Long before Fred Armisen joined the cast of SNL and mocked hipster culture on Portlandia, he played drums in the punk band Trenchmouth and as one of the bald percussionists of the Blue Man Group. Reclaiming those musical roots, Armisen has been making regular appearances at Union Pool to perform a selection of covers of his favorite bands, including the Clash, Devo, and the Damned, with a secret special guest each time. Tonight, catch the final show of his residency.

Sun., May 20, 9 p.m., 2012


Arts & Crafts With Buke & Gass

A Brooklyn band with nothing better to do than sit around inventing new instruments—it certainly smacks of the urban-renewal woodsman ideology we’re told exists these days. But for Aron Sanchez and Arone Dyer (both pronounced “Aaron”), who comprise Buke & Gass, they just do it this way because it’s easier. They make almost everything they play, right down to their guitar amps. “Took me two hours of soldering,” Dyer laments about the wooden amp box, as she messes about with some duct tape in their Cobble Hill studio. She’s trying to jerry-rig a Toeborine, which is a tambourine she made for her feet. “But not all at once. Just an hour one night, then an hour the next.”

Dyer, a bicycle mechanic, and Sanchez, a former tech roadie/instrument-maker for the Blue Man Group, met roughly 10 years ago and almost immediately started making music together, first dabbling in some singer-songwriter stuff Dyer brought, then an electronica project, then a quartet called Hominid, before settling on B&G in 2008. The band is named after the instruments they play, which Sanchez makes. Dyer sings and primarily plays the “buke,” a baritone ukelele that slightly resembles a discount-store toy guitar; Sanchez plays a modified kick drum as well as the “gass” (rhymes with “base”), a metallic-looking guitar with six strings—two bass, four guitar. “I was looking for a new instrument,” Sanchez says. “When I play bass parts, the notes come through a guitar amp, so it’s not just a bass sound. It’s its own thing. “

This fall, they released Riposte, an odd, 14-song hodge-podge of avant-folk stompers like “Your Face Left Before You” and “Revel in Contempt,” alongside little 30- to 45-second interstitial fragments. At times, the result recalls the schizophrenic meanderings of the Fiery Furnaces, the folk-psych leanings of Akron/Family, and the charming ambitions of High Places, but Riposte‘s intrigue lies not only in trying to figure out exactly which instrument is doing what (wait, is that a homemade bulbul tarang I hear?), but in marveling at the nature of song construction itself. “We improvise for hours and just record it all,” Sanchez says. “That’s why songs go completely different directions: We’re taking parts from this day and this day, and mashing them together . . . we like what we get of that. It takes us out of the equation . . . it’s not like I sat down and said, ‘Let me think of some cool notes.’ “

But within this complex, labored method of writing and recording, Dyer’s voice still rings out, at times sounding a bit like Geddy Lee, or a restrained Karen O. On “Immortal But Just Fine, Okay” she sounds fragile, almost desperate, yet moments later she’s excited or paranoid (or both) on the frenetic “Bundletuck.” She sings about things and situations that might seem familiar, might not, like on the opening lines to “Medulla Oblongata”: “You treat me like a nurse in your arms/Sterile in my white paper crown/When will you get better?” And like her handyman partner, she goes through lyrics the way an architect might dabble in blueprints: Drafts upon drafts are etched, lines crossed out, words changed around, until she finally reaches something that she hopes doesn’t sound contrived.

They also hope you’re not too fixated on the whole homemade-gear thing. “The fact that we’re making the instruments is just to solve a problem,” Sanchez says. “‘What can we do to maximize the music that we’re playing?'”

“Rather than using a drum track, you make silly things like this,” Dyer explains, holding up the bandaged Toeborine. “And then sweat.”

Buke & Gass play the Mercury Lounge on December 11


Yilana’s Fringe Sensation 666 at Minetta Lane

On the surface, the Spanish group Yllana’s 2009 Fringe sensation 666 (now transplanted to the Minetta Lane Theater) seems like another nonverbal spectacle for tourists, along the lines of Stomp or Fuerzabruta. But something’s amiss—the clowns in this show play orange-clad prisoners who twitch and stutter their way through a variety of orgiastic, puerile, and gruesomely amusing routines. Like Blue Man Group Goes to Gitmo, maybe. They pretend to empty their chamberpots into the audience (number 1, thankfully), they sexually harass an audience member, they love to mime anal rape (even victimizing a stuffed lamb). One clever bit of Bunraku-inspired staging makes possible a grimly funny skit about two recently hanged men.

Though first performed in Valencia, Spain, in 1998, the show has only become more disturbing in the intervening years of “black sites” and Abu Ghraib. Yet the piece is so juvenile that it makes that observation seem silly—the profundity ends when the trousers drop.

Since 666 begins beyond tastelessness, of course it devolves into gags about gas chambers, and of course the finale includes a Greek chorus of sweaty demons with three-foot phalluses assaulting playgoers with their members. If the show didn’t end there, it would have to kill you.