War is Never Over: A film by Beth B, Party and Kickstarter fundraiser performance and party at The Slipper Room on Monday, April 3

Finally no wave and punk enthusiasts can revel in a documentary with a story worth telling: the skronky, sordid and juicy tale of no wave scene iconoclast and original brutarian, Lydia Lunch.

Born from the mind of patron saint of all things NYC punk and no wave, filmmaker Beth B’s The War is Never Over will trace the path of the sonic and sultry destruction Lunch has left in her wake throughout her nomadic and confrontational career arc.

From her days as a 13-year-old runaway leaving behind the racial warzone of her Rochester, N.Y., hometown for the bankrupt decay of New York City in the 1970s, to becoming the symbol of the no wave movement with Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, to her current resurgence as spoken-word flamethrower and ringleader of Retrovirus, Lunch’s epic yarn is one begging to be unraveled.

Tonight’s event is free but a Kickstarter contribution is requested.

Matt Mitchell Plays Førage (Music of Tim Berne) // Berne + Mitchell Duo at Roulette on Tuesday, April 4

The dizzying, majestic piano wizardry Matt Mitchell has been crafting the last several years has made an indelible mark on Brooklyn’s avant-jazz landscape. Exceptional recordings from the likes of saxophonists Darius Jones, Anna Webber and Dave Douglas have featured Mitchell’s freethinking stylings, and we’ve been thrilled to hear him work as a composer on his own on Vista Accumulation and Fiction.

Arguably, Mitchell’s most valuable alliance is the one he shares with alto saxophonist maestro and Screwgun Records label head Tim Berne, whose contribution to his long-running and venerable quartet, Snakeoil, is undeniable. That Berne-Mitchell kinship has now manifested into the pianist’s newest quest: to dissect the virtuosic mind of his longtime comrade.

On Førage, Mitchell has plucked select cuts from Berne’s vast catalog, stripping its asymmetrical yet melodic euphoria to the bones through the prism of solo piano. A brain-bending clinic in keys-caressing, stroking and stabbing ecstasy, Mitchell’s Førage is seven pieces worth of tangled piano bliss; the live setting should present the perfect platform as Mitchell provides a further peek into Berne’s force-of-nature psyche.

This evening’s performance is followed by this special bonus: Mitchell and Berne playing duo versions of their original compositions.

VIRTU: 6 Nights of Music in April at Knockdown Center on April 6, 8, 14, 15 and 28

Sam Hillmer, saxophone and electronics destroyer behind avant-rock trio Zs and one-man-operation Diamond Terrifier, has been an impenetrable and driving force behind Brooklyn DIY culture, bringing his forward-thinking gig booking and genre-crossing concert series to music hubs like the long-defunct and sorely missed Zebulon and Ridgewood’s Trans-Pecos.

Now Hillmer has brought his visionary, community-minded ethos and penchant for giving platforms to wild-eyed outsiders from across the spectrum to Maspeth’s Knockdown Center.

His new series, dubbed “VIRTU,” goes on throughout April, featuring a hodgepodge of essential shows such as noise (Work/Death on 4/6), minimalism (Tribute to Tony Conrad on 4/8 featuring David Grubbs), art-pop (Pavo Pavo and Charlie Looker Ensemble on 4/14), DJ-constructed soundscapes (DJ J Heat on 4/15) and electronics (Aïsha Devi on 4/28) at the cavernous Knockdown Center.

Click here for full VIRTU calendar.

Xiu Xiu and Dreamcrusher at Brooklyn Bazaar on Thursday, April 6

For the last 15-plus years, Cali-based tunesmith Jamie Stewart has conquered and divided the underground rock pantheon with his caked-in-fuzz experimental and dance-centric pop mashups as the provocateur behind Xiu Xiu.

Stewart—a wordsmith whose controversial themes haven’t been met very kindly—has nodded to both David Lynch (see last year’s Plays the Music of Twin Peaks) and synth-punk terrors Suicide over the course of his oeuvre, which counts such schizoid output as 2013’s Nina, a haunting tribute to the iconic soul singer and activist Nina Simone that found Stewart unusually enlisting a lineup of NYC avant-garde jazzheads as his backing band.

While Xiu Xiu has kept busy teaming with both Mitski and Merzbow, Stewart, Shayna Dunkelman and Angela Seo have followed 2014’s Angel Guts: Red Classroom with gnarly noise-dance nightmare, FORGET, one of the year’s most mesmerizing releases so far.

With Stewart squelching out his quivering and delicate warped croon over static-y, glitch-covered shards and whip-cracking disco beats on standout burners like “Wondering,” Xiu Xiu’s distorted, alien groove action is the soundtrack for the sweaty DIY dancefloor apocalypse.

Saltland (Rebecca Foon of Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra) with guest Grey Mcmurray at National Sawdust on Friday, April 7

With Mother Earth in a near-death spiral as the denier-in-chief awards climate change skeptics plum spots in his administration while undoing many of his predecessor’s policies, this global crisis needs champions of the cause more than ever. Enter Montreal/New York City composer and cellist Rebecca Foon.

As an activist, she’s worked tirelessly for decarbonization, land conservation, renewable energy and urban green strategies, and as a musician, her long list of credits includes membership in Thee Silver Mt. Zion Memorial Orchestra, as well as cameoing on Colin Stetson’s reimagining of Henryk Górecki’s Symphony No 3′ a/k/a the ‘Symphony of Sorrowful Songs.

On A Common Truth, Foon’s second effort as Saltland, she’s reconciled her activist ethos with her sonic palate and the result is a droning and reflective grand statement.

With contributions from Warren Ellis (of Nick Cave and The Dirty Three fame), Foon ruminates on climate change as the conceptual theme to the spectral chamber-music dirge of A Common Truth where her melancholy cello massages and lurches, hushed tones drone on and ethereal whispers dreamily linger, ostensibly weeping for the planet.

On Fillmore: Happiness of Living Record Release ft. Glenn Kotche of Wilco and Darin Gray at National Sawdust on Saturday, April 8

The cosmic sound-world of folk/rock institution Wilco has been a haven for experimentation and free-improvisation both inside and out of its orbit. Guitarist Nels Cline is a visionary composer in his own right (check out 2016’s orchestral sprawl, Lovers) and percussionist Glenn Kotche has long established himself as an innovative force to be reckoned within the new-music scene as evidenced by last year’s Drumkit Quartets with So Percussion and solo records that explored both classical and minimalist music.

Kotche has once again stepped out of Wilco’s shadow and into On Fillmore, the tribal-centric band he shares with Tweedy bassist Darin Gray.

Inspired by a stint the pair spent in Brazil, the duo’s newest set, Happiness of Living (via Northern Spy), is an exotic breath of fresh and breezy air, a sundrenched post-rock drum circle ritual radiating with blipping and whirring synths, bouncy bass and feel-good-all-over psych vibes.

John Davis (ex-The Folk implosion) & The Cicadas on Wednesday, April 12 at Cape House

Back in the glory days of 1990s-era underground rock, Lou Barlow, then-formerly of Dinosaur Jr, was basking in the moderate success of Sebadoh who, along with Pavement and Guided by Voices, were enjoying indie rock kingpin status. That apparently wasn’t enough for Barlow, who joined forces with his multi-instrumentalist pal John Davis to form junk-fi pop side project, The Folk Implosion.

In one of the stranger success stories of the post-Nirvana splurge, Barlow and Davis would score a hit with 1995 earworm, “Natural One,” found on the soundtrack for the Harmony Korine-penned, Larry Clark-directed Kids soundtrack.

Several years after The Folk Implosion’s bargain-bin-bound major label debut, 1999’s One Part Lullaby, Davis went M.I.A. Now, in yet another strange turn of events, Davis has resurfaced.

On his forthcoming new album titled El Pulpo, Davis—currently a public school teacher and activist based in Durham, N.C.—shows he hasn’t lost his thirst for quirky and off-kilter static-pop but the subject matter is no joke. While the infectious melodies are peppered with dense and jarring sci-fi electronics-tweaked textures and layers and manipulated vocals, Davis sings of hot-button topics like corporate corruption in the food industry, immigration, the overflowing prison system and Wall Street greed.

Pharmakon at Brooklyn Bazaar with Coteries and New Castrati on Friday, April 14

The brutal and screeching canvas of industrial music and harsh-noise splatter Margaret Chardiet has been creating as Pharmakon over the last decade is one of stomach-turning ecstasy (and that’s a good thing).

On the eardrum carnage of Bestial Burden (2014), Chardiet, both wading through and terrorizing audiences, perched at her “noise table” glutted with power-drilling electronics, knob-twiddled, turned and screamed mangled and minimalist noisescapes from her pedal and effects pile that loosely used her near-death experience as the record’s catalyst.

Three years separates Bestial Burden and the new Contact shows Chardiet in fine bloody murder form, wreaking havoc with toxic doses of rhythmic thrash and thunderous synth missiles as she explores “the moments when our mind can come outside of and transcend our bodies.”

Ende Tymes 7 Festival of Noise and Experimental Liberation:

Opening Night: Joe Colley / Jenny Gräf / TRNSGNDR/VHS / Denis Rollet & Francisco Meirino at Issue Project Room on Thursday, April 27 and from Friday, April 28 through Sunday, April 30 at Silent Barn

Noise music armageddon will be afoot as Downtown Brooklyn’s spacious Issue Project Room and Bushwick DIY destination Silent Barn host the seventh installment of the four-day-long, classification-defying Ende Tymes, Festival of Noise and Experimental Liberation.

As the brainchild of Brooklyn-based extreme-music overlord Bob Bellerue, Ende Tymes has survived and thrived while other fests have fallen by the wayside. Once again, chief architect Bellerue has convened a monumental lineup for noise, drone, industrial and electronics junkies to feast on.

The opening night kick-off at IPR on the April 27 is headed by performances from Joe Colley, Jenny Gräf, TRNSGNDR/VHS, and a duo between Denis Rollet and Francisco Meirino, before switching over to Silent Barn on April 28.

Click here to support Ende Tymes and purchase tickets for all nights here.

Arto Lindsay Band and Beauty Pill at The Bell House on Friday, April 28

From 1996 through 2004, pioneering no wave noisenik-turned-electro samba art-pop impresario Arto Lindsay went on a prolific tear, producing some of the best music of his career, one that began with DNA and was later followed by Ambitious Lovers before his solo arc took shape.

But after 2004’s Salt, Lindsay seemingly went off the grid recording-wise. That is, until 2014 when the Northern Spy label issued Encyclopedia of Arto Lindsay, a long-overdue compilation of that 1996-2004 period.

Like his no wave partner-in-skronk Lydia Lunch, Lindsay is continuing his latter-day renaissance with his first set of all-new material since Salt, titled Cuidado Madame (due April 21) and it picks up where gems like Mundo Civilizado and O Corpo Sutil (The Subtle Body) left off: sublimely fusing entrancing Brazilian electro-pop swagger sung in his spicy Portuguese and English tongue.

Honorable mentions

Blank Forms presents Phew at First Unitarian Congregational Society on Thursday, April 6


Blank Forms, “a curatorial platform focused on the presentation and preservation of experimental performance,” presents Japanese avant-gardist Phew, making her first appearance in the States. The vocalist, who’s work includes collaborations with members of Can and fellow Japanoise experimentalists Boredoms, celebrates the release of hew new record, Light Sleep.

Sunwatchers Union Pool Residency – 4/11, 4/18 and 4/25

Sunwatchers with Talibam! + Colin L Play Billy Joel and Sahba Sizdahkhani on Tuesday, April 11

Psycho-jazz quartet Sunwatchers shack up all month long at Union Pool for a residency. Tuesday, April 11 is a must-see as Brooklyn avant-everything renegades Talibam!—gearing up for two records to be released on the esteemed ESP-Disk label later this year—team with ex-USAISAMONSTER guitarist Colin L in praise of the legendary Strong Island piano man himself, Billy Joel.

Jeremiah Cymerman: Stone Residency II from April 11th through April 16 at The Stone

Downtown avant-garde clarinetist and “nosh and noise” purveyor Jeremiah Cymerman celebrates his second residency run at his pal John Zorn’s soon-to-be-relocated Avenue C performance space, The Stone. Click here for full calendar.

Mike McGinnis-Art Lande-Steve Swallow at The Jazz Standard on Wednesday, April 12

Three elder statesman culled from the free-improv lexicon—clarinetist/saxophonist Mike McGinnis, Paul Bley Trio bassist Steve Swallow and pianist Art Lande—join forces to recreate cuts from their just-released Sunnyside Records set, the superb Recurring Dream.

Bearthoven Trios Album Release with special guest Fjola Evans at (Le) Poisson Rouge on Tuesday, April 18

Bearthoven (featuring members of TIGUE, Gutbucket and eighth blackbird) are an adventurous piano-based trio and tonight they ring in the release of Trios, out May 5 via Cantaloupe.

Eivind Opsvik’s Overseas plays Greenwich House Music School on Wednesday, April 19

A fixture on the Brooklyn avant-jazz scene, bassist Eivind Opsvik and his long-running all-star Overseas band (Tony Malaby, Kenny Wollesen, Brandon Seabrook and Jacob Sacks) celebrates the release of ecstatic jazz-funk chugger, Overseas V.

Wolf Eyes (Record Release) at Brooklyn Bazaar on Saturday, April 22

Wolf Eyes, the trailblazing noiseniks from Detroit, return in support of their latest trip-metal jam, Undertow.

Byron Westbrook: Interval/Habitat 22 Boerum with Performances from Madeline Hollander and Charity Coleman on Saturday, April 22 at Issue Project Room

Drone artiste and sound designer Byron Westbrook, a disciple of Phill Niblock, has been laying low since 2015’s mind-numbingly excellent Precipice. Here, he returns as he opens up his 2017 Issue residency as he presents Interval/Habitat, described as “a reception environment” with embedded performances from artist Madeline Hollander and writer Charity Coleman.

Westbook opens his residency with “an iteration of Interval/Habitat—a technique for site-specific intervention within a social environment.”

Anna Mikhailova / Rat Bastard Duo on Thursday, April 27, Friday, April 28 and Saturday, April 29

Firebreathing guitarist Rat Bastard, noise King of Miami, Harry Pussy cohort and Laundry Room Squelchers chief, teams with likeminded mayhem-seeker, Anna Mikhailova on a three-night run of NYC dates (venues TBD).