Sunburned Hand of The Man are an adventurous collective from Boston whose sound  comes from the same part of the universe as such bands as the No-Neck Blues Band, Comets on Fire and the Davis Redford Trio; free folk, improve trance and drone, melodica funk and tribal rhythms blend into a sound from other worlds. The band makes periodic forays from its loft to launch a score of self-made, limited edition CD-Rs on a small clique of believers and 'Wire' subscribers.

The band launched its latest mini-tour with dates over the border in Canada, announcing on its website shows at La Salla Rossa in Montreal (a joint favoured by Godspeed! You Black Emperor and its offshoots) and with Caribou and Four Tet in Toronto.

In between, there was a gig in “Ottowa”. No other acts, no venue. By sheer chance, a netsurfing Sunburned fan noticed the cryptic and misspelled. That was on June 5. Contact with the band quickly established that the group had no actual plans, so a small bunch of fans got together, grabbed a pair of opening acts and booked the band into the Avant-Garde Bar – a venue better known for jazz on Fridays.

Five days later, purely by word of mouth and e-mail, three dozen fans were wedged into the Avant-Garde, admiring the Soviet-era posters admonishing people not to drink, gossip, or give aid to any Trotskyite-Bukharinist factions (only one of these directives was abided by, and then only due to a lack of Trotskyites) and watching, against their will, Aqua’s greatest hits on the bar’s TV.
While I was scrutinizing a poster that seemed to suggest not reading books would lead to one walking off a cliff, St. Bernard of Love took the stage (actually, the slightly raised area where normally coffee drinkers would perch on stools and watch the traffic go by on Besserer St. in the ceiling-to-floor window).

The band is, at heart, Michael D. Wieland, whose gravely uttered pop songs bring The Velvet Underground to mind. He was joined by two associates from another band, Ottawa’s Black Sabbath and Tortoise-loving post-rockers The Expatriates for a brief set. The heavier-than-usual rhythm section added extra heft to his portentuous (but never pretentious) pronouncements of romantic doom.

They ended their set and broke down their gear; I scrutinized a poster exclaiming the merits of Stalinist aviation.

Then it was Akisakila’s term. The duo have named their band after a Cecil Taylor album. Ear-penetrating vocal loops and rhythms, e-bowed-guitar drone and beat machine wonkery set up an appropriately trance-inducing taster for the headliners. Guitarist Shub Roy’s decision to spend most of the show hiding under the table is undoubtedly a bold new step for stagemanship as well.

Yet another shuffling of equipment, yet more scrutiny of posters (“Comrades! Protect the books!”).

Then it was Sunburned Hand of The Man’s turn on stage: Six men, most of whom looked like their day job was English teacher. I thought a recent show by Gris Gris had been the ultimate in dichotomy between normal-looking musicians and aural strangeness, but Sunburned Hand of The Man beat all.

The first song – if that’s an appropriate description of a half-hour long freak out – began with one man beating on a hand drum with a microphone under it, another scratching out rhythm on a tiny portable seven-inch record player while growling weird chants into a microphone, some muted, almost percussive guitar, woodwind and melodica.

This was the more gentle side of Sunburned Hand of The Man. Their next song was a far heavier affair, with three guitars powering an Acid Mothers Temple style rock blowout. When the drummers switched positions mid song it became evident that despite the “free-form” tag, the occasionally ramshackle rhythms aren’t because of any lack of ability. The drumming was hard-hitting and driving.

After a half hour, they band temporarily quit the stage, then rejoined for another more percussive affair which also featured some of the more oddball band behaviour of the night: An announcement of a post show party at their hotel room: “We’ll be hanging a dead man from the balcony of our hotel … we won’t be killing anyone … we’re not that kind of people …”; some rubber snake wrestling, a rubber chicken; and a psychic vampire (the bass player in a plastic rain cloak, fake fangs and aviator sunglasses) declaring “I PREDICT YOU WILL NOT GET HEPATITIS FROM SMOKING BLOOD!” among other memorable pronouncements.

The show was tremendously entertaining, all the more so because the audience was afforded a good view of passers by. It was prom night in Ottawa and there was a political convention near by, so throughout the night a parade of clean-cut young people and polo-shirt wearing conventioneers could be seen passing by; the number of baffled and occasionally appalled expressions were almost worth the price of admission alone.

It was a truly memorable gig, all the more so for being as last-minute as a show can be.















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