Thursday, June 3, 2010
The Oakland string band Judgement Day owes a lot of its success and sound to the streets. Violinist Anton Patzner maintains that the band’s biggest breakthroughs and the development of their signature string metal style was developed on blacktop rather than in more traditional venues.
“We started this band playing on the street,” he says of the group, which includes his brother Lewis Patzner on cello and Jon Bush on drums. “We wrote our songs based on what would draw the biggest crowds around us and get us the most tips. The faster and harder we played and the more we headbanged, the better we’d do.”
Pounding the pavement has paid off for Judgement Day, as evidenced by two major developments that were brought about by the band’s busking. NPR discovered the trio on Sixth Street during this year’s South By Southwest Music Festival, which led to Judgement Day being featured on a recent episode of All Songs Considered alongside Merle Haggard and LCD Soundsystem. A performance outside of a Cursive concert in 2004 led to Anton being hired as the touring violinist for Bright Eyes.
While Anton was playing big rock gigs like Coachella with Bright Eyes, his brother went in a radically different musical direction after being accepted to study music at the Peabody Institute, a conservatory connected to John Hopkins University. “Lewis was studying the profession of classical music: how to play perfectly in tune, advanced music theory, all the rules,” Anton says. “I was learning how to let go of rules and the value of a stage dive.”
On the band’s new two-years-in-the-making album Peacocks/Pink Monsters, the prodigiously talented trio indulges in both Lewis’ love of technical prowess and Anton’s improvisational impulses. “Cobra Strike” is a complicated thrash song where a series of effects pedals cause Judgement Day’s cello and violin to sound like a synthesizer and a squealing Joe Satriani-esque guitar. The aptly named “Improvisation” slowly coalesces from something spare and ambient into an unexpected and beautiful jazz-like tumble of drums and strafing strings.
While Anton describes taking Peacocks/Pink Monsters on the road as a car alarm beeps in the background, it is evident that the violinist is already back on a street somewhere. Turns out he is getting ready to play an impromptu early afternoon gig with his girlfriend’s group Foxtails Brigade on the side of a crowded Berkeley avenue.