Words & Images by: Mitch Manzella
Reed Mathis And Electric Beethoven :: 10.23.16 :: Ardmore Music Hall :: Ardmore, PA
Watch full show video of the concert and view Mitch’s photo gallery below his review.
On Sunday night Reed Mathis and Electric Beethoven and openers WOLF! performed at the Ardmore Music Hall in Ardmore, Pennsylvania. Headliners Electric Beethoven were joined by special guest keyboardist Aron Magner of the Disco Biscuits for much of the show staged just outside Philadelphia.
WOLF! is somewhat of a Northeast Corridor secret, mostly because the members are in such high demand in other bands. Guitarist Scott Metzger of Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, bassist Jon Shaw, who just wrapped a tour supporting Bob Weir, and drummer Taylor Floreth punch out a lot of sound for a trio. WOLF! presents a distinct style, and an interesting range, moving from genre to genre effortlessly. From a song that sounds as if it should be scored to the movie Desperado, “Hidalgo Cafe,” to something blending rockabilly and jazz, followed by something else that is all blues, every song, fast or slow, is just as danceable as the next.
The main event was one long set of music led by bassist Reed Mathis and the other members of his new project, drummer Jay Lane, keyboardist Todd Stoops and guitarist Clay Welch. Electric Beethoven is an experiment in self-expression, leaving most in the room uncertain of what to expect.
Their recently issued debut album features Mathis’ arrangements of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3 and Symphony No. 6. Beethoven’s Third Symphony is an almost unanimously acclaimed piece of music that was composed during the period of his life when Ludwig von Beethoven was losing his hearing. What was played live on Sunday evening was a selection from each symphony. At times the music felt like New Orleans funk, but this was not free jazz. Instead the band stuck to the overall form of Beethoven’s work, while giving themselves full freedom to explore the tones and rhythms that they were collectively creating.
What came out on stage was in many ways an autobiography of Reed Mathis and his love of not only this music, but all the genres of music that he sees born from Beethoven’s works. For Mathis, Beethoven’s music is not meant for the museum. Beethoven was an improviser, someone who booked his own shows, played music with his friends, and never had the benefit of a patron to pay for everything for him. He was a self-made man, in many ways the harbinger of the touring musician, always on the hustle.
Reed’s journey with these symphonies in a way reflects on his own life story of growing up in a household of music scholars, where classical music was simply called “music.” The interpretation of these pieces express Mathis’ own coming of age, of listening to the jazz, funk and soul music of the 1970s and the dawn of electronic music and somehow fusing elements of all of this into the subject of Electric Beethoven. Familiar themes let you know that you were listening to a work of Beethoven, but the improvisation soon took the music in many different tangential directions.
At times Electric Beethoven sounded like Led Zeppelin, and just when you thought you could put your finger on a theme, the movement would change, shifting to something more akin to zydeco than rock ‘n’ roll. Aron Magner brought a sound that might be described as a metal harpsichord, creating a synthesizer symphony of sounds imitating tubas, trumpets, cello and other instruments. Themes stylistically transitioned to incorporate sounds of calypso, rockabilly funk, gospel, stitching the origins of all music back into one sequence. Perfectly aligned, this band is taking you on a journey that is really nothing like Beethoven, at least not how you’ve ever heard him before.
Make no mistake, this is an “Electronic Dance Music” arrangement of the Third and Sixth Symphonies for electric instruments, with a heavy dose of improvisation. Amazing that music from 1804 can sound new and fresh thru the interpretation of modern instruments. This is Beethoven that you can dance to, that you should dance to.
Video Captured by Chris Cafiero
Electric Beethoven’s concert at The Cutting Room in New York City tonight has been canceled. The band will perform an extended concert in NYC tomorrow, Wednesday, October 26 at DROM.
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