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Live Report: Secret Chiefs 3 At Saint Vitus

This past weekend, famed ex-Mr. Bungle guitarist Trey Spruance brought his ever-cycling, perpetually fantastic avant-garde group Secret Chiefs 3 to the dark corridor of St. Vitus. The ensemble, which defines adaptability, typically shifts through layers of surf rock, Persian, Arab, Indian, death metal, prog and wild funk, but there is always more. What is possible and what can be achieved are two main notions the band plays with. The third is joy. Nowhere will you find the intersection of aggressive insanity and spiritual pilgrimage so invitingly peaceful (and booty shaking). The stars sparkled like misty diamond dreams on this night.

Opening the bill with variance and charm was NYC-based experimental trio You Bred Raptors?. The progressive and theatrical group honed its skills for years in the city’s underworld universe, busking in the subway tunnels (you’ve probably seen them shredding Union Square). There’s a nostalgic, vaudevillian quality to the band’s propulsion. Different masks are donned for each song, and along with a very strong current of classical composition, you can point to Primus, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Harry Houdini as inspirations. Bassist Peter Rains is a unique force. As the messenger of the group, his humor is twofold: ironic and finicky as the band moves from song to song. The trio got particularly heavy this time, paying homage to their celestial surroundings.

Appearing on stage in their classic monkish garb and positioning like religious scholars, Secret Chiefs 3 posited a theological examination on the finer points of musical taste. A beacon of talent, Spruance always surrounds himself with the most acrobatic of musicians, and for this tour the crew was especially adept.

Jason Schimmel, otherwise guitarist for Atomic Ape and John Zorn’s band, performed like some high priest warlock, accentuating and leading a whirlwind. Joe Lester (Intronaut) was his typically awesome self. Though this was his first tour with the band, Schimmel’s thick, varying and “jazzed to the infinite” style shuffled through the songs like a seasoned Secret Chiefs 3 pro. Handling keyboards and guitars was computer programmer and Renaissance man Matt Lebofsky, whose soaring and layered instrumentation was integral to the band’s elastic playing. Peijman Kouretchian (Girth) was a sight to behold, playing the drums like a dream of fluidity. He’s like John Bonham and Phil Collins, an individual whose pocket is so unbelievably tight; every after-beat is simply a breath of air, and a tug of muscle.

Spruance hopped around like a mad djinn, switching instruments at rapid speeds and creating worlds with his infinite appreciation for the beauty of combination and separation. Secret Chiefs 3 shifts through its collective desires and displays an original, ever-challenging completion. That is, the Chiefs are never satisfied with stagnation, never confident in the easy solution. There is more they can reach, they say, more to believe in, more to search for. The crowd could feel the séance’s effect immediately. A breathless and eternally funky snake-spirit slithered its way around the dark club, introducing a warmth and generosity everyone yearned for. That’s what great art does, it lifts and sustains, and Secret Chiefs 3 are true artists, a mesmerizing collective led by an unparalleled visionary.

— Christopher Harrington

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