Centipede Eest, like its namesake critter, is a bit tough to pin down. The local band's music is percussive and danceable, but the lyrics are often cerebral; while the group plays long jams, it's not a jam band, exactly. "We talk sometimes about how fun it would be to play the jam-band circuit," says bassist Caulen Kress, "but I think we'd just have fun playing long sets outside. The rest of it wouldn't be that fun."
"We exist in a weird space," adds guitarist Jim Lingo. "We play too straight for the weirdos sometimes, but too skewed for the squares."
Without a conductor or director, without a main songwriter, the ensemble establishes a unique sound beyond the individual visions of the five accomplished rockers who constitute its lineup. "[Each member] is comfortable with their own identity," offers utility player Josh Tanzer. "There's no mission statement we're working toward." And that, ironically, might be the crux of what makes the band work.
Centipede Eest is now releasing its second full-length, Confluence, a little less than a year after the vinyl EP Surf Licks and the Wall of Sound For World Peace. Both were recorded by Tanzer at the same sessions at the New Hazlett Theater, in 2007.
Tanzer's relationship with the band began at a show in San Francisco, where he was living in 2006. A Pittsburgh native, Tanzer knew Kress; he soon hit it off with the rest of Centipede, returning to record the early 2007 session. Centipede invited him to sit in at an improv show later in the year, and soon enough he was playing with the group on the regular, splitting time between keyboards and guitar. The lineup now consists of Tanzer, Boombox alums Lingo, Kress and drummer Sam Pace, and, from Shopping, guitarist and singer Nick Patton (née Fallwell -- he married this year and changed his name).
Patton and Lingo are the purveyors of verse; their styles of lyric-writing are as readily told apart as their two distinct voices. Lingo's sense of wordplay is foregrounded on songs like the title track. Patton's words are musical themselves even before being set to song; it's never more evident than on "Evidence of Heaven," which opens, "There's no time like the prior / Said the friar to his sire / As we strode the loch and water took wing."
Complementary guest musicians appear throughout Confluence -- Midnite Snake's Alexei Plotnicov and Paul Quattrone; Jody Perigo, formerly of Great Ants; and DJ/noise artist Ed Um -- but the most notable collaboration comes in the final track, "New Sudan." Majier Ayuen, a friend of Lingo's displaced from his home in southern Sudan, contributed lyrics and vocals in his native Dinka language. The track isn't brand-new; it's been in development since the early days of the band, and an instrumental version appeared on a local compilation in 2006. Ayuen's addition of vocals, though, completes the song, which is based on a traditional anthem from that terror-stricken land.
Lingo sets up an opposition of sorts between the title track and "New Sudan." The anticipatory "Confluence" is a call for listeners to take action in their lives -- the wait is over. "New Sudan," on the other hand, is all about the wait: "[Ayuen is] talking about trying to come to a new land and find a place there, yet knowing it's not your own," explains Lingo. But both songs are "hopeful dreams of unity, I suppose," he adds.
Centipede is releasing Confluence on its own label, 100 Legs, also home to the band's previous EP and full-length. "I think of it more as an indie label we run, rather than a self-release," Kress explains, noting that the contacts he developed in the record industry while working at Paul's CDs have helped him work out distribution deals for the records. "We'd put more bands' records out if we had the money."
In the meantime, Centipede is playing two release shows on Fri., Oct. 3: First, a free all-ages show outside the Machine Age studio; then at Gooski's, with Brain Handle and Jackson, of Grand Buffet. Then they'll hit the road for a Northeast/Midwest tour. The group will bring Confluence, which, while over a year out of the studio, is a fresh and urgent document.
"I think every recording is a snapshot of what's going on [in a band], and the next one is newer and hopefully better," offers Pace, modestly. With its strongest effort yet, Centipede is living up to that estimation -- and when it hits the studio upon its return, more good things are likely on the way.
Centipede Eest Release Shows 7 p.m. Fri., Oct. 3 (with Raw Blow and DJ Edgar Um; Machine Age Studio, 3575 Bigelow Blvd., Polish Hill; all ages; free). Also 10 p.m. Fri., Oct. 3 (with Brain Handle and Jackson of Grand Buffet; Gooski's, 3117 Brereton St., Polish Hill; $5; 412-681-1658).