Unconscious Collective Played a Glorious Album Release Show in a Taco Shop

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I never thought I'd see a jazz show at a taqueria, much less a great one. To be fair, Saturday's bill at Taqueria Pedritos, including Unconscious Collective, HEX CULT, Drug Mountain and Baring Teeth, boasted a wide array of experimental offerings. Free jazz, no-wave, power electronics and metal were all represented. People gathered at this taco shop to celebrate the release of jazz-fusion trio Unconscious Collective's sophomore album, Pleistocene Moon. Those who came for this reason in particular caught some extra live music for their entry fee. Those who came for other reasons found out about one of Dallas' best new records.

Walking into the event was an ear-splitting experience unto itself. The weight of sound was like having an iron blanket thrown across your back, a fitting ice-water-welcome courtesy of Drug Mountain. Unlike your typical concert, it seemed everyone in attendance was a diehard fan, friend or family member of those performing. In virtue of this, the event felt uniquely intimate. It was clear the evening wasn't about entertainment -- just, you know, a good night out -- but rather it was about music and the bonds that art engenders.

I myself came for UC. But like any show worth its salt, Saturday offered up a mean surprise: HEX CULT. Searing would be a good word for what happened, although devastating would be a much better one. Wires like spilled spaghetti, a thin column of synths, a drum machine, and a deck of pedals was all it took for this duo to lay waste to every expectation I brought with me.

In the direct lineage of Throbbing Gristle, and in the vicinity of Royal Trux's most art-damaged heroin rock, HEX CULT was all texture. Violent, overtly dramatic motions went into their electronic machinery, and pixelated vitriol spewed out. The guitarist, who didn't so much play his instrument as assault it, was especially fantastic. His jerky, abbreviated style brought to mind Cecil Taylor's piano play, and the perverse yet sublime results weren't too far off the mark either.

Roughly an hour later, Unconscious Collective took the stage. The trio, consisting of Aaron Gonzalez on bass, Stefan Gonzalez on drums and Gregg Prickett on electric guitar, opened with the title track from their new LP, "Pleistocene Moon". It was pure déjà vu. As with nearly every song in their set, the track was remarkably similar to the version that can be heard on record.

All too often, live renditions are little more than shells of their recorded counterparts, but not with UC, and certainly not tonight in this taco shop. It's a telling feature too, because it speaks to the quality of musicianship at play in this trio. In the tradition of the best jazz groups, UC's sound is rooted in chemistry, chops and practice, not post-production sleight-of-hand or engineering trickery.

In fact, there's a certain unmistakable energy exclusive to UC live that no recording could ever capture. Conversely, Pleistocene Moon achieves a level of detail that would be all but impossible to reach live, a sonic depth that, thankfully accentuates rather than modifies the group's aesthetic. Incendiary yet subtle, abstract yet melodic, the record is sure to be considered for greatest local album of the year, if it hasn't staked out that claim already.

In honor of Ronald Shannon Jackson (with whom UC shares many close ties) the trio, joined by a violist, closed Saturday's celebrations with an ode to their fallen friend and mentor: an original RSJ composition entitled "People We Love." These final moments were as somber as they were triumphantly hopeful, a heartfelt reminder of music's capacity for healing and empathy. The rhythms were as firm as ever, the percussion was as intentional as it had been all evening and Prickett, visibly lost to the memories swimming in his head, played with a newfound sense of beauty, elegant but impassioned.

Following an impressive exhibition of viola fingering, the event came to a close. The performers then reminded the audience of why they came ("our new LP can be bought at the merch table"), but they had already reminded us of why we all love music in the first place.

Unconscious Collective's new LP, Pleistocene Moon, is now available on 180-gram vinyl and download through Tofu Carnage Records. Buy it here.

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