with Underwater

MJQ Concourse, Atlanta, GA • January 7, 1999

Fascia is like somehow floating in a wire cage built of crystalline rhythm on the surface of a warm saline ocean of indescribable emotion. The beats keep you from sinking, paralyzed from pleasure, into the depths of the nameless feeling the atmospherics create. Buried in the mix are barely recognizable loops and sequenced sounds that rarely occur in nature but often in dreams. Close your eyes and you can almost feel the sound on your skin like audible lotion, filling the space around you like a scent. Open your eyes and you see the brilliant, enigmatic film-loops projected on and behind the two-piece band onto the huge screen: repeated sampling of a woman bathing, her bottom half illuminating the screen and the band in silvertone negative, an image of warm comfort, sex, and womb-like happiness… industrial wastelands lovingly filmed, rusted bridges shown in the motion of their shapes, the camera following the lines of metal poetry…image after image corresponding to the wordlessness of the sound. Fascia uses images like some bands use lyrics, but what Fascia says is infinitely more profound than most.

A live drummer welds live guitar-triggered synth textures to loops and sounds with rhythms that are jungle-inspired and jazz-related. He keeps up a fierce, barely human pace to the intricate patterns of beats, creating an organized cacophony of liquid beauty. All this in the perfect setting of MJQ Concourse, a futuristic swank salon, all subdued neon and soft, geometric shapes.

Mention “ambient” and most people think lack of emotion, a simple tint, and atmospherics, like audible wallpaper. This form of music has been well developed and can often become the eggheaded conceptual drivel of self-important bedroom producers. Good for cleaning the house or sleeping. But Fascia somehow blends atmospherics, funk, melody, anti-funk, anti-melody, and emotion together seamlessly. It’s visceral, real, emotional music and not just some intellectual construct. The projected images combine with the music much more directly than most image-sound experimentalists (such as Coldcut and Hexstatic) because they are based more on emotion than intellect.

The audience was incredibly diverse, with pierced art students gaping, horn-rimmed scenesters pouting, rave kids dancing, and clueless jackasses yelling. There was much chin-stroking going on at the visuals, but I think the few dancers had the right idea. Fascia is one of those forms of live, performed “art music” that can make you shake your ass, think and feel simultaneously or separately. Pure heaven.

Underwater, another local group fronted by a supermodel-thin siren with powerful vocals and memorable, morose melodies, followed to a packed house. Her voice is really incredible — imagine if Madonna could actually sing well, and with passion — but the lyrics were buried beneath unnecessarily thick effects. She was great onstage, and the four-piece band had some interesting arrangements and some slightly unique sounds, but the whole thing ended up sounding like an exceptionally depressed Tracy Thorne singing from the next room to Depeche Mode keyboard pop with updated drum and bass rhythms, which went out of date two years ago. The band visually stank of style, seemingly as interested in how they looked as in how they sounded.

Underwater did, however, take their more-than-accessible-sound into fashionably experimental territory, with one song morphing from soft keyboard textures into guitar feedback and sublimely oscillating noise. A cover of the Pixies’ “Where is My Mind,” however, stripped the original of its brilliant wit and turned it into whiny teenage poetry moaned pitifully atop muddy, churning chords. At least they tried. Underwater were enjoyable if not transcending, and if their sound gets clearer, they should have a video on 120 Minutes by the end of the year.

Fascia and Underwater were a good pairing, but Fascia should have headlined. I say that not as a snotty art fag, but as a true music lover. Instrumental music can sometimes speak more directly and eloquently, and Fascia have lovely, unspeakable truths to tell.

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