Tuesday, December 30, 2008

The Bad Plus: Bringing it home

When: Sunday and Monday, Dec. 28–29, 2008 • Where: DakotaWho: Ethan Iverson, piano; Reid Anderson, bass; Dave King, drums

Continuing a holiday tradition begun eight years ago, The Bad Plus returns to the Dakota for four nights and eight shows. (Ethan Iverson and Reid Anderson are from around here but now live in NYC; Dave King still makes his home near Minneapolis.) We hear the final two late sets. Club owner Lowell Picket introduces the group with “They just play music; genres don’t matter.”

Iverson is all business at the piano, except when he rises from the bench to tell us what the group has just played or is about to play. Anderson is the sensitive, serious poet of the bass. King attacks his drums with sticks and mallets, hands and toys; he’s a blur of action with a big smile at its center.

The sets on both nights are similar, but that doesn’t mean they sound the same. With TBP, it helps to hear their songs played several times, especially their original compositions, so you can get past the surprise and really listen.

The first night begins with Milton Babbit’s “Semi-Simple Variations,” a short piece they played last year and have included on their new CD, For All I Care, to be released stateside in February. It’s one of several 20th-century classical tracks on the new CD, which also features vocals by Wendy Lewis.

Babbit leads into Iverson’s original “Let Our Garden Grow,” then a tune Iverson sets up as “a famous national anthem,” full of fat chords and bashy drums. "Fem" ("Metal"), a piece by Romanian (actually Transylvanian) composer Gyorgi Ligeti. Anderson’s “Beryl Loves to Dance,” a not-yet-recorded tune of wild abandon. Ornette Coleman’s explosive “Song X,” with a long bass intro. King’s composition “My Friend Meditron,” about (says Iverson) an angel who protects shoppers and has a complete collection of Lee Marvin DVDs. A swinging “Have You Met Miss Jones” from a group that seldom swings. Just last week I interviewed Dave King for a MinnPost piece in which I wrote “They don’t swing.” Shows what I know.

Anderson’s “Silence Is the Question,” a long crescendo, rises to fill the room and ends with the distant sound of thunder on the drums. Two encores: the lovely and delicate “Flim” and (unless I’m mistaken) “Big Eater.”

On the second night they mix it up with King’s “Anthem for the Earnest” and Anderson’s “Dirty Blonde.” The encores: “Flim” and Burt Bacharach’s “This Guy’s in Love with You.”

For a group that made its name deconstructing pop and rock covers (“Smells Like Teen Spirit,” “Heart of Glass,” “Knowing Me Knowing You”), the only one they play (in the shows I’m at) is the Bacharach. I generally leave TBP with more questions than answers, and these are this year’s:

—Their not-yet-released CD, For All I Care, is entirely covers. Have they already moved beyond it? (King told me in our interview that their next CD would be all original compositions, zero covers.)
—If their new CD is (as a friend described it) the ultimate prog-rock-pop album, is it also their prog-rock-pop swan song?
—How do they keep up with themselves?
—Some of their own tunes are now anthemic. Is anyone else playing them?

Another fact from the interview: The new album has two bonus tracks that will only be available on the vinyl release and on iTunes: “Blue Velvet” and U2’s “New Year’s Day.” Personally I can’t wait to hear TBP’s take on “Blue Velvet.” I loved the original Bobby Vinton version of that song, hated how David Lynch made it weird and creepy in his film by the same name. Will TBP restore its innocence, make it even creepier, or take it somewhere else entirely? (More questions.)

Interesting reading:
Do the Math, TBP blog and webzine
Wild Blue Yonder, Wendy Lewis's blog about "singing around the globe with The Bad Plus"

Photos by John Whiting.


  1. Are you positive their cover of Blue Velvet is avail on itunes??

  2. Dave King mentioned during our interview that it would be on iTunes and on vinyl. It's on neither. Let me see if I can find out more. If I can, I'll post it here. Thanks for writing.


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