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The Messthetics, Helen Money, Transformer Lootbag

  • High Noon Saloon 701 East Washington Avenue Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)

Two massive and moving instrumental acts pair up on this bill. Info/tix

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Washington, D.C. trio The Messthetics opened up a fresh and invigorating vein of instrumental rock with a self-titled debut album in 2018. Drummer Brendan Canty and bassist Joe Lally are best known for their work in Fugazi, but that doesn't overshadow the distinctiveness of what they're creating in this new collaboration with guitarist Anthony Pirog. Lally and Canty's tense chemistry can work in all manner of contexts, and Pirog has a long history of slipping between jazz, rock, and abstract experimentation, as captured on his 2014 solo album Palo Colorado Dream. All the implied possibilities are in play in The Messthetics: "Serpent Tongue" and "Quantum Path" push blistering riffs against Canty's rumbling drums, an approach that escalates to virtuosic, rhythmically chopped-up extremes on "Crowds And Power." The music is just as powerful when the trio pulls back, winding through the gentle gloom of "The Inner Ocean" and performing a radiant cover of Sonny Sharrock’s "Once Upon A Time." As you'd expect from a gifted avant-garde improviser and the rhythm section of a legendarily road-hardened punk band, The Messthetics feel fiercely present in live sets.

Touring as a support act here is Helen Money, a solo project in which Chicago-based cellist Alison Chesley combines her love of heavy music with her classical training. Chesley (who also founded the indie-rock band Verbow and has collaborated with artists including Bob Mould and Russian Circles) uses loops and rugged distortion to arrange her cello lines into multi-layered compositions, but pretty much always keeps a charging rhythm or a weeping melody front-and-center. Everything Helen Money has put out works on that visceral level while resourcefully expanding the range of an already sonically vast instrument, starting with the project's 2007 self-titled debut. Chesley has a knack for tackling unlikely covers alongside her original compositions—Neil Young's "Birds," Minutemen's "Political Song For Michael Jackson To Sing"—and has incorporated other elements into the mix over time, including drums from Neurosis' Jason Roeder. But the fourth and latest Helen Money release, 2016's Become Zero, is Chesley's most emotionally affecting yet, consisting of eight cavernous pieces that meditate on grief and hope. Transformer Lootbag, a brilliantly spazzy math-rock trio from Madison, opens up the show. —Scott Gordon