While critics and “serious” music fans endlessly praise and muse over the likes of Frank Zappa and Captain Beefheart, few pause to savor (and salute) the musicians with a pulse carrying the torch for groovy outsider art-rock-jazz-prog-whatever music. To wit, how master percussionist, persuasive blue-eyed MC, and all around creative dynamo Mike Dillon isn’t universally loved and applauded amongst modern music’s intelligentsia. So be it, the kids who read liner notes, gobble acid, and spend long hours inside Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Beastie Boys, Art Ensemble of Chicago and Minutemen albums are likely already switched onto Dillon and his wayward but ever evolving sounds, be it his pioneering work with Critters Buggin, his role as wicked foil for Les Claypool for many years, guest turns with Polyphonic Spree and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, a long term gig as Ani DiFranco’s rhythm ace, or any number of countless tangents with saxophonic devil Skerik.
Dillon is restless but dedicated, a digger for treasures in crevices others wimp out on exploring, emerging with a fresh silver grill he’s fashioned with his own mallets and sharp incisors. For as outré as his work can be, he’s a groove machine, teasing out captivating drum parts and ear-snagging vibe licks that make one wriggle like a worm on a hook, the body charged by his zap and slither, taken places by this ridiculously skilled percussionist that one can’t predict but welcome once the trip has gotten underway. Mike D is an imposing figure, carved out of wood like a true Fight Club champion, stage diving (he’s done so a couple times on DI’s Editor/Publisher Dennis Cook) with the sincere lustiness of a young punk and yet handling his various instruments as only a truly practiced and naturally gifted player can. Contradictions abound in Dillon, but almost always in appealing ways, where tradition dances with innovation as just plain freaky energies crackle and hiss within the inner workings. Dillon is the musical embodiment of Mark Twain’s aphorism, “Life is short, break the rules. Forgive quickly. Kiss slowly. Love truly. Laugh uncontrollably. And never regret anything that makes you smile.”
His focus for the past year or so is the simply named Mike Dillon Band, where sparks and fur fly as this attuned, instinctive, very young aggregate locks minds and limbs with Dillon. As last year’s killer shows revealed – including two highlight sets from the 2012 High Sierra Music Festival, where the band returns again this year – all of Dillon’s sonic exploration over the years haven’t been as random as one might think given the cool mastication of many flavors he achieves with Carly Meyers (trombone, Moog Taurus pedals, vocals), Cliff Hines (guitar, bass) and Adam Gertner (drums). The depth of this combo continues to thicken as continued touring reveals greater interconnectivity as well as greater openness to experiment individually in this context.
Urn (released September 2012 by the reliably excellent Royal Potato Family), the studio debut of this lineup, is some of the craftiest, most swinging compositions yet from Dillon, a crucial aspect of his talents that’s often overlooked because of his he-man musicianship and undeniable stage presence. While Urn contains some of Dillon’s trademark scatological rhymin’ – he shouts “motherfucker!” a dozen times on the Ween-wishes-they-wrote-it “Leather On” – there are also moments of unvarnished beauty and luminous strangeness in some of the most well conceived pieces he’s ever penned (as well as seen successfully executed by his collaborators). “River Is Burning” is both old timey and extraterrestrial, while “Cedar” is a Middle Eastern tinged cousin to Buck 65 with inspired sax work from guest Mike Southerland, who mixes up Klezmer and Ayler in a most delightful way on this track. Opener “DVS” struts in like Mr. Natural after a good limbering up, stride wide and riding a honking buzz. The impulsive zaniness of Reefer Madness informs the swoop and slide of “Sunny Is Drunk,” and every other cut is an evocative, thought provoking bit o’ fun from one of the most promising, switched-on outfits Dillon’s ever been involved in – and that’s saying something given the man’s pedigree. The Mike Dillon Band is on tour right the fuck now, so check out their itinerary here and get to a show so they can sweat on you and make you gyrate happily!
Here’s what the electric vibraphone, tabla, etc. pro had to say to the Impound’s percussionist survey.