11.21.15 Spyn Reset ProgJam Improv Night

Musicquarium Lounge
Seattle, WA

Words By Coleman Schwartz
Photos By Jean-Paul Builes

Spyn Reset is a Seattle power trio that plays some of the most distinctive and inimitable music I have ever heard. They are equal parts progressive rock and live electronica, leaving me no choice but to classify their genre as “prog-tronica.” Their catalog is diverse and refined, running the gamut from in-your-face, danceable prog-rock bangers all the way to meticulously constructed downtempo, ambient tracks that you can relax to at night. I first saw them perform by chance in February of this year, and since then I have done my best not to miss any of their shows.

Their instrumentation is a bit unconventional, with Evan McPherson playing the atypical role of guitarist/bassist. He uses a looper pedal to achieve the effect of playing both instruments simultaneously, and his insane prog-rock chops certainly shine on each of them. His playing is at times reminiscent of Gabriel Martin and John Ferrara, guitarist and bassist of Consider the Source. Across the stage, Yasuyuki Shiji, better known as YASU, serves as their keyboardist. His rig includes a Rhodes keyboard, a Moog Sub Phatty synthesizer, and two identical Korg synthesizers, complete with vocoder setups. He has programmed the two Korgs completely differently, enabling him to access a wide variety of aural texture in a convenient manner. He combines these instruments to produce sounds that are best described as Radiohead meets dancey electronica. The group is anchored by the steady hands and feet of Pierson Martin on drums. I believe he is their secret to being able to properly bridge between the prog and electronica genres. Both can be highly demanding rhythmically, and he is able to meld them together superbly, while making it look effortless.

This chilly November Saturday evening saw the band headlining the Musicquarium Lounge in downtown Seattle for their final show of 2015. Unlike most of their shows, this one was billed as a “ProgJam Improv Night,” a first for the band. Their normal shows use a rigid setlist, playing through a larger selection of their songs in a specified order. Most songs are in the three to six-minute range, and contain short improvised sections, but the focus is on the band faithfully reproducing their intricate studio work in a live setting. This ProgJam show was a unique opportunity for the band to focus on their improvisation. The band took the stage for this two-set performance armed with a loose setlist that contained only six songs per set, interspersed with lengthy improvised segments based around a specific key, tempo and time signature. After seeing these guys so many times this year, I was thrilled about the chance to see them do some serious risk-taking onstage, in addition to reimagining some of my favorite studio takes.

By the time the first set got underway, the band had amassed an impressive crowd that filled the room. As they started off, several photographers near the stage created an impressive flashbulb display. Things began with an adventurous jam section in five. YASU deftly navigated between his synthesizers as the band found their groove, keyed by McPherson’s strong bass work. At this point, YASU activated his vocoder and began to scream into it. His words and noises took over control of the inflections in his playing, and it was simply ridiculous. An older gentleman next to me said that it “sounded like the future.” After a wild peak, YASU dropped into the Moog intro of their original tune “Pioneer.” This rendition was a bit different than I had heard them play it before, with the band taking extra liberties with their tempo and style. The next jam section featured the band playing more progressively, with great tremolo picking from McPherson as he dazzled the crowd on guitar. I noticed that he used his looper setup much less during the improvised sections, choosing instead to focus on really nailing his parts on one instrument or the other. This helped them to achieve a tighter power trio sound. YASU did a great job here of using the beautiful, ringing texture of his Rhodes to complement the monophonic lines coming off his Moog. His smooth glissandos bore resemblance to an orchestra composed only of bells.

McPherson again picked up his bass to begin the next composed track, “Late Night.” After the meandering bass intro, this sublime number featured some quick, playful interplay between YASU and Martin before McPherson rumbled back into the mix and the band picked up a tight groove. The end of this song carried them nicely into the next jam section, this time in six. As the tempo quickened, the music took on a video game-esque quality, evoking childhood memories of playing Sonic the Hedgehog. The peak of the jam featured jazzy cymbal work from Martin, with YASU’s Rhodes part lending a lounge feel.

This gave way to a spacey, arpeggiated accelerando section from YASU’s synthesizers, signaling the intro to their song, “Logical Arrangement.” As his part became faster and faster, the jaws of those around me hit the floor. Working the crowd, he allowed the notes to blur together and ratcheted up the oscillation frequency. This created a frenzied, chaotic texture that he stretched out for a good bit longer than the studio version. Suddenly, he changed things up, dropping the synth part in favor of more playful Rhodes riff at a slower tempo. McPherson and Martin joined in with him, grooving along as his part took on the sound of a xylophone.

The next jam section was among the highest tempo portions of the evening, with the band going for broke in seven. The psychic connection between the band members was on full display here as Martin stole the show with his smooth, quick hits. YASU and McPherson followed his lead and the resulting jam was simultaneously ambient and driving. A friend of mine aptly described this section of the show as “a road trip through an asteroid belt.” Next up was “New Theory,” a tune (like all of the others before it in this set) from their most recent LP Four Dimensional Audio. This song places McPherson’s groovy, melodic bass work at the front of the mix, allowing YASU to fill in the high parts with succinct tinkles from his Rhodes.

The following improv segment saw them go through several epic key changes in a space-funk style on their way to the evening’s first older tune, “Silent Reflection,” off 2010’s Objects in the Abstract. This song begins with a great segment of full-band stops, which were positively more syncopated and off-the-wall than normal. These stops continued to reappear throughout the song, dovetailing wonderfully with McPherson’s expressive, yet blisteringly fast guitar work. To close out the set, the group played an unreleased tune, dubbed “Proxy.” This one had a very percussive sound, similar to a march but far, far wackier.

Setbreak was a great chance to have a gander at the extremely diverse crowd that had amassed. I saw people of all ages, ethnicities and cultures bonding over their love for this music. The band was eager to hear feedback on the first set, and many of the excited musicians in the crowd were happy to oblige. After a lengthy break, the musicians took the stage for set two. The crowd had thinned out considerably, giving this set a more intimate, family vibe. The musicians remained locked-in and very serious, as they began with another jam in five. After loosening back up at a quick tempo, the next part of the show saw them slow things down for an older tune, “Green Rose.” This light, floaty number was a wonderful resolution to the tension they had been building during the previous jam, and it definitely put a smile on the face of most audience members.

A brief jam segued this song into “Non Fiction,” off their latest LP. This one was another slower, more relaxed song, which reminded me a bit of the soundtrack for the Rainbow Road course in Mario Kart. It served well to remind the audience of the band’s versatility, as they are capable of making a slow song just as fun to listen to as a faster track. Martin’s jazzy drumming was very prominent during this song. This man is an absolute grooveshark, there is no way around saying it. Regardless of how fast or slow, of all the tempo changes and tricky mixed meters, he never stops grooving. Without this rock solid foundation, McPherson and YASU would be unable to turn heads in quite the same way.

The following jam section saw McPherson unleash metal-inspired guitar licks as the band further pushed at the breadth of their talent. After looping his guitar part, he moved to the bass, where he was instantly able to fall precisely into the pocket. All the while, YASU spoke into his vocoder, creating a disorienting atmosphere. I don’t think I ever understood a word he said into the vocoder (quite possibly because he speaks Japanese in addition to English), but I just know that it sounded exceedingly cool. All three band members were visibly having a blast letting loose and improvising to this extent onstage. Both McPherson and YASU bear enviable manes of hair, and as they swung around wildly I could not help but be reminded of a recent experience watching My Morning Jacket perform. Although their music is remarkably dissimilar, the members of Spyn Reset definitely have a similar physical presence and swagger onstage.

As they made their way into the next composed section, I was delighted to realize they were playing one of my favorite originals, “Raindrops.” This version of the song was excellent, with YASU’s tasteful dynamics spotlighted in his Rhodes part, which actually does sound like falling raindrops. This song got a great dance party going, and segued nicely into another jam section. As he moved over to his synthesizers, I was reminded fondly of the synth work on Papadosio’s “The Bionic Man Meets His Past.” The crowd continued to dance slowly and dramatically as the band changed keys and continued the jam. The next track was another old one, “The Spotless Studio.” The intro to this delightful song conjured images in my head of a someone working late into the night writing music as a light Seattle rain dripped on the windows outside.

After a short climax, the band ramped up the tempo as they entered another jam section, this time in nine. It was a real treat watching people attempt to keep pace dancing in this odd meter, as they were clearly nowhere near as practiced with it as the musicians. It was truly impressive to see three performers get so far inside of each other’s heads, especially without using talkback mics. Martin and YASU did a great job of picking up on subtle changes in McPherson’s playing and quickly plugging in the correct accents to make the sound really pop as it hits your ears. To close the show, they played one more composed track, this one another old song called “Progressing Slowly.” From its handclapped intro onward, the band was clearly focused on maintaining their vice-grip on the waning crowd’s undivided attention. The end of the song was extended from the studio version, featuring a nice major key jam in seven. As odd as this may sound, the uplifting sentiment and subtle shifts in dynamics reminded me immensely of Phish’s “Divided Sky.” Soon after I’d had this thought, McPherson laid down a piercing metal guitar solo, as if to scold me for thinking up such an outlandish comparison.

The overjoyed band members were quick to leave the stage to thank and bid farewell to the devoted fans who had remained until the show’s late ending. You could tell they had put a ton of effort into preparing for this event, and were very relieved to see it go off without a hitch. This was a special performance for all involved, and it has me extremely curious to see where these ProgJam nights can take the band in the future. I can imagine they should only improve as more fans of these styles of music show up, and the band becomes even more comfortable feeding off each other and the crowd in their improvisation.



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