11.21.15 Spyn Reset ProgJam Improv Night
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.