As one of the most truly "out there" bands in music, U.S. Maple is difficult to pin down. Numerous comparisons to the chaotic beauty of early Sonic Youth (in sound) and the mysteriousness of Captain Beefheart (in approach) really don't do the band justice. U.S. Maple is fully understood by simply seeing them perform live. Such was the case when they made their first visit to Tucson last Saturday at Plush.
Having caught their set the previous night in Phoenix, and left with jaw firmly in hand, I was intrigued to see if the same degrees of bizarre, beautiful, humorous mystery and seriously tight chops could be replicated. And, for the most part, they were.
Following a set by resident post-apocalyptic no-wavers Sugarbush and a no-show by The Red Switch, Maple guitarist Mark Shippy took the stage, with suit donned, to play the intro to the first track, "My L'il Shocker," while guitarist in-tow Todd Rittman jokingly flickered the house lights for dramatic effect. Joined shortly after by the rest of the band, coming out one by one, singer Al Johnson kicked the song into full swing. The band delivered a well-rounded set that consisted of songs from each of their previous releases.
In doing so, the mystery of their signature sound (a no-bass, two-guitar approach, sans any effects devices, in which Shippy and Rittman trade off playing "high" and "low" parts, combined with Johnson's patented wheezing and nearly whispered vocals, and Adam Vida's Art Blakey-on-coffee drumming) was brought to light. It may sound risky on paper, but one would be hard-pressed to find any gaps in the fullness of sound evoked on stage. In addition, it was interesting to find that what sounds like improvisation on tape is replicated note-for-note live.
Even more impressive and interesting was the human element of interaction that is not represented on their albums. Be it Shippy's incessant dancing, Rittman's shit-eating grin as he stared at the audience or the yelling and laughing at each other after a faux pas, one couldn't deny that even if the songs were hard to swallow (which is by design), the guys making the music are great friends who are doing their best to give you their particular take on rock and roll--something that, truly, no one else can do.