Rocking, Instrumentally, in the Free World

Stephen Perkins, the be-mohawked drummer, has rocked South Coast
houses many times throughout the years—houses like the Arlington
Theatre, the Bowl, and Ventura Theatre, where Jane’s Addiction,
Porno for Pyros, and Love and Rockets have landed. This Thursday
night, he scales it down while stretching out at SOhO, with his
experimental side project, Banyan. Also in the ranks of this
texture-surfing instrumental unit are Nels Cline, the longtime L.A.
guitar hero whose latest gig is with Wilco, bassist Mike Watt
(Firehose, Minutemen), trumpeter Willie Waldman and live,
improvisatory painter Norton Wisdom.

Needless to say, this is not a band you’ll catch on “modern
rock” airwaves. As heard on Banyan’s third and latest album, Live
at Perkins’ Palace (Sanctuary), it has lots of ideas and collective
energy on its side. Formed by Perkins in 1996 as a loose
rock-punk-jazz organism, Banyan has solidified as of late. Last
September, the band played the Monterey Jazz Festival, pushing the
boundaries of jazz. With Waldman in the band, the connection to
mid-’70s Miles Davis is strong, but with more rock in its veins.
The SOhO show—the band’s Santa Barbara debut—promises to be a
potent and painterly sonic force. Perkins, on the phone from home
in L.A., gave us a heads up for what to expect.

Banyan’s music lives somewhere in the vague zone between jazz
and rock, but maybe this could be called rock-jazz rather than
jazz-rock. Is that fair to say?

That’s true. In attitude and in the flavor, it’s got more rock
and punk to it. In philosophy, it’s very much jazz. Everyone gets
to take a solo and everyone has something to say, musically. Every
moment matters in terms of the dynamics and the nuances, because
there are no vocals so there are ways to say things lyrically with
your instrument—even if it’s a drum.

We played the Monterey Jazz Festival last year, where they had
Sonny Rollins and Tony Bennett. Someone there asked, “Are you going
to give them what they want?” I said, “Fuck no; we’re going to give
them what they need. They need some punk rock attitude. They’re
going to get 30 or 40 hours of traditional jazz this whole
weekend.” But at the same time, I think a jazz purist could
appreciate what’s happening onstage.

The core players are in rock bands, almost like “day gigs,” with
defined roles. Does Banyan give you a forum to let loose some

It’s a different avenue. There’s a certain type of playing I—and
Watt and Nels and Willie—can do in Banyan that we can’t do in a
situation that is more “normal,” if that’s the word. If I had to
lose Banyan and its freedom for a rock band with carved, edited
songs every night, I would definitely lose some of my

Is there a new mutant audience willing to cross these different
genre lines with you?

Yeah. People who like a nice hip-hop beat might also like the
Dave Matthews sound. People in the business are scrambling and
trying to figure out how to make music and squeeze the juice out of
songs now, because people aren’t buying CDs. But people will still
buy tickets if you put on a good live show and you’re honest up
there. The energy is mostly infectious with Banyan. It’s not about
the punk or the funk or the abstract moment or the ambient moment
in the show. It’s about the live experience.

4·1·1 Banyan plays SOhO, Thursday, February 9, at 9 p.m. Call


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