This blog has moved to Please make a note, and I look forward to seeing you there.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Purgatory Hill at Palmer's Bar

Last night we at Palmer's Bar in Minneapolis were treated to a visit by the inimitable two-person band Purgatory Hill. Composed of Pat MacDonald and melaniejane, they have one of the most unique sounds in all of American music.

MacDonald is a master at an instrument known as a Lowebow. Created by John Lowe, it consists of a square box with electric controls at one end and two dowels about the size of broomsticks coming out the other. Here is a picture and another one. MacDonald plays the lowebow with plenty of bottom and with a merciless, slashing slide. All the while he kicks out the beat on an electric stomp board, and sometimes plays a lonely and fragile-sounding harmonica on top of it all.

Purgatory Hill's music is boogie with a bad face, in all meanings of the word "bad." It is groovy, scary, and deeper than deep. While MacDonald plays his chunky, hard-bottom funk,  melaniejane ferociously shakes and bangs castenets, tambourines, bells, and other percussion instruments like a woman possessed. Sometimes she crashes the tambourine into the handle of the bells to create a textured and multileveled ringing.

The lyrics are about desperation, obsession, and actual prayers for redemption, to "reset me lord." The strange thing is this music does not sound as if it comes from a theistic universe. It is the music of wanting a lord in the face of psychological devastation and severe desperation.

I left Palmer's Bar at 2 a.m. feeling good. The music is danceable, and ended up being cathartic. MacDonald's music, with all of it's darkness, wrung all my troubles out of me. He brought me into a dark, dark place filled with anger and obsession, only to then leave me free for a time.

No comments:

Post a Comment