Monday, May 6, 2013

Show review: GOAT at Empty Bottle, 5/2

By Gene Wagendorf III   

GOAT | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III

There's an astonishing amount of mystery that surrounds GOAT, a collective of psychedelic voodoo rockers from Korpilombolo, Sweden. The town is said to still bear the curse of the followers of a traveling witch doctor, most of whom were driven out upon being discovered by Christian crusaders. That dark magic, combined with the centuries-long influence of voodoo culture in Korpilombolo, has allegedly shaped the music GOAT plays now. It's trance-like, made up of relentless rhythms embellished with wild bouts of improvisation. Passed down from generation to generation, the music is said to have been performed by various "versions" of GOAT, with only this recent incarnation finally laying down some wax. World Music, the band's aptly-titled debut record, was released by Rocket Recordings to much critical acclaim. There are plenty of questions and ambiguity still surrounding the band and its origins- an impressive accomplishment on its own in a post-Google world. GOAT is currently in the midst of their first American tour, and were in town Thursday for a sold out show at The Empty Bottle.

GOAT | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III
Clad in a hodgepodge of hoods, masks and tunics, three members of GOAT approached the stage in bizarrely unassuming fashion, patiently tuning their instruments as the energy in the crowd began to swell. A softly plucked string or two gave way to a lithe snippet of melody, and then a little more, as the two guitar players and the bassist coyly tested the waters.Within moments a drummer and a conga player emerged, allowing "Diarabi," the lead track from World Music, to take off. Smoky, Middle-Eastern leads danced over crunchy riffing and almost whispered jazz percussion. By the time GOAT's two female vocalists/percussionists had snaked through the crowd to the stage, the party was on. Trying to nail down a genre for GOAT became an instantly comic exercise in futility by song two, when the band leaned into "Golden Dawn." Riding Afro-beat rhythms and humming bass, the guitar players went manic on psych solos and chicken scratch riffs reminiscent of of Jimmy Nolen's sexiest work for James Brown.

Jungle rock, magic disco, gypsy funk, Afro-psych- take your pick- GOAT was all of them and more. Tribal beats came loaded with classic metal guitar assaults, while jangled 60s pop hooks tangled with folk incantations. The group's performance of "Run to Your Mama" was especially impressive for how it managed to make the hypnotic glee of Fela Kuti percussion a natural fit for Black Sabbath-esque gloom riffs. The band jammed through most of World Music, as well as both sides of their forthcoming Sub Pop 7-inch Dream Building, using the live format to show off their incredible creativity and synchronicity. GOAT's perfectly ferocious rhythm section provided a framework for bursts of improvisation; each member taking his or her turn to shine during extended jam sessions. The crowd responded with resounding love- dancing, cheering, whooping, smiling and enthusiastically inviting GOAT back onstage for an encore at set's conclusion.

GOAT | Photo Credit: Gene Wagendorf III
For its part, through limited English, the band repeatedly thanked the crowd for the outpouring. Adorned in sacramental attire, completely hidden under masks and jewelry, little of GOAT's individual members was revealed by set's end. The two singers danced like lysergic priestesses at an underground Bacchanalia, the percussionists raged with uncanny focus and the guitar players rocked while keeping oddly stoic. GOAT only let their veil down briefly, to implore the crowd to buy merchandise from and donate to Austin psychedelic rock act Holy Wave, who opened and, unfortunately, had money stolen from their van during their set. Few of the questions surrounding GOAT were answered, but their legend did grow. The evening felt magical, whether as result of ancient Swedish voodoo or the simple power of amazing music. As genre lines were repeatedly obliterated, the act of listening to a truly global music inspired an overwhelming sense of humanness. Rare is the band that makes that kind of emotional impact, and even rarer is one that sounds like GOAT.

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