Words And Guitar: Devin Ocampo at the Writer’s Center, Nov. 5
For the last decade and change, Devin Ocampo has been widely regarded as one of the Washington, D.C., area’s most technically proficient musicians in the Dischord Records orbit, playing drums in Smart Went Crazy and Beauty Pill and singing and playing guitar in the short-lived Faraquet and now Medications, which released its second album and played the Talking Head earlier this year.
But it wasn’t totally clear which aspects of Ocampo’s talent and repertoire would be on display at his first-ever solo performance, as part of the Story/Stereo series at the Writer’s Center in Bethesda.
The unique series features a combination of published writers reading their work and musicians offering special one-off performances in an intimate setting, with the music portion co-curated by Ocampo’s sometimes bandmate Chad Clark of Beauty Pill and Smart Went Crazy.
After stirring readings by Ugandan novelist Doreen Baingana and Louisiana poet Alison Pelegrin and a brief intermission, Ocampo’s set closed the night, and it became apparent that it wasn’t going to be just a quiet acoustic set, given the amp, electric guitar, drum set, and vibraphone at the front of the room. Instead of playing strictly solo, he was backed by another multi-talented musician, Mark Cisneros, who plays keyboards and guitar in the current live lineup of Medications, but played drums and vibes on Friday. After opening with a song that a pre-Faraquet band released on a 7-inch single way back in the early 1990s, Ocampo focused on his better-known work, splitting the set evenly between Faraquet and Medications songs.
Ocampo and Cisneros opted out of trying to recreate Faraquet’s furious proggy power-trio dynamics, although their set was loud enough that some of the older audience members understandably didn’t stick around until the end. “The Fourth Introduction” was considerably dialed down in volume, though still taut and intense, and the shorter arrangement of “Sea Song”
more closely resembled the early version featured on Faraquet’s rarities collection Anthology 1997-98 than the better-known one on their sole full-length, The View From This Tower. And at Clark’s request, Ocampo dusted off a pretty incredible cover of PJ Harvey’s “Rid of Me” that was once part of Faraquet’s early live shows.
The Medications portion of the set was culled entirely from this year’s Completely Removed, which was understandable given that the album is a bit mellower than the band’s earlier releases, though it still featured some of Ocampo’s most impressive guitar work of the night. Cisneros moved to the vibraphone for the last two songs, including the beautifully serene “Brasil ‘07,” ending the evening on a gentle note.