The history of rock music tells us that if a band is in need of a breakthrough album, their best move might be to find a new drummer. Nirvana didn’t become a flannel-clad international phenomenon until they got Dave Grohl to play drums for Nevermind. Beatlemania only caught on after Richard Starkie (stage name: Ringo Starr) took over the kit from Pete Best. And although Wilco may not have had the international reach of the former bands, their Yankee Hotel Foxtrot has become an indie music touchstone and is widely considered one of the young century’s best albums. Its success was due, in no small part, to the addition of percussionist Glenn Kotche, who brought a more richly layered sound to the band.
This Friday, Feb. 22, Glenn Kotche comes to Duke without Jeff Tweedy and the rest of Wilco for a show of his own in Reynolds Industrial Theater. Those in attendance will actually witness two separate performances. First, Kotche will play a new piece by noted American composer John Luther Adams entitled “Ilimaq,” using his percussionist skills to illuminate Adams’ naturalist, rhythmic piece. For the second half, Kotche and bassist Darin Gray, collectively known as On Fillmore, team up with Durham-based folk impressionists Megafaun.
At first glance, these two performances are not what most people would expect from a famous rock musician, but Duke Performances Executive Director Aaron Greenwald notes that although the works are experimental, that ought not make them intimidating. Adams may now be a composer, but he is not alien to contemporary tastes: he himself first got into music through drumming in a rock ‘n’ roll band.
“The John Luther Adams piece is exciting,” said Greenwald, “in that it’s the third or fourth time it’ll be played…Kotche actually commissioned the piece himself.” Adams, Greenwald said, composed the piece specifically with Kotche’s skillset and background in mind, and was enthused by the opportunity to see “Ilimaq” performed as it was originally intended.
Greenwald is not the only one looking forward to the performance. Samantha Lachman, a senior, Chronicle columnist and a self-described “Wilco devotee” bought tickets to the Friday’s performance and is excited because she feels Kotche’s drumming abilities extend far beyond the average percussionist.
“[Kotche] uses drumming to create texture, not just rhythm. The cascading tom fills on “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” [the opening track of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot] are simply transcendent,” Lachman said.
Adams’ piece is heavily invested in recreating a naturalistic sound that evokes the Alaskan landscape he has lived around for the last 30 years. In an interview with Duke Performances, Adams noted that Kotche paid “exquisite attention to touch and color,” an important attribute for a piece Adams himself called “highly rhythmic.”
After the audience leaves the woodsy fields of Adams’ composition, the show moves on to a five-piece ensemble collaboration between On Fillmore and Megafaun. Both bands have a decided interest in Southern music, which Greenwald thinks will make for an exciting collaboration.
“I’m always curious about the thread between traditional American music and experimental music,” said Greenwald. “On Fillmore’s music is atmospheric and leans towards Americana, and Megafaun’s is Americana and leans towards experimental. So, hopefully, the musical terrain that they’ll explore…should be very interesting.”
Kotche and Gray’s On Fillmore pieces are oddly playful and even their darker pieces make unexpected light-hearted detours. It’s an inclination Megafaun can appreciate. Their last, self-titled album is littered with sudden bursts of sound that both unsettle and excite.
Of course, a live collaboration between two groups often yields surprising results, and On Fillmore and Megafaun’s should be no exception. Although this may make some nervous, Aaron Greenwald was optimistic that, to borrow a turn of phrase from a Wilco song, the audience would fall in love with a drummer.
“More than most things we do, I have no idea what it is going to be like,” said Greenwald of Friday’s performance. “But I still feel like we’re in relatively good hands.”
Glenn Kotche, Megafaun and On Fillmore will perform tomorrow evening at 8 p.m. in Reynolds Industries Theater.