As we navigated shutdowns and venue closures throughout 2020, many of us observed that time seemed to slow down. But when it comes to dilating time, COVID-19 is a rank dabbler compared to Pelt. Even in their early incarnation as a Sonic Youth-inspired noise-rock band based in Blacksburg, West Virginia, they were prone to sludgy tempos. After the combo dropped rock forms in favor of open-ended improvisation, their penchant for fusing the keening sonorities of Appalachian old-time fiddling with the endless drones of early American minimalists La Monte Young, Tony Conrad, and Terry Riley earned them an honorific: the Hillbilly Theatre of Eternal Music. The effect of their bowed strings, groaning harmonium, drizzling piano, and tolling metal percussion is to make it seem as though time has evaporated, and the quartet (currently multi-instrumentalists Mike Gangloff, Mikel Dimmick, Nathan Bowles, and Pat Best, who are spread across four states) can go years without playing a concert. Nonetheless, Pelt have their own peculiar life cycle—they often emerge from hibernation in response to a summons from a music festival. In April, Pelt played for the first time in five years at an event celebrating the 20th anniversary of Three Lobed Recordings, which last year released their fantastic LP Reticence/Resistance. Duly awakened, Pelt now return to Chicago for the first time since 2011 to play two concerts. On Friday, the group will perform at SPACE as part of WNUR’s Transference Fest. On Saturday, they’ll headline the Hideout; for the opening set, Bowles and local guitarist Bill MacKay will belatedly celebrate their debut LP, Keys, released last year by Chicago-based label Drag City. If Pelt’s music taps into the cosmic beyond, the reflective guitar-and-banjo instrumentals and gospel vocal numbers on Keys quietly but resoundingly affirm traditional musical values.
Pelt Part of Transference Fest, presented by WNUR. Evie the Cool, Carinae, Pelt, Morinda, Fri 5/27, 7:30 PM, SPACE, 1245 Chicago, Evanston, $15, all ages
Pelt, Bill MacKay & Nathan Bowles, Sat 5/28, 9:30 PM, Hideout, 1354 W. Wabansia, $15, 21+