Experimental punk jazz band – yes, you read that right – Massacre are playing The Chapel on Valencia Street this Wednesday, February 6th. If you’ve never considered the more avant-garde corniches of alternative music, this might be the place for you to start.
Massacre has a history that goes back to 1980. With its origins in New York City, the band was formed by three musicians who were keen on improvising and pushing the limits of music as we knew it. Guitarist Fred Frith, bassist Bill Laswell, and drummer Fred Maher spent their first year performing live at various venues, and released Killing Time, their first studio album, in 1981.
And for the longest time, that seemed to be it. Another late-70’s act driven by mad creative fission to leave one brightly-colored smudge-mark on the sky, and in some of the more obscurantist vinyl collections. Following the release of Killing Time, the band went silent for nearly two decades, and resurfaced only in 1998, when Frith and Laswell teamed up with drummer Charles Hayward to reform the group as we know it today. In its new incarnation, the band went on to release four more albums between 1998 and 2013 – interestingly, all but one of them live albums. While Funny Valentine, which came out in 1998, is a studio album (recorded at Laswell’s studio, Orange Music, in West Orange, New Jersey), the three other albums were recorded live by the band. It’s a sign of their commitment to the live experience that should translate to the show this Wednesday.
Meltdown was recorded live at Robert Wyatt’s 2001 Meltdown Festival in the Queen Elizabeth Hall, London, while Lonely Heart was recorded live at Festival Sons d’Hiver in Paris and at the Roskilde Festival in Denmark, both in 2003. The band’s most recent album, Love Me Tender (2013), was also a live recording that was well-received by fans and critics alike. And had nothing to do with Elvis Presley.
While Massacre is undoubtedly a great team of musicians, the artists who make up the band have impressive resumes in their own right. Fred Frith, the band’s founding member, has been active for nearly half a century, a revolutionary electric guitarist who has experimented with various styles of music without compromising on his folk and rock roots with hundreds of published recordings to his credit. Bill Laswell, the band’s bassist, makes music that’s fluid and versatile, with influences drawn from styles as varied as jazz, dub, ambient music, funk, and even hardcore and punk and metal. Drummer Charles Hayward has been a founder member of experimental groups like This Heat and Camberwell Now. He has also worked with English musician Phil Manzanera, international progressive rock band Gong, British post-punk and experimental rock band The Raincoats, and don’t-ever-call-them-legends anarchist punk band Crass.
And where else to play in San Francisco but former mortuary The Chapel? Head down there, enjoy the vaulted ceilings, the 1914-era architecture, the faultless mezzanine; and a concentrated blast of glorious, jagged, uplifting weirdness from another time and another place.
Massacre (Fred Frith, Bill Laswell, Charles Hayward) plays The Chapel // Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2019 // Doors: 9:00 pm / Show: 9:30 pm – BUY TICKETS