Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog and The Bad Plus – Center Stage 06/15/23

Photos and Review by Reese Cann

Concert Review: Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog and The Bad Plus at Center Stage

Billed as a double headliner evening, Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog took the stage first, a band described in at least one source as a noise rock trio.  Elsewhere and at different times: post-fusion rock, aggressive funk, scathing punk…  So it goes with artists who have been around and sidelined with Tom Waits and many others.  The setlist was somewhat a mystery, and even bassist Shahzad Ismaily, pleasantly staffing the merch table afterwards, said “I don’t know the names of the songs” and offered their soon-to-be-released CD Connection with its track listing on the back.  It’s possible all the songs were from that CD.

They began with “Connection,” already released on streaming, which has a Lou Reed/Velvets feel.  As would be true for the remainder of the set, Ribot was seated parallel to the audience, acknowledging the audience rarely with a few comments.  On the one hand, the absence of any stage presence is disappointing, but on another, it’s up to the artist to visually interpret the material, and Ribot was into that.

That’s fine, especially when the audience knows the lyrics or they can be easily heard, which is usually not the case for a rocking ensemble.  One intro was clear.  “This is our manifesto.  We are soldiers in the army of love.  We hold these truths to be self-evident.  You’re soldiers, too.”  The song is, in fact, was another new one, “Soldiers in the Army of Love,” not to be confused with 2018’s “We Are Soldiers in the Army.”  The prior was a part of Songs of Resistance, wholly in line with Ribot’s activist liberalism.  This one… I think was about relationships. Maybe.

The album merits revisiting when it is released, both musically and for the lyrics.  “Babies cannot help you now.”  “Filled the sky with poison.” “The deadly fury of the naked.”  “Spitting doctors of futility.”  These were as I heard them anyway, and I want to know more.  Ribot tosses lyrics off his stand, sings as he feels it, and then dives into his guitar, almost physically, bending over the guitar neck while soloing.  It all kind of fits.

The most approachable song of the evening was “Ecstasy,” with a lyric, “I gotta get some ecstasy, gotta get you next to me.”  While not a classic rock song, per se, it’s straightforward.  Enjoyable.  But more enjoyable through the evening was when Ribot let loose on his guitar, on several occasions reminding me of both 70s and 80s era Robert Fripp.  Good stuff.

He was well supported by Ismaily and drummer Ches Smith.  Smith was the only one of the group to smile – not for the audience – but for the enjoyment of it.  Ismaily played a couple different basses, drums and a minimoog.  The two of them also had the unexpected opportunity – and succeeded – in jamming a bit while Ribot restrung his guitar after breaking a string.  Or two.

It was an enjoyable set, but some past favorites from this group such as “B-Flat Ontology” or “Bertha the Cool” would have been nice inclusions.

The Bad Plus

How one “finds” a song or a band that they favor requires hearing, whether from radio (no longer a real option), shared by a friend or these days, the result of an algorithm.  The Bad Plus was a revelation of sorts, finding “Mint” courtesy of some logic on YouTube years ago.  There’s a number of bright spots in their original compositions and covers (why aren’t there more versions of “Games Without Frontiers?”), but… seeing them live turns out to be the thing that brings it all home.

Live jazz can be served a number of ways, and none of them are wrong.  The lighting definitely leaned towards the blue, appropriately.  And, liike Ribot’s set, there’s a sense that the band isn’t performing for the audience but rather each other.

Drummer David King is the focal point, less about the arms and more watching his whole torso give lean and bend giving all around his kit as he adds shape to the music.  And, if you wonder if he’s feeling the music, just watch his face.  Co-founder Reid Anderson, on the other hand, is relatively stoic tied to a standup bass, but his love is visibly for the instrument, his body traveling up and down while periodically checking in with King and the others.  It’s clear to see that these two love what they do and why they’ve been doing it for over 20 years.

Formerly a trio with piano, the band has reshaped recently with the (re)introduction of sax (Chris Speed) and electric guitar (Ben Monder), more often atmospheric than soloing.  It’s a completely different sonic complexion to explore, and change, like here, can be good.  Live, though, there’s a visual divide.  Monder was rooted at the rear of the stage, facing his bandmates and never sharing a look to the audience, who, eh, really like watching guitarists.  And Speed, despite frequent soloing, appeared reluctant to be at the front of the stage, awkwardly accepting due applause.  Both have long musical pedigrees and are no strangers to performing live, but King and Anderson are obviously the heart of what they do in more ways than one.

The band is soon to record again and played a new song, “French Horns,” featuring a fine Monder solo.  Beginning with an extended bass intro, “Giant” reigned the set with a slow groove with sax and guitar reimagining its piano origins.   And then, the band’s jazzy world turned sideways with “Sick Fire,” featuring a fast-fingered guitar solo and King going crazy on drums, reminiscent perhaps of Lizard era King Crimson.   “The Dandy” was a great way to conclude the show, downbeat only in style.

The band has been described as “one of the most enduring and acclaimed working bands in jazz” by the Jazz Times.  Definitely worth catching live wherever they go.  With over 20 years in the rear view mirror, they’re still going places.

Setlist: Incomplete

Motivations 11 – The Bad Plus

Anthem for the Earnest  – Suspicious Activity?

Stygian Pools – The Bad Plus

Sun Wall – The Bad Plus

Cupcake Convalescence

French Horns – new

Giant – Prog with bass solo intro

Sick Fire – The Bad Plus



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