‘Make me one with everything’

I recently flew to America to see a Stolen Babies gig … (and I love the fact that anyone reading this blog, unlike all my non-drumming-conscious friends, will instantly understand why. For those who don’t know, Gil Sharone is their drummer and I’ve never heard him live.) I also thought I should confirm that I am still writing and will post more stuff here eventually.

I’d been on a mission to see Stolen Babies for a while and I’d also been wanting an overseas trip. The cool and funky Bottom of the Hill bar in San Francisco seemed like an absolute dream venue to see a band that had been selling out large shows across the country.

So you can imagine how high my expectations were, but I was still utterly, completely, totally blown away. None of the recordings or videos do Gil justice. I could hear in them subtle evidence of his drumming superiority, but when he plays live it just hits you in the face. From the second he started he took command. His drums sound brilliant; the snare reminded me of Jeff Martin’s earlier this year (also DW), strong and rich but perfectly balanced with the other instruments. These songs were made to be played live. Dominique is amazing and Rani’s a beast on bass - can’t get much tighter when the bass player and the drummer are twin brothers.

Gil really plays drums. It isn’t work, it isn’t sport, it’s play. The way seals play … rolling and swooping and pulling the kind of stunts that make other animals give up in despair, just because it’s fun. Because they are full of this riotous animal energy, and it would be boring not to. Stolen Babies’ music suits his chameleonic style … sophisticatedly theatrical and often quite elaborate, it constantly shifts between different types of playing and different characters. Which means the performance was like hearing all my favourite aspects of all my fave drummers, all in the same place. One minute Pridgen’s fluid energy, the next Danny Carey’s intertwined constructions, then a crisp Freese-esque millitary beat … punctuated with the odd shit-crazy fill at breakneck speed that seemd to have one hand passing right through the other. And he makes it look so effortless. It looks so natural, I almost feel it’s more an effort for him to stop than it is for him to play.

But the thing that really sets him apart is his sense of rhythm. I wrote in an earlier post about the idea of a ‘true’ rhythm, like a hidden current through a sea of not-quite-right variations. Some drummers just seem to tap into a sense of rhythm that is aligned with something universally understood. And the closer a drummer is to feeling the universal beat, the more it will resonate with anyone who listens. The way a note played on one guitar string will cause a nearby string of the same pitch to vibrate in sympathy, even though they never touch. (If you’ve never done this try it, it will give you goosebumps.)
Gil seems to be perfectly aligned with this raw, built-in, natural rhythm. He’s like that atomic clock they used to house in Greenwich, against which all timekeeping on earth is based. There’s no way to keep still when he starts up a groove. Resistance is futile.

The room just lights up when he’s playing. Gil Sharone makes drums sing.

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