OWARI by Stick MenRelease date: October 1, 2020
Label: MoonJune Records
In 2019 Leonardo Pavkovic, founder of MoonJune Records, started to construct plans for Stick Men‘s tour in Asia. The trio were really excited about this plan that Leo had in mind. The idea was to have four nights in China and Japan along with a pit stop in Hong Kong. And with adding keyboardist Gary Husband, who would later work with Markus Reuter on Music of our Times, as a special guest for the Far East tour, Everything was up and running.
But all of that would change. In November of that same year, the promoter had to postpone the show in Hong Kong because of the rising political unrest when all hell had broken loose across the city. And then, the pandemic of COVID-19 started to spread rapidly throughout Beijing and Shanghai. So the performance at the Blue Note in China was cancelled.
The Asian tour was reduced to four nights in the Land of the Rising Sun. One show at the Blue Note in Nagoya, the other in Osaka at the Billboard Live for one night and two shows, and two nights and two shows at the Billboard Live in Tokyo. The live album entitled Owari (translates to ‘The End’), was recorded at the Blue Note in Nagoya on February 28th last year.
While the attendance was low at the venue due to the rising of the pandemic, Stick Men has delivered one hell of a recorded performance that night. Tony Levin, Markus Reuter, Pat Mastelotto, and Gary Husband have brought some amazing cheer for the attendees to clear their heads despite what was happening in the outside world when everything stopped in 2020.
‘Hajime (Peace)’ is a recital of Pete Sinfield’s ‘Peace (An End)’ which Deborah Mastelotto speaks through Pete’s lyrics as Pat clickers through his percussions and Reuter creates these eerie effects by working out the atmosphere of Orwellian’s 1984. It sounds like it was recorded during the sessions for King Crimson’s THRAK album as Gary adds the tension by making his keyboard sound like a mouse scourging for food before returning back to his hidey-hole.
‘Schattenhaft’ is Stick Men’s nod to Rush’s ‘YYZ’ as if Pat is tipping his hat to the late great Neil Peart. You can feel the mysterious case is starting to rise again for the detective to finally catch the criminal red-handed. Husband lays down some funky keyboards while ‘Swimming in T’ is Reuter and Husband walking through the abandoned railroad tracks. With its musique-concrete section throughout spoken dialog, it’s the industrial soundscapes that makes it go mental as ‘Crack in the Sky’ gives Husband to clear away the thunderstorms that are going on throughout the rise of the pandemic. There are sections that Stick Men travel towards Marvin Gaye’s ‘What’s Going On’ as Tony Levin’s poetic dialogue fills the club.
The title-track is a futuristic landscape for the 22nd century. Perfect snarling-beast like music by dancing the Shahrzad and surreal wah-wah effects, the electronic monstrous noises makes the temperature go up, nonstop. ‘The End of the Tour’ is a bonus track that closes the album as Stick Men improvises in this 16-minute finale.
As the pandemic started to rise quickly before shutting down to a screeching halt, it gives the members a chance for the attendees to get a glimpse of everything to have a little bit of fun in their lives and hopefully they’ll be back when everything calms down in the roaring ‘20s. The music is a nod to the sessions of David Bowie’s Outside-era as Husband channels Mike Garson’s piano work and the channeling of Klaus Schulze’s ‘Stardancer’ from the Body Love album
For me, Owari is a cliffhanger album that leaves us on a tightrope and not knowing when the time will be right for Stick Men to come back on the road again. The 32-page booklet contains photographs at the time the band were in the middle of the tour rehearsing, drinking beer, smoking cigars, performing, taking selfies, and the city of Tokyo done by Tony Levin, Robert Frazza, and Leonardo Pavkovic.
While last year has been a big bumpy start, Owari is like a concert inside our heads to keep our nerves calm during lockdown and imaging yourself at the venue, knowing that Stick Men have always kept the train running. And there will be more adventures to come when the time is right for everything to be back to normal.