First published: Tuesday, May 30, 2006
NORTH ADAMS, Mass. -- Vernon Reid flailed away at his guitar with almost superhuman zeal on Sunday, coaxing a primordial phalanx of squiggly, otherworldly sounds from its six strings, as he and his three musical cohorts conjured up a dense amalgam of heavy metal and progressive rock.
The occasion was the sixth anniversary of MASS MoCA, the former Sprague Electric factory converted into one of the largest and most relentlessly cutting-edge museums of contemporary art on the East Coast. With their electrifying, futuristic sound, Reid and his New York City-based band Masque fit perfectly into the museum's envelope-pushing plan.
But MASS MoCA's new group exhibition, "Ahistoric Occasion: Artists Making History," which opened on Saturday, also takes a look back at the past, as filtered through modern eyes, and Reid followed suit, rooting his thick, high-octane, high-volume squall deeply in the blues tradition.
He opened the show with "Lightnin,' " an homage to blues great Lightnin' Hopkins, which Reid liberally peppered with guitar quotes from Hopkins. And more than an hour and a half later, he wrapped up the night with another look back -- "Red House," a slow grinding blues from a kindred sonic explorer, Jimi Hendrix.
In between, Reid, keyboardist Leon Gruenbaum, bassist Steve Jenkins and powerhouse drummer Don McKenzie focused squarely on the future, spiking the concert with the thundering squall of "You Say He's Just a Psychic Friend," the stuttering second-line bayou rhythms of "Voodoo Pimp Stroll" and a freewheeling rip through Radiohead's "National Anthem."
As adventurous a player as Reid is, he is also quite capable of crafting a gorgeous, wistful melody, as he proved with "Flatbush and Church," the undulating reggae rhythms dissolving into the deep, spacey echoes of dub during Gruenbaum's melodica solo.
Led by tenor sax man Mars Williams, Chicago ensemble Liquid Soul opened the show with a blast of neo-funk that had the crowd sweating up the dance floor. Expertly mixing together bebop and hip-hop with a 21st-century variation on the horn-fueled funk of the Average White Band, the seven-piece combo featured some amazing beat-box vocals by David Arrendondo and free-styling rap from Mr. Greenweeds.
Focusing on material from their new album, "One-Two Punch," they churned through the anthemic "Attaboy," the Latin-tinged "Boxer's Fracture" and even a funk-filled update of Dizzy Gillespie's bop classic "Salt Peanuts."
The bands joined forces for a 40-minute encore that morphed effortlessly from old-school hip-hop to squealing free jazz to Hendrix's "Red House" -- Reid's only vocal of the night -- proving that sometimes even eclectic sonic explorers like to get down and party. Greg Haymes can be reached 454-5742 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
VERNON REID AND MASQUE with LIQUID SOUL
When: 8 p.m. Sunday
Where: The Hunter Center at MASS MoCA, 87 Marshall St., North Adams, Mass.
The crowd: The nearly sold-out audience spanned several generations Length: Masque, 105 minutes; Liquid Soul, 55 minutes Highlights: Masque's "Flatbush and Church" and "Voodoo Pimp Stroll"; Liquid Soul's "Boxer's Fracture" and the fuzz-out strut of "Kong" Upcoming: MASS MoCA serves up the country-rock sounds of the Deedle Deedle Dees for a family concert at 2 p.m. on June 10