Il Sogno Del Marinaio - Live in Philadelphia (Cover Artwork)
Staff Pick

Il Sogno Del Marinaio

Live in Philadelphia (2014)

live show

There’s an old cliché about jazz that “you have to see it live to truly experience it.” In the past, I’ve compared Il Sogno Del Marinaio, the band featuring Mike Watt, Andrea Belfi, and Stefano Pilia, to jazz, drawing a comparison as to how the trio often experiments with texture and tension as much as they do with composition. When Il Sogno played Philadelphia’s Johnny Brenda’s bar on October 17, two things became apparent. First, to really enjoy the depth of Il Sogno you do need to see them live, like jazz. Second, although Il Sogno may share some similarities with jazz, it is entirely its own thing.

Most notable was how dynamic these songs become in the live setting. On the record, the band will often play with expectation, starting a pattern and then suddenly deviating from it. Likewise, Belfi, instead of driving the beat with his drums, will often wander off into his own territory whole Pilia is on his own mission, making it exciting, and somewhat challenging, waiting for the two rhythms to intersect.

The band continues this technique in the live setting, but instead of an exercise in concentration, the trio forces you to try and keep up with their rapid changes. At times, Il Sogno was like a three ring circus- Watt snapping out his riffs, Belfi flipping back and forth between traditional rock beats and the avant-garde, and Pilia wrapping his guitar around the whole thing. But at other times, the three instruments united into a single attack, rumbling like the cohesion heard in heavy metal, but with the depth of an orchestra.

In fact, that was perhaps the band’s most surprising trick. When the band did bind together, they thundered like Wagner. A single mass of bombastic twisting, Il Sogno was as much opera as they were any other genre. Frankly, Watt is known for his intricate, unusual bass lines, but did anyone know that he could thunder like Thin Lizzy? (The Stooges drafting makes so much more sense now.)

Meanwhile, both Belfi and Pilia mastered the style as well, one moment drifting along in a arm, calm texture before suddenly erupting into Vesuvian level noise. By the end of the night it was clear that Il Sogno is mentally stimulating on record, but live, they are primal energy. Few bands have contrasted the Id with the academic to this degree. Even fewer have done it with such style and zest.