Live review

Spanish Fly at Owl Music Parlor, Brooklyn

Spanish Fly
(Owl Music Parlor, Brooklyn, 14 July 2019. Review by Dan Bergsagel)
I hold these truths to be self-evident:

Spanish Fly (Photo: Michael Macroce)

Spanish Fly are 30 years old.
Spanish Fly were beyond genre before beyond genre was beyond genre.
Spanish Fly are making 30-year-old Dad jokes and ‘in’ jokes on the Owl Music Parlor stage in front of a Sunday evening crowd who seem largely to have been intimately involved in their 30 years of collective musical stories.

Spanish Fly is a green beetle that produces toxic aphrodisiac compounds.
Spanish Fly are an ear-catching trio of trumpet, tuba and guitar thrown together in something of an inspired, knowingly-comedic, pile.

Marcus Rojas’ tuba walks and bubbles; circulating, spluttering, or exploding in flatulent brass; on occasion mounting a surprise attack, bole aimed down squarely over towards the crowd like a mortar.

Steven Bernstein is equipped with an array of small arms (valve trumpet, flugelhorn, slide trumpet) and an appropriately large set of mute ammunition. On the slide trumpet in particular he is deft and on point, combining the flexibility of a slide with the controlled sound of the smaller horn (is it even a slide trumpet, or is Bernstein just a very large man holding a trombone quite far away?).

David Tronzo is a counterpoint to both – producing clean and unexpected passages which were tantalisingly close to conventional, but slide off somewhere new. Together with the fluid trumpet tuning, the two melody makers form a unique front.

Spanish Fly have not played together for four and a half years, but they can happily groove and paint as if they jam every week. Although since their last gig there has been some new music – Bernstein presenting a new composition that sounds like a tripped-out take of Shorter’s Footprints. As a trio they are engaging, but accompanied by a poet they fall back into a role more supportive of wild-card Hal Willner, the bumbling performance archivist of beat poetry (and producer of their 1994 Knitting Factory release). In between off-colour jokes and historic nuggets Willner dispenses high-intensity Lenny Bruce, Ginsburg and Burroughs works set to a backdrop of Americana, old time, and foreboding long brass chords.

At heart, Spanish Fly are excited and self-indulgent pals, mixing grooves and melodies with mutterings and ejaculations of ‘Facebook friends’ and generally enjoying themselves greatly. But self-indulgent is fine if everyone is there precisely to see you do just that, and you are also brilliant.

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