On Thursday, October 7th, I headed to The Bell House in Gowanus to catch a most interesting pairing of bands: Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog with opener The Messthetics. I was especially eager to see Ceramic Dog (Ribot on guitar, Ches Smith on drums, and Shahzad Ismaily on bass / guitar / Moog / percussion) because of their excellent latest album, Hope, released this past June on Northern Spy Records.
Since the onset of the pandemic, I’ve had the good fortune to see Ribot twice. First was the day after Election Day, when votes were still being tallied, and the nation nervously awaited the outcome of the Presidential race. He played a pop up show with singer Fay Victor in a backyard in Brooklyn, with only his guitar providing the instrumentation, and for a blissful hour or so, we escaped political bedlam for a little while and dug into this intimate live performance. Then, a few days later, when Joe Biden was officially declared the winner and new President of the United States, I wandered around my neighborhood and happened upon a jubilant crowd in front of the Barclays Center, where none other than Ribot and his trumpet and a few other local musicians improvised a celebratory soundtrack for people to dance to.
Marc Ribot at The Bell House
Ribot is unafraid to get political in his music and words, so this album Hope reflects a lot of what has transpired recently. And much like his versatility in the way he performs, the music on this album cannot be characterized as any one genre. I have seen both Smith and Ismaily live in other projects, so it was especially wonderful for me to watch these three skillful musicians join together last night. While the show was billed as a release show for Hope, the set drew upon selections from the group’s various recordings (see the last photo for a handwritten setlist). Towards the end of their set, saxophonists James Brandon Lewis and Jay Rodriguez (who also participated in that gathering at Barclays) joined Ceramic Dog for a blistering climax to the hour and 45 minute set. They finished to great applause and left the stage, not returning for an encore, feeling no need to top an already thrilling performance.
Opening the show was another trio known as The Messthetics. Having grown up listening to seminal band Fugazi in my youth but sadly never seeing them live, I was excited to see bassist Joe Lally and drummer Brendan Canty as part of this iteration, joined by the incredible guitarist Anthony Pirog. Like the music of Ceramic Dog, The Messthetics’ music, which is completely instrumental, cannot be characterized neatly. There are elements of jazz, post punk, prog, and experimental throughout their compositions. I loved seeing them live and up close and watching the progression of each song. The aforementioned James Brandon Lewis also joined The Messthetics towards the end of their set on his tenor sax, making for a frenzied finish.
Scroll down for pics of the show (photos by Ellen Qbertplaya)
MARC RIBOT’S CERAMIC DOG