Ceramic Dog (Marc Ribot: guitar; Ches Smith: drums; Shahzad Ismaily: bass, moog) has been performing together for six or seven years now, and they've grown to be one of my favorite live bands. The show we saw at the Boot & Saddle in Philadelphia Saturday night was a perfect example of why I like them so much: in a packed, sweaty little rock club, they were able to play an absolutely slamming set that just about knocked us off our feet. And while they are undoubtedly a rock band - they rock HARD! - they've also got experimental tendencies and they do a lot of improvisation, so it's a lot more interesting than just a plain old rock show. Ribot's solos are anything but straightforward, and between Ismaily's Moog and Smith's electronics, there are a lot of noise elements as well.
Highlights of the set were mostly from their excellent new record, "Your Turn" (released in 2013 on Northern Spy), including "Lies My Body Told Me," the title track "Your Turn," and the wildest cover of "Take Five" you will ever hear. Another one I loved was the first song in the encore; they came out and started playing something slow and pretty - for about a minute, when Ribot suddenly said "F*** THAT!" and abruptly switched to a different, much louder and more raucous song ("Pinch" from their 2008 debut album "Party Intellectuals"). I couldn't quite tell if they'd planned that beforehand or if the band was as surprised as the audience, but it was a lot of fun, and the crowd loved it.
Ceramic Dog is an unusual rock trio in that it isn't just a singer with a guitar who has a rhythm section behind him to fill out the sound. They really feel like an all-parts-equal trio, with everyone contributing musical ideas and extended solos. It's more like a jazz band in that way. I always enjoy watching and listening to the interplay between the three of them - Ismaily and Smith especially seem to feed off each other's energy during their live sets. Energy was particularly high at this show, with the audience often having a hard time finding enough space in the music to applaud and shout their appreciation. The band reacted with equal fervor, playing with a lot of power and really pushing the boundaries - especially Ches Smith, who played a phenomenal set (the guy standing next to me couldn't stop himself from joyfully air-drumming along for a good part of the show). At one point Smith managed to play so hard he put a stick through his drum and had to go find a new one to borrow for the rest of their set.
Ceramic Dog doesn't play all that often, and if you're not in NYC or Europe you'll have a hard time finding one of their shows - but if you do get a chance to see them, I recommend that you take it!