The Ex are a band that have existed in some form or another for 40 years, and are probably a shining example of a band that you probably should spend some time exploring the deep and varied catalog. Do you like noise? You’ll probably like the earliest releases. Do you like most of Sonic Youth’s releases? Then you might appreciate anything throughout The Ex’s career. Do you like Ethiopian jazz? Then The Ex with Getachew Mekuria is probably your entry point? Do you like moodier, melancholy jazz? Then The Ex with Tom Cora might be your jam. Are you a fan of punk played with an abrasive edge? Then The Ex in the mid-80’s through the mid 90’s probably have a record that you will appreciate. Are you a fan of indie rock? Maybe the last two albums will be your thing. Do you like avant-garde rock with horn sections? Then The Ex with Brass Unbound is probably where you’ll fall in love with them.
By way of that introduction, you’ll actually get a sense of the lineup of this show; with Abebe Fikade fulfilling an Ethiopian approach to modern music (think traditional Ethiopian sounds with drum patterns and synthesizers), Eucalyptus fulfilling the jazz with saxaphone and trumpet, but with a rock edge coming from the electric guitar. New Fries, a new band, but with very straightforward post-punk and indie rock influences on their sleeve; and funneled through the female voicing of the singer.
In many ways The Ex are a band that exhibit their punk roots; deceptively simplistic songs, an intensity on stage that is undeniable, a willingness to fuck with expectations, a devotion to the present (as exemplified by them only playing songs on their current album). But they also show their maturity and dedication to their craft; an evolution in sound, if not the approach to being a band. Despite the difficulties of the sound in the space, the band prevailed. Racing through a thoughtful set of eight songs, ending with “Soon All Cities” and then coming back for an encore with an additional two songs, this time with Brodie from Eucalyptus adding a saxophone to the cacophony. And for me that’s what I wanted from The Ex; after missing them at the Rivoli in 1991 on a three night date with Nomeansno, and again last year on their tour to support “Catch My Shoe”, I finally got my chance to see them, and it was worth the wait. Of course, I wouldn’t expect The Ex to be in a conventional venue, nor to start the set with a conventional hard hitting song to get people moving. Starting with the discordant, “This Car Is My Guest” can be a distinct challenge to the crowd — but to a receptive audience, it can act as a clear line to state exactly what is going to be performed. Ending with the downright danceable “Soon All Cities”, the set wasn’t flawless, but that unpredictability is something that The Ex I would imagine would appreciate and be able to deal with. And in a world that is absent Sonic Youth, The Ex did play songs that live, would remind me of some of the same places that Sonic Youth were going on Murray Street and beyond. I’m glad that I got to see The Ex; and people who have seen The Ex previously mentioned that they had gotten more intense, more visceral live than previous. That leaves the rest of us some hope as we all age into middle-age and beyond. Long live The Ex to keep an example alive.