Photos By Eric Francis/Planet Waves
The September 28, 2013 performance by the Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger at the BSP Lounge in Kingston, NY emphasized a band developing a new and original musical identity, as well as embarking a journey of discovery and experimentation. The acoustic duo of Charlotte Kemp Muhl and Sean Lennon have expanded their horizons and their acoustic sensibilities with additional band members, as well as an electric jolt. The GOASTT, now in addition to founding members Lennon and Muhl, also feature drummer Tim Kuhl, Jared Samuel on keyboards, and Robbie Mangano on guitars, all hailing from Brooklyn band ‘Invisible Familiars‘. This expanded addition of GOASTT is a conglomerate of influences, containing the same melodic hallmarks and lyrical content of previous acoustic excursions, but now neatly tied up in a thick psychedelic package of soundscapes. When I asked Lennon about the shift in musical direction for the band, his reply was simple and straightforward, ‘We have always wanted to rock’, his smiling partner Muhl agreed.
After enjoyable sets by Parakeet and Brother JT, the anxious crowd awaited the appearance of GOASTT. The sold out concert was truncated at slightly over an hour but in this case quality outweighed quantity. Lennon explained that the group had only ‘been together two weeks’ and had just been building a set for their recent tour with the Flaming Lips. The songs they played on this evening were the tunes they had practiced for the road. Lennon explained that of the nine songs played during the evening’s performance, five were new and could be expected on the as of yet untitled LP due out within months. The other four tracks included two familiar originals and two expertly chosen cover songs.
The concert opened kinetically with the unfamiliar but still exciting pulse of new music. I must admit that for the first couple of songs I was disoriented and overwhelmed by the sound originating from the stage. I was immediately taken in by the succulent and psychedelic sounds permeating the venue, and the flavor of a debut, ‘Too Deep’. Lennon on Fender Jaguar guitar bounced dramatically under the cherry stage lights, his prowess sneaky, adding essential stringed elements to the musical tincture being stirred by the group. The extremely talented Muhl plays heroic bass in this line up, also switching to organ for certain tracks. Keyboardist Samuel shined throughout the evening, at some points sounding like a Mellotron, at other times carnival keys. It was obvious to me throughout the first couple of tunes that the band meant business, and like a heavy thick blanket placed their music over the lap of the crowd, enveloping all of us in textured melodies.
The third tune of the night was an obscure and well chosen cover of ‘Golden Earrings’ by the late 1960’s group Gandalf and hailing from their lone LP. This track represented the band’s sound well, spotlighting a developed prog-like peak. Lennon and Mangano thrashed at their guitar strings, while the amusement park keyboard of Samuel shifted the ground beneath the song. The bottom end slotted together perfectly in the groove with Kuhl and Muhl holding things together.
Following the detonation of ‘Golden Earrings’, a pair of new originals appeared. The first song flashed deliberately like a rainy night traffic light. Lennon and Mangano meshed gears with dual phased guitar lines that danced over the ethereal instrumental backing. Lennon’s vocals perfect as floating smoke, levitating into the night sky outside of the club. The second of the new originals was in my opinion one of the strongest songs of the night and the greatest recipient of the recent band line up. Peeking at the setlist, this tune is called ‘Gold on Green’. The song churned like a wheel through deep blue water, Lennon and Muhl sharing enlightened vocals over futuristic backing from the band. The combination of Lennon’s obvious gifts for melody with a harder edged sound in this new context are a killer combination.
The first track to be played off of the 2010 LP Acoustic Sessions, ‘Jardin du Luxembourg’, was performed for what Lennon called ‘our hardcore fans’. The tun had changed from its previous incarnations into a sludgy and punchy stomp contrasted by cloudy slide guitar. The dual vocals blending into one voice only to diverge on different paths for brief moments in an absolutely thunderous version with punctuated guitar lines and a start stop rhythms. The potent combination of melody and power is what drives the best rock music and this performance contained both in mysterious ways.
The final song of the set was appropriately the delicate ‘Last Call’, featured in a new incarnation. Shifting from its buoyant gentle introduction into a sensational and wah wah drenched finale, the song contained all of the things that made this concert so wonderful. Vocal melodies of embracing lovers, attentive musicianship and diverse songwriting all combined to make a transcendent reading of the lovely song, prodding it through many changes and concluding in a colorful wash of feedback. Lennon again showed of his underrated guitar abilities with a warm candle wax display of melodic ideas that eventually climaxed into the conclusion of the show.
The band returned after a few minutes for a much welcomed encore that featured the second ace choice of a cover song for the evening. A deadly serious version of Syd Barrett’s ‘Long Gone’ transfigured from its folk beginnings into a darker electric context. Lennon’s drawn out and dry vocals rang out all of the emotion concealed in Barrett’s original version. The GOASTT navigated their way through a heavy orchestrated facsimile of the original, that after the verse descended down the rabbit hole. A suspenseful concluding jam filled with colliding guitars brought the show to a satisfying and proper conclusion.
The Ghost of a Saber Tooth Tiger performance exceeded all of my personal expectations and delivered in many unexpected ways. The diversity of the group as well as the chemistry of Charlotte Kemp Muhl and Sean Lennon make the band something greater and different from its parts or musical pedigree. Lennon and Muhl’s need to let their music breath and develop freely it a true testament to their abilities as artists. Their personal non-musical relationship strengthens the bond created in the group, and lends a unique ability to create in a different way. Similar to his father, Lennon has found a special female collaborator to share his artistic ideas with and who equals his talent. Lennon told me that there is no date for the upcoming record as of yet, but Charlotte Kemp Muhl did reveal that the record is being mixed by musical veteran David Fridmann (Mercury Rev, Flaming Lips) with much of the work being done at his Tar Box Road Studios in Fredonia, NY.
So we will wait in anticipation for this new music to be revealed and if the BSP Lounge concert was any indication, the record is going to be special. The GOASTT provides a pallet in which many varieties can be sampled. Acoustic, electric, psychedelic, harmonies, songwriting, guitar solos, if you are looking for it in rock music, the GOASTT can provide it for you. They are one of the most talented and unique bands to enjoy in this era of cookie cutter musical displays. Catch them if you can, and keep an ear to the ground for their new sounds.