It took me a little while to get rolling on hosting live performances at WFMU over the years; I was more or less content to observe the goings on of the Stork Club brodcasts and such before I really started taking it on frequently around 2002. But it's been so much fun; I've had the severe pleasure of discovering the fact that a lot of the people whose music I enjoyed, and were gracious enough to go out of their way and play on my little radio show were also great individuals to deal with. Some have become great friends, some have come back several times thereafter even if it was out of their way, because they felt at home at FMU. It's also been a fun challenge to pow wow with whomever was engineering that day as well; figuring out a particular band's sonic presence and how it translates/fits into a smallish studio room. It's been a priority to make it sound good, make the band happy, and hopefully get their message across while trying to bring something out of them that maybe they weren't used to in a different environ. Sometimes it can take forever to get that sampler level preset to rise above a guitar squall in a mix, or make sure the vocals at their quietest weren't buried, because in many cases, one missing element can get lost on the radio and cloud what is trying to be conveyed. Even an acoustic guitar alone can be a challenge if it isn't set up right in the live room. Sometimes we direct and offer input, sometimes the guests direct us more. Like I said, it's been rewarding and wonderful. And then, some days it goes above and beyond all that; like on December 15th, when on their way to Maxwells, the Ex visited, set up without any kinds of effects just utilizing two guitars (the vacant bassist spot now filled by a jerry-rigged guitar that included built in two bass strings as well), drums and vocals, soundchecked with our Gil Shuster and the band's engineer for exactly two minutes and ten seconds, then took off and did one of the most brain-frying, bouncing-off-the-walls live sets ever. By this point, the curious onlookers who had had never heard the band knew precisely what they were about. The show was aired today, and thanks to Phil Catalano and the Ex, we've got some nicely-shot video of the band performing "Waiting" right here. (36MB Mpeg file for download).
To say the Ex are amazing people as well as musicians would be an understatement. The respect that G.W., Kat, Terrie, and Andy give each other as well as everyone around them goes hand in hand with all the great things they have done since their inception as a 1979 Dutch punk band living the DIY aesthetic fully. And continuing to do so for 27 nonstop years, where they have only worked harder to spread the word while keeping distribution, touring, publishing, and presentation within their own means. For them, moving 'foward' means they continue to expand their vocabulary while working within their own basic language, and they've done so by developing interactions with those who allowed them to fit in with their own style of self-defined music. Balkan brass, full European jazz units, the late experimental cellist Tom Cora, Ethiopian sax legend Getatchew Mekuria all have brought something into the Ex, and the Ex have all affected them as well. We've been lucky to have been in touch over the years as well; guitarist Andy graciously produced a great hour of his favorite African sounds for us last year, while second guitarist Terrie sends us all the CDs on his Terp imprint of mindblowing artists (Konono No. 1, Tsehaytu Beraki, etc.), people that have escaped the radar of your average 'world music' A&R types and marketers, but they sure are aware now.
How do the Ex succeed with all these accomplishments? Mainly because they have been, and are, out there doing it all and don't spend time worrying about the business end, or what is in vogue. They've ascended to a point where they make money from shows and products; they travel, live, and work at their own leisure. Despite how much they've played together, and how weary they should be from decades on the road, you could sense that every second these guys were performing here at FMU they were totally enjoying themselves and had unpeeled yet a new layer of communication amongst themselves that had them completely juiced.. Over and over again drummer Kat would build up to some moment to allow Terrie and Andy to come charging at each other like battering rams with guitar explosions that just ascended to higher and higher levels of chaos and abandon, while the song still held together amidst the barrage and the rhythm kept rolling. And yet frontman G.W. Sok still commands (and is one of the only political-spewing vocalists I will take commands from, period), perfect in the aspect that when he is at the mic he is totally the focus, but never seems obtrusive for one moment when he steps aside to let the band seize the song and work it into instrumental frenzy. He's still part of it. I'd seen the Ex a bunch of times over the years, but this time, with these new songs, it seems like their immersion in the tribal, primitive, single-chord extended jams of their Congolese pals Konono No. 1 has now impacted their own music more than anything. And hearing and watching their new direction live here was something we won't soon forget. Afterwards, Andy asked me when Clay would be doing fill-ins again, and sang Fabio's "Mr. Giant Man" theme, citing it among his favorite things about listening to FMU. The mere thought this fellow, who runs around the world, booking shows in Ethiopian towns the day they arrive (one of those shows pictured above) and performs in one of the greatest punk rock bands to grace the earth, knows the finer points of our program schedule leaves one, needless to say, speechless. They were even more incredible playing that night at Maxwells with DJ/Rupture opening up (just another example of the selective scope this band employs); if you have yet to witness the Ex live, you are missing out on more than just a rock show.
For further investigation:
Real Audio of the Ex's WFMU session (broadcast 1/9/07, plus interview thereafter)
New Terp release Moa Anbessa with Getatchew Mekuria, the Ex and Friends, audio here.
Andy Moor's Africa/Hugh Tracey special for WFMU from 11/15/05 archived here.
The Ex's 9/11/04 Knitting Factory live show rebroadcast here.
Some more video (quicktime) of assorted performances on the band's site.
A Beautiful Frenzy, a wonderful documentary of the Ex's history, available here. 60 minutes plus a slew of great excerpts of concerts through the years, including performances with Tom Cora and the giant Ex Orkest. Also, filmmaker Jem Cohen (R.E.M., Fugazi) is just about to release a new film on the Ex based on their 2004 NYC visit.
The Ex's 2CD Singles compilation, as well as many of their other titles, are available here in the US thanks to Touch and Go.