DATE: Nov. 18, 1999
VENUE: Sacred Grounds, San Pedro, CA

G. Murray Thomas

First thing, we arrived at Sacred Grounds, and it had been turned into a laundromat. Not totally, the front of the room was still the same coffee house as always, but there were washing machines where the stage should be. And no sign of any concert.
Turned out they now have an “annex” space across the street, which was a large warehouse space, apparently only half finished. But it had comfy couches and funky lighting, and was a fine space for this show.
All of that has nothing to do with the concert, except it set up a mood of weirdness which was perfect for the show we saw.
Critters Buggin’ play flowing soundscapes. Although I’m certain there were individual compositions represented, they bled into each other, and it became one whole piece. The entire performance had the ebb and flow of the surf. Things would build to a discordant crash, and smooth out for a few minutes before building again.
The five musicians played a variety of instruments, which included keyboards, bass, drums, saxophone, synthesizers, timpani, and numerous percussive toys. They switched easily between them as the music demanded, so a thundering percussion climax would be followed by a calming interlude of xylophone (the xylophone miraculously appeared in the mix whenever a soft touch was called for). The keyboards and bass would pile on the discord, then switch to funky, and a saxophone came out.
Proceedings were enlivened by a couple of dancers: a black man in a caveman outfit and a woman in flowing robes juggling plastic fire. At times they became part of the act, fit their dances to some narrative thread in the music, at other times they were simply extraneous entertainment.
The first set was a long session, which concluded with a massive orgy of percussion, everyone in the band beating on something. After an extended break, they finally came back for a second set, which was, if possible, looser and even more flowing than the first. It seemed they were no longer concerned with “performing” (much of the audience had left), as just playing together. Their joy at just playing was obvious as they continued to play, or at least make noise, even as they broke down their equipment.
As the show went on, I tried to figure out what to call this music they were playing. Was it jazz, noise, avant-funk? There was no attempt to fit any genre, to play the standards of any particular style. They were just playing, wonderfully together; this was not some set of music, it was just music. It was post genre, into the freeform era.