The instrumental pleasures of the Invisible Rays and the Weisstronauts @ Armory - 12/6 and Midway - 12/7
In that tiny splinter of time that existed between the great first wave of American rock & roll and the British Invasion, there was a place and time for the brief rise of the instrumental group. Outfits like the Ventures and Shadows helped paved the way for the unit-mentality and melodicism of the Beatles, and surf-guitarists like Dick Dale were of course hugely influential on left-coasters from the Beach Boys to Jimi Hendrix. Two of Boston's best instrumental groups have events this week, and despite all the differences in their sound and philosophy, they have more in common than I first would have guessed.
It turns out that both the Weisstronauts' Pete Weiss and the Invisble Rays' Rafi Sofer are both recording engineers/producers in the New England area. A pretty significant point to have in common other than the way they look in reddish lighting based on the pictures included here! Sofer works in Cambridge at Q Division, while Weiss runs Verdant up in Vermont. Could it be that each formed his instrumental band a decade or so ago (the Weisstronauts in '99 and the Invisble Rays in '01) to escape the musical ego machine that is best embodied by the persona of the lead singer? There might be a bit of truth to that.
The Weisstronauts actually started with vocals, as a power-pop/Americana kind of thing, but ended up coming up with some strong early songs that worked best with no vocals. Eventually it it just made sense to work being an instrumental band into a hook.
"The electric guitar is a very, very expressive instrument, says Weiss. "We can feel free to do a funky song, or something with ska overtones, a weirdo space jam kind of thing, or (Nashville-esque) "straw hat numbers."
Due to the nature of their electric guitar heavy line-up, and perhaps due to their retro-sounding name, the Weisstronauts often get mistakenly lumped in with the surf-brand of instrumental music. Weiss himself takes his diverse inspiration from everything from Les Paul & Mary Ford to Air to Frank Zappa.
The 'nauts also do a pretty good job with garage-pop as evidenced by the sharp little clip below.
The Weisstronauts - "Fruity" (live)
Where Weiss and co. evolved into an instrumental outfit based on their collective strengths, the Invisible Rays conceived the band as an instrumental band, explains Sofer. "Ned, the drummer and I had been in a rock band that fizzled out (Segue). We had very elaborate arrangements with multiple vocals and changes, even theatrics. So we wanted to keep things simple. We failed at the simple part!"
Unlike the Weisstronauts, who tackle instrumental music with a guitar-forward approach, the Invisible Rays The mix in synth/keys, audio sampler and a video sampler. Notably, they also have a projectionist who uses liquid slides. "I think we're the only band in town that does that!" says Sofer.
Also, where the Weisstronauts keep the melody more forward as they replace the role of the singer with their guitar lines, the Invisible Rays think of the composition as the theme/melody, explains Sofer. "We keep things changing and moving a lot, We want you to follow the sampler, then the guitar/synth harmony, then it's a bass feedback moment, then the band as a whole is changing directions on a dime. We're always telling a story."
Sofer finds that most musically minded people are receptive to the Instrumental music of the Rays with little explaining that there is no singer. "I don't get too many people who are too confused about the instrumental aspect. People love Explosions in the Sky, Mogwai, and that sort of thing these days." Yet with interests as wide as Genesis, Psychic TV, the Dead Kennedy's and Einsturzende Neubauten, onlookers can expect to hear more than your garden variety post rock. Check out "Be Quiet and Mournful" below for a taste.
The Invisible Rays - "Be Quiet and Mournful" (live)
Boston being a small town aside, it turns out, the leaders of the Weisstronauts and Invisible Rays not only know each other, but they've worked together. Members of the Invisible Rays did a remix of a Weisstronauts' song called "Bentley" (which Weiss calls "dense, monumental, and proto-industrial). In addition, the Invisible Rays have also recently ventured up to Weiss' Verdant Studio in Vermont to cut a slew of tracks.
For the crosstown knights of the microphone-less stage, the admiration is mutual.
The Invisible Rays
Thursday, December 6th
the Somerville Armory
with Choose to Find
14th annual Holiday Jubilee
Friday, December 7th
the Midway Cafe
with Preacher Jack, The Derangers, and Tsunami of Sound
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About the authorJonathan Donaldson is a Boston-based musician, writer, and second-generation music junkie. An Ohio native who moved to Boston in 1998, Jonathan's musical loves include R&B, psych, punk, bubblegum, country, electronic, More »
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