Queen Elizabeth Hall, South Bank Centre, London, 20th June
Body/Head are the main post-Sonic Youth project of Kim Gordon, featuring noise stalwart Bill Nace on guitar and Ikue Mori on drums and electronics. (Ex of fabled no-wave pioneers DNA, in apparantly her first live performance for a quarter century.) Though Mori is apparantly not a permanent member they seem keen to be seen as an ensemble with their logo image (above) fusing Gordon's head with Nace's. It was notable how, unlike Thursten Moore's sold-out Meltdown appearance, the title 'Body/Head' did not automatically equate to ticket sales and Gordon's name was made a more and more prominent subhead as booking time went on.
Perhaps through a combination of longevity and a sustained existence on the periphery of the mainstream, Sonic Youth often felt like one of those barometer bands. Faces which would turn blank at many other names would at least know of them, and be blown away from quizzing you any further by thought of that squall of noise. It became a mark of The Sort of Gigs I Go To that at least one person would show up sporting the celebrated Pettibon cover to 'Goo' on their T-shirt.
But, despite being a longstanding fan, I was one of the few people I knew to think K-Punk's infamous diatribe did have some kind of a point. Suggesting they spearheaded the “conversion of experimental rock into part of the heritage industry” may fit his own description of “deliberately provocative”. And 'curatorial' is probably too strong a term. But there was always something cerebral, even hipsterish about them. They'd attack guitars with screwdrivers, but in a semi-detached way that made them cool to like. Which sometimes seemed to bypass the really cool thing about music – the way it can come straight from the gut. In short, they were lucid without always being frenzied.
And while I wouldn't want to make some “who gets the fans” issue out of Moore and Gordon's recent divorce, I do associate that downside more with... well, with Moore. I never, alas, saw the full band in action. But I saw a solo Gordon gig early in the Noughties, which I much enjoyed. While the year Moore headlined Colour Out of Space... well, it led to another sold-out crowd but let's say it wasn't for me.
I'd mentally compared the earlier Gordon gig to a charcoal sketch; broad, gestural strokes against a pop song's tight pen-and-ink drawing, all neat composed lines. And Body/Head reproduced that rawness. Two guitars (no bass) played dissonantly atop throbbing drums. One tended to build up rumbling sounds, as if measuring out an expanse of canvas for the other to draw over. (Often in screechy high register, Velvet Underground style.) It's neat the way they don't abandon song structures so much as press them into service, even during the vocal sections - which seem on the border between sung and chanted.
Yoko Ono, this year's Meltdown curator, joined in for the encore. And while she may dance like your Granny at a wedding, her much-mocked waily vocals actually work well with the guitar cacophony. I was reminded, in a good way, of the often-skipped second side of 'Live Peace in Toronto'.
Yet despite the unarguable highlights it somehow feels half full. It's hard to pin down what's missing, but it never quite gets going. We had the derangement of the senses, just not in a systematic fashion. It was like one of those camp fires which will roar into flame but fall back into embers the next moment. It had the feel of a rehearsal in both the good and the bad sense – raw and immediate, but also rough-edged and uneven. And, while it may have just been me, I felt the accompanying filmshow (about Manhattanite loft-dwellers and their art projects) distracting and uninvolving. In the end, I tuned out of looking at it.
After a fairly short set the audience applause felt less than hearfelt, encouraging as much as appreciative – as if our way of saying “keep going, you nearly had it.” Keep going they didn't, at least that night. But watch this space...
Keeping to the family theme, support act Mystical Weapons were an impro duo of Deerhoof's Greg Saunier and no less than Sean Lennon. Though this did suffer from the familiar highs-and-lows syndrome of impro music, highs it did have and it certainly made 'Beautiful Boy' feel a damn long time ago...
That encore, complete with added Yoko Ono...
...and more Body/Head from Belgium, complete wiTH stRange CasiNg fOr sOME rEAson i Don'T unDERstaNd... (They sound like a different band without Mori, with abrasive and dirgy guitar lines taking up the rhythm role. To be frank they sound a considerably better one. Maybe the downsides of London just mark an off night.)
Clore Ballroom, South Bank Centre, London, 20th June
Perhaps these London boys play best at home, because I found myself enjoying them even more than when they recently played Brighton. And, in another perhaps, perhaps having just seen Kim Gordon directed my thinking. But they did seem like a contemporary psychedelic version of Sonic Youth – with a seemingly limitless ability to conjure strange sounds out of familiar-looking guitars, combined with an unerring ability to press the strangeness into the service of driving rock numbers. (Though they also use more dub effects than I remember from before.)
A free gig on a week night in central London, that must be a recipe for a pick-up audience. If so, they turned that pick-up audience into clamouring fans and had their endless energy fed back to them.
Not a band to miss live.
JEFFREY LEWIS + PETER STAMPFEL
Blind Tiger Club, Brighton, Tues 28th May
Anti-folk artist Jeffrey Lewis is back in town! And he's telling us it's been a decade since he first played here. And indeed, if I'd been together enough to review him in the previous post on the cult gigs as I intended, I'd have had an act for every decade down from four to one. (I do just throw this show together, you know.) I honestly can't remember if I was present at that inaugural occasion, but I have now seen him more times than I can count.
But this is of course as nothing to co-star Peter Stampfel, whose first album with the Holy Modal Rounders came out in 1964. In a phrase I don't get to use very often nowadays, that's before I was born. In yet another demonstration of how little I actually know about cult music, they're not a band I'm familiar with at all. However I do know him through his early involvement with the Fugs, and the Rounders seem pretty much chips cast from the same block. Which was, protest war and petition society by growing your hair, playing weird music and annoying people. But not necessarily in that order.
Though Stampfel has guested on Lewis recordings before, this is the first time they've collaborated. It's a more folky sound than when Lewis plays with the Junkyard, with Stampfel on fiddle, a mandolin joining in and the bass as the only electric instrument. The numbers seem oriented mostly around old Stampfel tracks or what I'd guess to be new numbers they've worked on together. Frequently they head into jug band/ hoedown territory. I recognise precisely one track the whole night long, 'Don't Be Upset'. (On which Stampfel was blatantly winging the fiddle part.) Then again, that's not all that unusual for a Lewis gig, which often take flight in their own chosen direction.
It's a typically eclectic night, with tracks about reality TV stars and Stampfel's (apparently vast) collection of bottle caps. (The last with accompanying slideshow.) When one number mentions orgones Lewis comments “there's only one other song about orgones” - and yes they really do go on to cover Hawkwind's 'Orgone Accumulator'! (Always a way to a middle-aged man's heart.) Stampfel fills in Dik Mik's synthesizer parts with scatting vocals.
Consciously or not, the generation-spanning line-up seems befitting for the folk tradition. And it's kind of mirrored by its audience, who range from us Hawkwind-recognising oldies to the young Occupy/UK Uncut mob. Lewis segues effortlessly from celebrating Pussy Riot's punk spirit (“I'll ask me and you ask you, what would Pussy Riot do?”) to indulging absurdist deadpan humour. When not on stage, he staffs his own stall selling his comics and self-burnt CDs. It's official. If he didn't exist we really would have to make him up.
This clip medley is from their home base in New York City, but just prior to this tour of Europe...
Sticky Mike's Frog Bar, Brighton, Sat 25th May
“Uneven Eleven,” it says here, “is a startling new initiative, injecting the ‘ROCK POWER TRIO’ with a new dose of artistic expression, creativity and freedom.” They're comprised of Kawabata Makota, guitarist from psychedelic warlords Acid Mothers Temple, drummer Charles Hayward (chiefly famed for post-punk legends This Heat), and bassist Guy Segers from Univers Zero. (Who, if I'm honest, I had to Wikipedia.)
...which couldn't sound more like a supergroup if it had been bitten by a radioactive spider as a bat flew in the window on the way from planet Krypton. Now supergroups might sound like the last thing you'd expect from our sort of music. They sound not just the preserve but the worst excess of the muso. And yet, despite it all, sometimes they can come together into a virtuous combination. This were not the musical equivalent of three circus acrobats who happened to be tumbling on stage simultaneously, but three guys who you could believe had been playing together their whole lives. (While I believe it was only their second ever performance.)
This was quite definitely one of the most inspirational gigs of recent months, and I would love to sound all smart and sophisticated and analytical. But to be honest I spent the whole thing in a state of stupefied awe. If they reminded me of anything else, and I'm not sure they did, it was the extended workouts Levene and Wobble (aka Metal BoxIn Dub) were recently giving to classic Public Image tracks. Makota's guitar frequently took on some of Levene's textured harmonics.
But that doesn't really capture their breadth. They didn't sound much like Miles Davis, but they reminded me of that spirit. They had the same caveliar disregard for constraint, the same sense of ceaseless invention, throwing up not just new themes but whole new sounds - and discarding them just as quickly. And yet at the same time it remained tuneful throughout and mostly beat-driven, never chin-stroking or pondersome. Music for brain and body!
YouTube seems sadly silent on footage not just from Brighton but the UK tour in general. This is an all-too-brief snippet from Cafe Oto in London... (Guy Segers himself is in the comments asking for more!)
...fortunately there's more from Brussels, aGAin wiTH tHe UNeven capiTaLISatIOns. (This is but one of several parts.)
The Gladstone, Brighton, Fri 14th June
Despite high enjoyment levels I'm not sure I have much to say that is fresh or new about Blyth Power after the last time I saw them. Yet as this gig precipitated a massive Blyth Power listening session on the House of Four Eyes' home stereo system, they should surely at least receive mention in dispatches.
Though if memory serves I only saw them once back in the day, the clip below was like some crappy VHS footage version of a Proustian cake which brought the whole era back to me. When life consisted almost entirely of boisterous gigs to attend, spilt cider, ripped combats, no-Gods-no-masters and not forgetting to sign on alternate Thursdays. Did we dance like that? I suppose we must have...
Coming soon! More gig-going adventures. (We seemed to go through a glut of great gigs, so yes there is more equally out-of-date stuff still to come. Same lucid time, same frenzied channel...)