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LIVE REPORT: Bardo Pond at The 100 Club
Lucy O'Brien , June 7th, 2018 16:48

Last night the psych Philadelphia space-rockers pounded the 100 Club into submission. They rule

Photo by Lisa Jane Persky

Bardo Pond have slowly and steadily been ploughing their psychedelic furrow since 1991 to become figureheads of the movement. Tonight they quietly get onstage, organise their boxes of effects (of which there are many), and launch into a piledriving swamp thing. Vocalist Isobel Sollenberger is at first a slight, ethereal presence - she sings plaintive vocals as John and Michael Gibbons set up giant filtered and delayed and fuzzed guitar loops, and at times she struggles to be heard. She’s the yin to their yang but those guitars, combined with Clint Takeda’s industrious bass and the pounding of drummer Scott Verrrastro (who’s standing in for Jason Kourkounis on this tour), provide a formidable opposition.

But Sollenberger has cool black boots, a bag with a mobile phone set on timer, crib sheets on the floor, and she’s in charge. As the band move into ‘Kali Yuga Blues’ she holds the stage, the silvery sweet melody of her flute finding its own slipstream in the dense noise. Inspired by Rilke and beat poet Gary Snyder, her lyrics are spare and elliptical, deliberately hard to catch but uttered with an ecstatic intensity. Much of Bardo Pond’s current album, Under The Pines, has this sense of a sacred space carved out, and apart from the bass shredding distortion of ‘Tommy Gun’, the rest of the gig is focused on their most recent work.

Tunes disappear down rabbit holes of distortion and delay, while Sollenberger floats like Nico over the drones. That is, until ‘Moment To Moment’, where she wields her flute and shouts to the impervious Verrastro, his eyes closed, lost in a bludgeoning tattoo. By the time they play ‘Effigy’ there is no longer that tension between masculine and feminine energy. Bardo Pond is now a warm bath of drowsy space rock, long and drawn out and slurred.

Their final song, ‘Under The Pines’, starts slowly and drags. Just when we are about to lose interest, the band speed up and rescue it, pulling their sound into a blistering freak-out. As Verrastro pulverises through the last rhythmic notes, Sollenberger is already packing away her flute. It’s that mixture of calm composure and psychedelic mayhem that make this band such a towering force onstage. Their albums are good, but live they are even better. Go see them before they return home.