Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review: The Hsu-nami at the Passport to Taiwan Festival, Union Square, NYC 5/24/09

At times it seemed as if the Hsu-Nami were deliberately trying to injure themselves, ripping through a brief, barely forty-minute but physically exhausting set of artsy, spectacularly intelligent, virtuosic heavy metal instrumentals blending blinding blues, ornate Iron Maiden inflections and traditional Chinese melodies played by the band’s sensational frontman Jack Hsu on an amplified erhu (the traditional Chinese violin). Hsu didn’t let the the hundred-degree heat and crushing humidity phase him, flailing and throwing himself across the terrace at the park’s southwest corner as if possessed by demons. He didn’t even take off his vest. Hsu frequently transposes lead guitar voicings to his instrument, showing off a dizzyingly virtuosic command of an army of stylistic devices: slides, bent notes, lightning-fast 32nd-note clusters, blues runs, classical motifs and of course his signature permutations of the traditional Chinese scale. Guitarist Brent Bergholm’s pedalboard wasn’t working, so he went straight through his amp with tons of natural distortion. Tony Aichele, on the other side of what would have been the stage if there’d been one there, added a similarly ferocious blend of lead guitar precision and recklessness. Too bad the keyboardist was so low in the mix – but sometimes that’s what you get at an outdoor show. At the very least the band drowned out the nasty alarms undoubtedly blasting in the distance every time an M9 bus would open its doors, a couple of blocks away; at best, even taking into account the makeshift acoustics on what was by far the nastiest day of the year, this was one of 2009’s best NYC shows so far.

They opened with an especially aggressive version of Snake Skin Shuffle, featuring a ferocious bluesy solo by Bergholm. The next song segued from a predictably amusing, sarcastically metalized version of the Godfather Theme, Hsu mocking the melody against stately piano, then morphing into what sounded like Iron Maiden playing a dramatic Chinese opera theme lit up by a twin solo by the two guitarists. The title track from their new cd 4 Noble Truths began slow, deliberate, and soulful, building to a galloping stomp with Aichele and Hsu playfully doubling each others’ lightning-fast lines, then an interlude with keys that wouldn’t have been out of place on an early Genesis record. The most intense song of the show was the intially eerie, ominous Entering the Mandala, Hsu blasting through two twin solos –  one with each guitarist – as the suite reached whirlwind proportions. While what this band plays, for lack of a better word, is metal, they stay away from cliches, on this one finally giving into temptation and ending it with a deliciously flailing, crashing outro that could have gone on for twice as long as it did and the crowd would have loved it just as much. They closed the set with a new song, the strikingly pretty, pastoral triptych Passport to Taiwan, dedicating it to the festival where they’ve played for three years straight now, Bergholm adding some artful southern rock touches that actually managed to work. If you miss the days of aggressive, loud bands that don’t have the slightest resemblance to Pearl Jam or Nickelback, you ought to check these guys out. The Hsu-Nami are like Chinese hot sauce – no matter how intense it gets, you still keep wanting more and more.

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May 26, 2009 Posted by | Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments