- Courtesy Of Luke Awtry Photography
There's something so exciting about an unexpected collaboration. At their best, those combinations, where two seemingly unrelated entities collide, feel like exercises in joyous chaos. Like Snoop Dogg and Martha Stewart joking about getting high. Ol' Dirty Bastard's verse on Mariah Carey's "Fantasy" still might be the coolest thing to have happened in the entire '90s. (He rhymed "Mariah" with "pacifier," people!)
Even when the collaborations don't work, like the dreaded Metallica and Lou Reed album Lulu, or that whole Hitler and Stalin bromance, it's still fascinating when people remove themselves from their comfort zones. Hell, it's almost more rewarding when they fail. I actually spend time in my day wondering what might have happened if Black Sabbath had hired Michael Bolton after he auditioned in '83. Life can be utterly without reason sometimes, and that's glorious.
So, naturally, I was intrigued when I heard that Brattleboro metal masters Barishi had gone out on tour as the backing band for indie rocker Sasami. The Los Angeles singer-songwriter, formerly of Cherry Glazerr, put out one of 2019's best records with her self-titled debut, a shoegaze-heavy work full of melancholy.
- Courtesy Of Andrew Thomas Huang
In October, Sasami released two new singles, "The Greatest" and "Skin a Rat." Gone were the arctic chill tones and slow-burn songs as a strain of hard rock crept into her songwriting. "Skin a Rat" even features Dirk Verbeuren of Megadeth on the drums.
In the press release for that song, Sasami said, "This song is about how often the greatest, heaviest feelings we have for someone are in the absence of the realization or reciprocation of that love. Like power born out of a black hole. All fantasy."
Sounds, well, metal as fuck. Given that Sasami wrote the new songs on her iPad using GarageBand plug-ins and her Moog Model 15 app, she would need an actual rock band to play the stuff live.
"I met Sasami through my friend Kyle," Graham Brooks, singer and guitarist of Barishi, told me by phone. Kyle would be Kyle Thomas, aka garage rocker King Tuff, who also hails from the Brattleboro scene. "She needed some people to back her up for this cover song she was doing," Brooks continued, "so we went into the studio."
The song in question is a metal reimagining of Daniel Johnston's "Sorry Entertainer" — comedian Patti Harrison shot the accompanying video. Barishi sound massive, providing powerful double-bass drumming and chugging guitars, as well as a searing solo from Brooks.
"The album was getting heavier and heavier," Brooks said of Sasami's new record, Squeeze, which comes out on February 25. "She needed a touring band and reached out."
The band promptly hit the road for three weeks of touring, both for Sasami's headlining shows and to open for indie-rock queen Japanese Breakfast. It'll return to the Sasami tour in March, even doing a European leg as she supports Mitski and HAIM.
For Brooks and his bandmates, touring with Sasami is both an incredible opportunity and a learning experience.
"It stimulates different parts of my brain," Brooks said of playing Sasami's songs, which he described as "Fleetwood Mac one minute, full metal the next."
Brooks has been writing the new Barishi record, as well, calling it "75 percent of the way there." When asked whether playing with Sasami was changing the way he wrote, he wasn't exactly sure.
"Well, it's not like I worried about staying true to a genre or something in the past," he said. "But I do like to think that it's made me more open-minded. I don't want things to be aesthetically homogenized.
"I've come across some bands that get obsessed with their own genre," he added. "It's this thing where a speed-metal band will only play songs that have a certain beats-per-minute rate, or something equally as ridiculous. I know there's something to be said about limitations inspiring creativity, but I don't have any interest in limiting us."
He also feels that the tour has given his band a new, more professional outlook.
"At the end of the day, we're still playing music and having fun," Brooks conceded. "But being in these new circles, it's a little alien to us. We're not that interested in being comfortable, though."
Once the tour with Sasami is over, Brooks said the band plans to hit the studio to record the follow-up to 2020's pummeling opus, Old Smoke. He also hopes that Barishi can hit the stage as themselves in 2022.
Being part of a professional tour with booking agents and labels involved is a far cry from an indie-metal band booking DIY shows and navigating a pandemic-influenced landscape. A show at the Burlington Record Plant in the summer of 2021 was the only outing for the band, and it had to cancel a recent appearance at the Monkey House in Winooski.
"Whenever I barrel down the road to optimism, it usually bites me in the ass," Brooks said with a sardonic laugh. "So I'm crossing my fingers."
In the meantime, you can catch Barishi backing Sasami for a homecoming show at the Stone Church in Brattleboro on Friday, March 4.
Nine Years Dead
- Courtesy Of Am Dew Photos
- Jerry Garcia playing his "Wolf Guitar" in 1978
Nectar's celebrates one of its most popular and enduring music series this week.
On Tuesday, February 1, the Burlington club salutes nine years of Dead Set. In a town that has long been in love with the music of the Grateful Dead, no other tribute to the San Francisco fathers of jam has enjoyed such success and longevity. Every Tuesday night, Nectar's turns back the clock.
Vermont native Zach Nugent started the band, also named Dead Set, and the series when he was 24. Though Nugent has gone on to make his own place in the musical world of the Dead, playing with Phil Lesh, Melvin Seals and the surviving members of the Jerry Garcia Band, he's never forsaken his roots. When live music made its post-lockdown return, Dead Set was among the first shows to come back.
For the special night, Nugent has assembled a loaded roster of some of Burlington's best players, including Josh Weinstein (Kat Wright), Josh Dobbs (Dobbs' Dead), Joe Agnello and Cotter Ellis (Swimmer), as well as other special guests to be announced.
Adding to the sense of ceremony, two very special guitars will be onstage. Jerry Garcia's "Wolf Guitar" and Bob Weir's "No Fun Guitar" are both set to make cameos. Garcia's guitar is easily recognizable as one of his signature axes, showing up in the 1977 concert film The Grateful Dead Movie. Weir's guitar was heavily used by the guitarist in the early '80s; Bob Dylan played it when he toured with the Dead in 1987.
Two separate private collectors loaned the guitars to Nugent. According to Nectar's talent buyer Brian Mital, the performance will be the first time these two guitars have ever shared the same stage. So for Deadheads big on their history, this is not a show to miss.
Wu Year's Eve Makeup
Of all the shows that had to be postponed or canceled on New Year's Eve, none bummed me out more than the one at Zenbarn. When the Waterbury Center club first announced that the Wu-Tang Clan's Inspectah Deck and Cappadonna would appear, I almost did a spit take. It just seemed so incongruous that these rap legends would be popping up in my backyard on New Year's Eve. So when it was called off, part of me felt like, Yeah, of course.
Turns out, my pessimism was unfounded. The show will go on! Zenbarn has rescheduled the event for Friday, February 4. It will also now serve as a celebration of the impending end of cannabis prohibition in Vermont. The club is collaborating with cannabis lifestyle and culture publication Sensi Magazine to stage a night of both legendary and local hip-hop.
In addition to the two members of Wu-Tang, who will be backed by live band Beau Sasser & the Sensi All-Stars, the night features an assortment of some of Vermont's best hip-hop acts. Konflik, DJ Nastee, Charlie Mayne, Heady Betty, Mister Burns and SINNN are just some of the talent slated to hit the stage.
If you love weed and hip-hop, Zenbarn has you covered. And while I hadn't really thought about the smoke situation in Vermont as cannabis prohibition, even though that's exactly what it was, I'm not above celebrating the new weed world. If nothing else, 20 years from now when I see some whippersnapper grabbing a nugget from Walmart, I can shout: "In my day, we had to go to Waterbury and hang out with the Wu-Tang Clan to get high!"
Oh, It's Real
Welcome to my new weekly series, Oh, It's Real, in which I present songs, albums or videos that probably shouldn't exist. And yet, here they are, existing. My goal is to remind us all that chaos reigns and the vast majority of art is weird as hell. Do you know about some music that makes you ask, "Yeah, but why?" Send it my way at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week's installment is brought to you by the Mafia, ill-advised '80s rap and the unerring confidence of Joe Pesci. Behold: "Wise Guy" by Pesci, featuring the hard-as-fuck bars "Paid out my ass / Treat all my broads like trash / You'll catch a blast if you move too fast." Click the link in our online edition or hop over to YouTube. The song is on Spotify, but trust me: You want to watch the video.