GOLDEN MELODY AWARDS with TERMINAL FOUR opening for MANISHEVITZ at Barcode, April 5. Tickets: $5. Attendance: 40. Rating: NNN
the golden melody awards ex-
ist somewhere on a thin line between the sublime and the ridiculous.
The twosome of Ryan Driver and Kurt Newman, a pair of improvisational musicians plugging their open-ended ideas into pop music, do play pop music, but it's pop stripped down to its barest essentials -- just a frail melody and some frazzled accompaniment.
At Barcode Thursday, this included Driver crouched on the floor over an analog synth while Newman sat in a chair plucking a guitar, banjo and lap steel.
Despite the occasional feedback howl and the long patches of silence between pieces, the set had an odd charm to it. Driver coaxed ping-pong melodies and grandiose pipe organ sounds out of his creaky synth and occasionally launched into some over-the-top crooning, while Newman alternated between repetitive guitar patterns and rubbery Hawaiian steel riffs.
Most of the set came off like instrumental incidental music, as though plucked from a video game or airport lounge. When the GMA's came together, though, it was pure pop. The closing tune, Cuatorzo, was full-blown psychedelic folk, with Driver tooting away on flute and Newman strumming out a medieval melody on acoustic guitar.
It sounded like a piss-take, but Ryan and Driver played with straight faces. Even if it was a joke , it was more satisfying than the similar but considerably more contrived efforts of chamber pop trio Terminal Four and epic but unstable Chicago septet Manishevitz.