A MAN AND HIS CHAPMAN: Throughout town this week, good shows ring with the sound of many talented players working in concert — indie rockers, singer/songwriters, and more. We begin this column, however, focusing on one individual who has championed a unique instrument few people play. Bright Brown, aka Alex Nahas — who performs at the Mercury Lounge (5871 Hollister Ave., Goleta) on Wednesday, September 26, at 8 p.m. — concocts cinematic maneuvers and moody art rock on the polyphonic electric neck that looks like a guitar with no body known as the Chapman Stick.
The Brooklyn-based singer, composer, musician, producer, and engineer stands out with his self-invention. Nahas makes a sound that’s truly individual and varies album to album: sometimes sprawling, but more recently austere. Growing up on the prog of Pink Floyd and King Crimson, he was drawn to the instrument through bassist/Chapmanist Tony Levin (of Peter Gabriel and King Crimson fame). The stick proved initially elusive. “It felt like a huge hump to crawl over to even make a sound out of it,” he said. Abandoning jazz-fusion technicality, he took to it like a folksinger, striking it simply, coaxing the tone. “It’s a very intuitive instrument — the stick texturally has this sound that can be so manipulated by the intensity of how you tap it.”
Nahas gets poetic with his singular stick, with a creative palette that widens from the familiar to the outré. The songs on 2017’s What If It Exists are quite sparse and raw, evoking perhaps the Velvet Underground’s minimalist artistry with something like Rainer Ptacek’s spiritual reckoning. Indeed, the devil and the divine are in the details for Nahas, who’s focusing on the more discreet, personal sides of life, lyrically and sonically. “I’m into small lately,” said Nahas of his leaner sound. “I can sort of put the songs in my pocket and take them with me, and take them out wherever I am.”
Often performing solo these days, without his usual drummer/collaborator Nick Smeraski, Nahas has taken to finding new sounds very close to home: finding percussion in the kitchen sink, or on his person. “I really enjoy using the body as a percussion instrument — stomping, clapping, tapping the body; there’s so much there.”
A cinephile, Nahas would ask Italian art-house great Michelangelo Antonioni to visualize his work, were he able. “Antonioni takes a real subjective view of objective situations. You’ll hear a conversation going on, but he’ll pull way back, and the camera will be very far away.” Check out Nahas at the Mercury and hear his own auteurist view of things, realized through sound. Exploring his Chapman Stick, he said, “I don’t think I’ll ever say I’m done. The possibilities are going to outlive me.”
AMO AMO OMNIA VINCIT: Meanwhile, at SOhO Restaurant & Music Club (1221 State St.), KCSB presents Amo Amo on Friday, September 21, at 9 p.m. Led by Santa Barbara’s Omar Velasco, the stylishly psychedelic crew channels a perfect kind of euphoric groove, melty and hazy as a burning summer afternoon. None other than My Morning Jacket’s Jim James said of the band: “For a musical group to come along like this is very rare — a swirling double helix of truth and love … when they play I feel it very deep in my DNA, and it registers — we are all the same.” How’s that for an endorsement? They are joined by Oakland’s Waterstrider.
IN HINDS SIGHT: Also at SOhO, Spain’s garage-rock quartet Hinds will rock your face off with music so cool they define the word themselves. Few can forget the joyous and wild energy they bring to a room, as they did when they last played in Santa Barbara. They continue to take the world by storm with their delightfully sunny sound, shattering glass ceilings along the way. For fans of rock, I can’t recommend them enough. They play on Saturday, September 22, at 9 p.m.