Gary Lucas's Gods and Monsters at Tonic on Tuesday night (2/7/2006) blended atmospheric, sweeping noise, twangy, meticulous noodling, and lush, art-rock skronk. G&M, who since 1989 have maintained a stable core trio of guitar virtuoso Lucas, bassist Ernie Brooks (Modern Lovers), and drummer Billy Ficca (Television), opened the night sans Brooks. Instead, Lucas and Ficca took the stage with guitarist Alan Licht, and several minutes of guitar-tuning/sonic assault ensued. Lucas's wall of layered acoustic guitar acted as a powerful centerpiece, to the degree that Licht's minimalist offerings were decorative, relegated to the occasional "plink" -- colored by furious peddle-dabbling -- eked out between Lucas's strumming. The result was not frameless chaos; the three eventually settled into a groove for a driving and dynamic blues.
The chemistry onstage was palpable, and eventually -- at a nod from Lucas -- Brooks took the stage. The well-seasoned trio of Lucas, Brooks, and Ficca, plus Licht on point, quickly wrangled the pieces into a solid, unified sound. The walking basslines mingled with subtle yet inventive drums, providing a strong foundation for Lucas's tangents. For all that stability, the sound was always new, always progressing.
But with the later addition of saxophonist Jason Candler and vocalist Fay Victor (both of whom were nearly inaudible), the lines of communication broke down. What had begun as ambling but pointed exploration became messier, less comprehensible, such that only through the poise and control of Lucas was the structure rediscovered. Such moments of raw singularity were almost epic in their richness, depth, and lucidity. Lucas was often the dominant frontman, and though he hinted at taking a backseat throughout the night -- even humbly letting Licht open a song -- he was obviously still driving.
Ultimately, I preferred the more focused music of the trio and quartet lineups to the sextet's drifting soundscapes, however invigorating when punctuated by exciting, explosive moments of unity. - Danny Bellet
Mr. Bellet lives in Brooklyn with two feline members of the cast of Homicide: Life on the Street.