Isotope 217, Emo's, October 12

Live Shots

Isotope 217

Emo's, October 12

If the two opening acts at this show cast some doubt as to the intrinsic value of experimentation in music, then headliners Isotope 217 shook that doubt until it was blue in the face. With nary a cue-up to be seen, opener DJ CX began the evening by throwing down records and dropping the needle, diving headlong and oblivious into a confusion of video-game soundtracks and long-winded, funky grooves to the quiet, stony appreciation from the audience. Freedom Sold mixed the same types of soul tracks with some sophisticated if innocuous DJ work and a lead guitarist/MC whose impact with both strings and voice were mild at best. He'd jam and echo on a couple high notes, pumping a pedal and staring at the floor. Another stolid reception. CX came back with a thick, mocking drawl, making fun of the crowd, who couldn't seem to care less. Isotope 217 took care of that quickly. What started out as an exercise for the head with the raucous bass line of opener "Phonometrics," soon engulfed the body as well, as Matt Lux's bass and John Herndon's drums mixed a strict adherence to form with a budding adeptness at improvisation, both working hard to keep the music moving. Guitarist Jeff Parker, who along with Herndon and second drummer Dan Bitney is in Tortoise, played reserved and atmospheric, blending with the backline while pushing Rob Mazuerek's cornet to greater, irregular heights. When Parker jumped out front as he did during "Kryptonite Smokes the Red Line," it was like a whole new dimension of the band's sound. They hit transitions with precision and oomph, sliding through every one like a matador turning a bull. If "fusion" is still a dirty word, the work of Isotope 217 could do well to give it some respect -- rock sensibilities with a jazz adventurousness intent on exploring sounds both acoustic and electronic. CX returned late in the show, much to the dismay of fans and band alike, it seemed, to screw around like a kid at a party who discovers an unattended mike that has been left on. But a long encore made up for that, as Dan Bitney moved to the drums and jammed with Herndon, who moved to percussion. The energy and the innovation that poured from the stage this night were palpable -- one can only hope there were plenty of musicians in that crowd feeling the same inspiration.

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