Normal History Vol. 569: The Art Of David Lester

Every week, we’ll be posting a new illustration by David Lester. The Mecca Normal guitarist is visually documenting people, places and events from his band’s 36-year run, with text by vocalist Jean Smith.

They say 20/20 is hindsight. And indeed there is a certain amount of looking back as we prepare for some of the largest and most significant shows we’ve ever done when we open for Bikini Kill next month in Olympia, Seattle and Victoria.

“Frozen Rain” from Sitting On Snaps (Matador, 1995) (download):

Essential New Music: Large Unit Fendika’s “Ethiobraz”

One quality that Paal Nilssen-Love has sustained across decades of work in improvised music is transparency. No matter who he plays with and regardless of the presence or absence of pre-arranged structures, his musical ideas are absolutely clear. This transparency is a foundational virtue of Ethiobraz. 

The Norwegian-born drummer has been visiting Ethiopia for more than a decade and Brazil since 2013, and the influence of both nations’ rich musical heritages is clear in his playing. Those years correspond with Nilssen-Love’s shift from being the drummer to play with if you want to be tested by the best into a bandleader in his own right. He’s devoted considerable time and resources to Large Unit, a big band composed of (mostly) younger Scandinavian jazz musicians, touring it around the world in a time when most ensembles that size are doing pretty well if they can hold down a monthly gig in a single town. 

Recorded live at the Molde Jazz Festival in July 2018, Ethiobraz documents the moment when Nilssen-Love put it all together and brought it all back home. For one night, the Large Unit was augmented by a pair of Brazilian percussionists, Ethiopian traditional song-and-dance troupe Fendika and guitarist Terrie Ex, and transformed into a gloriously unbridled dance party.

The task of getting musicians from three continents and disparate musical traditions to work cohesively is daunting, but Large Unit’s exuberant horns keep their footing atop the tri-continental grooves and make space to clearly hear Ethiopian stringed instruments best suited to intimate cabaret performances. Brief, fiery solos pepper the tunes, turning the heat up by degrees, affirming the Unit’s roots in free jazz. Ex’s guitar playing performs a double function; his deep background in playing Ethiopian music helps keep certain songs on the rails, but his gleefully chaotic solos fuel the wildest moments. Special credit goes to singer Nardos Tesfaye, who soulful delivery transcends the language barrier. 

—Bill Meyer

Joker’s Wild: British Punk Legends The Adicts Gave Us A Glorious Feeling, And We’re Happy Again

OK, millennials, that’s not Joaquin Phoenix or Heath Ledger. That’s Keith “Monkey” Warren, frontman of British punk band the Adicts. Forming 45 years ago, Monkey and his fellow droogs have outlasted almost all the competition. The Adicts end their 2020 U.S. tour tonight at the Garden Grove Amphitheater in Garden Grove, Calif.; MAGNET photographer Wes Orshoski caught their fun-filled horror show at the Gramercy Theatre in NYC.

The Basement Crepes (Breakfast Special): The Wakenbake Café Needs Your Help!

MAGNET’s Mitch Myers keeps the funny side up with a Jerry Garcia photo contest in Marin County                                    

Sad news for hungry Deadheads in Northern California, as the old Wakenbake Café in San Rafael will be closing down next month after 40 years of catering to their longtime hippie clientele and other loyal customers.

Despite well-meaning community efforts that included a citywide petition and GoFundMe campaigns in support of the endangered café, the end is officially in sight. Adding insult to injury, reports indicate the beloved eatery is slated to become a Pinkberry in the fall.

The other news here is that Wakenbake owner/manager Adam Coil will be parting with his unique collection of previously unseen photographs of Jerry Garcia. Apparently, the guitarist had consented to these portraitures over the years in exchange for a lifetime of complimentary breakfast specials. Coil regrets that he never bothered to date his headshots of the Grateful Dead frontman (inspired by a 1973 Rolling Stone cover), but the café owner believes the photos were mostly taken in the years between 1974 and 1992. 

So, the Wakenbake Café is now calling on all Deadheads to please help date these long-forgotten Garcia images before they are put up for auction. Title suggestions are welcome. So let the sunshine daydreams begin!

All photos courtesy of Adam Coil. © Adam Coil