Hymns heard

Wax Tablet
By PORTLAND PHOENIX MUSIC STAFF  |  February 8, 2012

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• Comments from the Super Bowl (well, the printable ones): Is that Regis Philbin? Is that John Stamos? Is that Deion Sanders? Is that Jerry Seinfeld? Is that . . . SPOSE? The Wells rapper's ridiculous WCSH6 Storm Center spot in the third quarter was probably the brightest moment of the second half.

• A full house at Biddeford's Oak and the Ax witnessed the next chapter of the fascinating evolution of Daniel Higgs last week. The evening began with some fine drifters' melodies by Portland group HERBCRAFT, whose sounds compelled at least one audience member to recall early Fairport Convention (and it wasn't even us!). Once the room warmed and we got a little spiced cider-sake in us, Higgs assumed the stage, and we dug in for whatever the mercurial artist would throw our way. Higgs's voice is one of the most incantatory and distinctive instruments in modern music, so it was a little surprising to see him sticking mostly to banjo instrumentals. We were hoping for a rendition of his mindwarper epistle "Christ Among Us," a 13-minute hymnal for voice and harmonium where simple images of transcendental encounters are punctuated with the phrase, "it's Holy Bible time," a mantra he repeats countless times. Higgs's lyrics have always been esoteric and exploratory, but since Lungfish disbanded in 2005, much has changed. His looming, shamanistic presence has softened considerably, and the imagistic content of his words has gotten less quixotic, now approximating something closer to the shape of the god of Judeo-Christian lore. Some context: Higgs doesn't belong to a church, but having spent the last 30 years writing poetry and music, is increasingly invested in its practice as a vessel for his personal spirituality. It appears complicated, and rightly so. Though 47, Higgs's Gandalf-beard, ragged attire, and hunkered, devotional posture make him seem much older still, which in turn makes his performances all the more entrancing. While "Holy Bible Time" was never uttered, the crowd was nonetheless rapt for 80 minutes of banjo improvisation (or "hymnprovisations"), over which he rarely sung. Instead, Higgs asked "the lord to protect (him) from psychotronic mind control technologies" and augured a forthcoming splitting of the species into two separate subspecies — which we gathered to mean something akin to the binary plane of digital and analog. Though he's dead serious about all this, it wasn't as humorless as it sounds. "Grim euphoria . . . you ever feel like that?" he asked the crowd while hammering out a raga. We can't always explain it either, but of course we do.

• Pretty late to the game about BOMBSHELTER, the little DIY punkhut in Brunswick that opened last summer, but we're quite psyched about it now. Between that and the fast-growing 131 WASHINGTON, even the most unlistenable musical projects can afford to tour through Maine. Good news for all. Visit brunswickbombshelter.wordpress.com for more info.

  Topics: New England Music News , Super Bowl, Spose, Spose,  More more >
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