American guitar hero-songwriter-artist right activist Marc Ribot wanted to convene his Ceramic Dog trio during the Covid-19 lockdown, but as tells it, «(bass and keyboards player) Shahzad (Ismaily)’s lungs are all fucked up, so we didn’t get together till the end of May, even though Ismaily lives right upstairs from the studio. (Drummer) Ches (Smith) was looking after his kid… and I was walking around my apartment talking to myself and eating beans out of tin cans (with salsa and soy sauce on special occasions)».
Eventually, The trio arranged a kind of a meeting in the studio. Ismaily set up all the microphones, then go into the control room and shut the door. Smith arrived later in his own car, and Ribot by bicycle, at different times, enter the front room with masks on, remove shoes, and wash hands. Smith occupied the main room with his drum kit, and Ribot isolated himself in a booth and closed the door. The trio never saw each other but heard each other better than ever. Ceramic Dog recorded for four hours for a little over two weeks and produced the 6-song «What I Did On My Long ‘Vacation’» as a special Bandcamp Friday EP and as an appetizer for a full album, due to be released in the spring of 2021.
Ribot still sticks to the immortal advice of anarchist activist Emma Goldman: «if I can’t keep dance, I don’t want to be part of your revolution», and the opening instrumental piece «We Crashed in Norway», with guest alto sax player Darius Jones, delivers a driving, joyful groove. The following songs keep this raw, intense, and passionate spirit. The dirty and distorted neandertal «Beer», repeats a simple and blunt message. Ceramic Dog wants beer, and then another one and another one. The instrumental songs, the breezy «Who Was That Masked Man?» and the heavier «Dog Death opus 27», act as a sobering reminder of our dire times, despite their upbeat atmosphere.
The best song here is «Hippies Used To Be Nice», told by Ribot as «a concise mythology/history of Silicon Valley told from the perspective of an intellectually challenged amphetamine abuser». This is the sharpest and most insightful criticism on hippies put into a song since Frank Zappa’s classic «Who Needs the Peace Corps?», reminding us again and again that the «world is not a catalog», and with a searing guitar solo of Ribot. The EP ends with the mournful, electric blues «The Dead Have Come To Stay With Me», reflecting beautifully the unsettling melancholy of our times, and prays for someday when we all be free. But Ribot not only calls to mourn the dead but demands that we will «fight like hell for the living». And in the meantime, Ribot asks the listeners to join the fight to defeat Trump (swingleft.org) and vote for ones who respect human life, capable of understanding science, and value art.
Marc Ribot (g, v), Shahzad Ismaily (b, keys, back.v), Ches Smith (dr, perc, elec, back.v), Darius Jones (as)