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Pan-American began during the summer of 1997, when Mark Nelson, guitar player and singer of the legendary Labradford, wanted to explore the possibilities of sampling and computer technology as well as his interests in dub and techno. Nelson continued to work on Pan American material as he worked with Labradford, learning to play pedal steel guitar, releasing singles on European labels and getting some studio time in with engineer Casey Rice. Rob Mazurek from Chicago Underground Trio and Alan Sparhawk and Mimi Parker of Low contributed cornet and vocals, respectively. The resulting album, 360 Business / 360 Bypass, was released by Kranky in North America (and Blast First in Europe) in early 2000.
More singles and album followed, along with the occasional live performance. Nelson’s placement behind a synthesizer and mixing desk belied the improvisational nature of the live mix. Between sternum-rattling bass rhythms and Nelson’s willingness to challenge an audience of with outbursts of static, Pan American shows were more than the usual knob-twiddling and smooth noodle maps, traded dub undertow for percussive points, field recordings and an ominous drone.
Nelson’s latest offering as Pan American, A Son, is a return his musical and spiritual beginnings. Spare, subdued, and largely acoustic, A Son unfurls like late summer dusk on the edge of town, expansive but intimate. Motivated by notions of “moving backward” and tracing roots - as well as a couple years of hammered dulcimer lessons - the album’s nine songs were written and recorded in his home in Evanston, Illinois, and honed during a solo tour in Europe in 2018.
The emphasis on uncluttered arrangements and the centrality of the guitar and vocals reveal these songs as the most direct and emotional statement of his career. Nelson cites everything from June Tabor, The Carter Family, Suicide, and Jimmy Reed as oblique inspirations, though his truest muse was creative self-inquiry: “What does music do, Where does music start? How simple can it be? How honest can it be?”
Presented by Upset The Rhythm.
This is an 18+ event