Blues Control has a reputation. The duo – Russ Waterhouse and Lea Cho, originally from Queens, NYC and now calling Coopersburg, PA home – are known as “unclassifiable,” “completely unique,” “incomparable.” Reviews tend to color the duo as almost inaccessible, even opaque. They were in the Hi-Dive last Thursday night, and proved that these adjectives, while accurate – don’t cover the band.
One thing critics don’t seem to give Blues Control credit for is the level of humor, playfulness hiding behind their complexity, but it was palpable at Thursday’s show. Waterhouse weaved fuzzy guitar leads between and around Cho’s jazzy piano samples – her constructions evoked Sesame Street childlike simplicity, and then migrated into Gershwin meets Thelonious Monk – and looped in samples and echoes as Cho switched to thumping on a three-stringed guitar, mixed heavily enough into the low end to mimic a bass. The brilliant “Iron Pigs” felt like a march soundtrack that could easily have accompanied a Middle Earth campaign, while “Love’s A Rondo” spun a thick, mathematic spell on the room.
The overall effect was a druggy sonic mist that easily overtook the small Hi-dive, but would probably have no more trouble filling up a much larger space. BC dealt in complexity from the cavelike stage – and looked comfortable, though they seemed penned in with all their wires and synth equipment – but made it feel simple, fun – more than just druggy. It felt as if there might be a joke on all of us – and particularly the critics that call them un-labelable. As they performed, it became increasingly obvious that they were merely enjoying themselves, and challenging us to join in.
Most of the audience did – and grinned into a contact-buzz that was (mostly) based in melody and deep, pounding reverb.
BC opened for longtime psychedelic wonder band Psychic Ills – who most of the audience were really there to see – but for my money the night belonged to the PA duo. Psychic Ills came off as a shiny, well-rehearsed period piece in comparison the Blues Control’s free, organic play.
Take a look at the video for “Iron Pigs (Drag City Limits performance),” to get a glimpse of Blues Control’s simple humor amidst complexity (this compression into a room that looks not much bigger than an office bathroom isn’t too far off from their stage position on Thursday night – though the Hi-Dive gave them plenty of room). Then listen to “Love’s A Rondo.” And then keep an eye out for their next Denver visit – it’ll be well worth your time.