When Tartufi last performed in Asheville, the duo owned The Joli Rouge for an evening — by the time the band left the stage, the two musicians had converted a number of those present to hard-core fans. Tartufi are Lynne Angel and Brian Gorman. Despite their number, the sound and presence exceeds that of many bands two or three times the size. It's one thing to pull off the kind of epic dynamics and engaging intricacy the band employs on a studio recording. It's quite another to witness two people build and execute that sound live, through looping stations and a complex labyrinth of other onstage equipment.
"The fundamentals of each song we definitely want to be able to play live," says Angel. "There's certainly stuff that happens in the studio that we just wouldn't be able to physically do. We kind of rewrite and do a bit of rearranging to figure out how to play it live. We try to stay as true to the original as possible."
It should come as no surprise that a band with such a rich, well-defined sound has been playing for nearly a decade. What is surprising is that for the first few years, and first three albums, the band in question existed as a very good, but mostly conventional, power-pop trio.
"We'd been using the looper and kind of leaning in that (more experimental) direction in the writing we were doing before the band split up," Gorman explains. "Then once we became a duo, we had an opportunity to sit down and really decide what we wanted to be and we had the chance to reinvent ourselves. We were listening to much more experimental and heavy music at the time. We wanted to try to push in that direction. The looper was the thing that allowed us to remain a duo. We spent several months locked in our studio just experimenting with the gear, and realized that we don't need another person to do what we wanted to do."
Angel describes those early looping experiments as "really basic stuff," but since then, the two have become proficient in showcasing the technology as a fundamental tool. Most music fans have probably heard looping stations used onstage before, but perhaps not in a more skilled, intricate and fully realized way. Dynamic changes turn instantly. The layers build in rapid succession. The sound can switch from huge and heavy, to restrained intricacy in a flash. Angel's vocals effortlessly expand to a chorus. If you couldn't see Tartufi on the stage, the odds are that you wouldn't really realize what was actually going on.
In addition to their musical pursuits, Angel and Gorman are refreshingly community minded. A couple years ago, the two started Rock Band Land, which Gorman describes as, "A music school for kids age 4 to 7. We put them in groups of eight and they form a band, name their band, they write a song story and then we help them produce a song. We record it, produce it and then they put on a show at the end of the class. It's like a CD-release performance. It's in a big music hall and they play in front of all the families and friends and fans. The class is every Saturday morning for five weeks. It's just in the Bay area, but if people can get here they can come from where ever. It's a pretty great time."
In 2006 they started Thread Productions, a musical collective and support network for touring bands to share resources and help promote each other. "It started with four core bands helping each other out," says Angel. "Now that we're doing more touring and more of the bands are touring we've spread our connections across the U.S. We all benefit."
Tartufi's current tour is in support of their new EP, The Goodwill of the Scar. Consisting of one 26-minute composition, "The Butterless Man," it's exemplary of the band's expansive sonic range and musical dexterity. "It kind of follows a theme," says Angel. "The main theme being safety. It sticks to that but it's not really told in a narrative way."
As for what you can expect at the show? According to Gorman, they'll be "playing the new EP almost every night and doing some stuff off our last record, and then some stuff that's yet to be recorded."
An honest description of Tartufi's live show would come across as a descent into exhaustive hyperbole to anyone who hasn't experienced the phenomenon for themselves. I'll resign to simply state than any fan of proficiently dramatic rock music should not miss it.
[Dave Cole is headed to New York City for a spell.]
who: Tartufi, with the Judas Horse and Pilgrim
where: Static Age Records
when: Thursday, April 1 (9:30 p.m. www.tartufirock.net and www.staticagerecords.com)