Trans Am at Cactus Club
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Like many of its Thrill Jockey labelmates, Trans Am is often lazily saddled with the “post-rock” tag. The band erases stylistic divisions and cultivates an inspired blend of krautrock, hardcore, jazz, and dance music, and the best we can come up with is “post-rock”? (That’s the bit that comes after rock, right?) Granted, free-floating song structures and experimentalism don’t really lend themselves to concrete descriptors. Butc call it what you will, it works; and the Maryland trio—who played Sunday night as part of the Cactus Club’s 15-year anniversary celebration—is one its most skilled practitioners.
Like many long-running bands these days, Trans Am opted to play one of its albums in its entirety—in this case, 1999’s Futureworld, a near-classic that is by turns churning and shimmering, masterfully splitting the difference between Fugazi and Kraftwerk. It’s an ambitious set to pull off live, given the many effects, textures, and dynamic shifts that enliven the record. The group required some extra personnel to pull it off, including its own soundman, as well as a saxophonist who popped up periodically to steal the show. Not that the main trio was struggling to keep up; Trans Am is as tight and together as its 15 years as a group would suggest, with drummer Sebastian Thomson’s forceful playing keeping everything in line. It would have been nice to hear a few more songs beyond the 10 tracks on the album, but it was an elegantly sequenced set of songs, long enough to feel substantial, but also brief enough to leave the crowd wanting more.
Although surprisingly thin, the crowd that was in attendance was demonstrably receptive and enthusiastic. Still, it’s a bit jarring to walk up expecting a crowded and sweaty night at the Cactus Club and find only elbow room. (Although to be fair, Nobunny was playing across the street at Club Garibaldi, which must have diverted some of the hip-rock-people traffic.) The band’s stage presence may leave something to be desired, but anyone who actually showed up would have found little fault with the sounds emanating from the stage. Hopefully, we won’t have to wait for another anniversary to do it all again.
The opening bands in short: Local wonders Catacombz were unsurprisingly good, and gave the kind of effortlessly heady—and loud—performance that should earn them more bodies at their shows. The one-man Majeure weaved warmly vintage, Euro-disco style synths into an evocative soundtrack, not entirely unlike the one for John Carpenter’s Escape From New York, which he used as a sound check.