Live review

Dan Weiss’s Starebaby at the Vortex

Dan Weiss at the Vortex
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2019. All Rights Reserved

Dan Weiss’s Starebaby

(Vortex, 2 May 2019; review and drawing by Geoff Winston)

Drummer Dan Weiss’s project, Starebaby, with his top-drawer collaborators, Craig Taborn (keyboards), Ben Monder (guitar), Trevor Dunn (bass) and Matt Mitchell (keyboards), has been around five years in gestation, and delivered a seriously intense, hard-hitting and energetically enjoyable performance at the Vortex.


Crossing the boundaries of jazz, heavy metal, grindcore, prog and electronica, Weiss’s compositions had a natural flow to them, an intuitive edge to which all the group’s metal-loving performers gave full commitment to tease out all the potential nuances in the architecture of Weiss’s tightly synchronised writing and in their improvisational interludes. Metal was their first point of communion, surprisingly – who’d have thought! 

Starebaby’s eponymous (brilliantly produced and three-sided on vinyl) album formed the basis of the repertoire with the 15-minutes of Episode 8 serving notice for the complex hyper-intensity of what was to follow. Depredation and Annica rubbed shoulders with new pieces to which titles had not yet been ascribed, and what had been pencilled in as a 75-minute set grew, I am reliably told, by another half hour. 

There was something of Yes meets Napalm Death meets a super-charged Elvin Jones on a sci-fi plateau in their atmospheric road trip. Monder summoned up the sense of the supernatural and the infinitude of the cosmos in his wry distortions, not far removed from his peregrinations on Blackstar, while Weiss’s complex percussive drive and Dunn’s state-of-the-art bass riffing ensured that there was no let up in volume and intensity – until the precise moments when the scores called for a dropping off from the power play, with Weiss employing the soft touches of mallets as keyboards drifted in to the indeterminate zone. 

Mitchell, wearing a Napalm Death sweatshirt, swapped keyboards with Taborn in an amusing changeover in the tight stage area, both just managing not to drop scores, or knock music stands and chairs flying – the outcome was a beautifully crafted piano solo from Taborn, a complete contrast to the electronic roars he’d earlier released. 

Unforgiving, but treacherously human, this was a most impressive offering, one for the left field of the Vortex community, drawing in a broad audience (including Antonio Sánchez, Weiss mentioned), and inviting comparison with the power trio, The Thing – that would make a great double bill! 

Categories: Live review

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