Patterns, Brighton, Thurs 1st June
Turns out, I’m a total know-nothing. The power electronics section was gone and they were, if anything, back to the classic Melt-Banana of old. And about as awesome as ever. Singer Yako operated some brightly coloured console, often brandishing it like a Harry Potter wand, from which the back-up instruments were triggered. (I later discovered this to be a MIDI controller. Gotta control those Midis, I guess…)
And classic Melt-Banana, if we were to reduce it to a formula, is a melting down of noise, punk, no-wave, metal and… yes, really pop. Yako might fire her vocals like a machine gun with a stuck trigger, but there’s strong tunes amid all the noise. And I’m not the only one to think so. Frank Mojica of Consequences of Sound has noted that “beneath the cacophony… were delightful pop melodies.”
Except I’m not even sure about ‘beneath’. Some noise music does have buried melodies, which take awhile to find, like a file with a cake in it. But with Melt-Banana tunes effectively ride atop everything, as if surfing a tsunami of noise. You get the exhilaration of noise combined with the sugar rush of pure prop.
As said over Lightning Bolt, noise music isn’t all angsty or aggressive – in fact it can be joyous and celebratory. John Lydon nailed it many years ago, when he sang “We like noise, it’s our choice/ It’s what we want to do.” And perhaps precisely because there’s more of a punk element to the sound, that’s even more noticeable with Melt-Banana.
And you can see that in the audience response. I’ve never known a mosh pit not to open up at a Melt-Banana gig, and I’ve never known it to become macho or aggressive. It’s souped-up good time music on steroids, but good time music still. You would need, I think, some term which portmanteaued ‘riot’ and ‘party’ to describe the Melt-Banana experience.
The Haunt, Brighton, Wed 31st May
In particular, they shared with Grunge the ability to make music that was both aggressive and languid, which swaggered and stumbled at same time, music you were never sure whether it was intent on fucking you up or fucking itself up. And if rock music’s about capturing the teenage experience, then that’s pretty much it.
Some seventeen years after their dissolution, it doesn’t look like they’ve cleaned up their act any. The set list seems to be decided upon on the spot. Jennifer Herrema is quite unashamedly out of it, slurringly rambling between songs. Some frontmen affect effortless cool, others come across as crazy outsiders and others just look like audience members arbitrarily placed onstage. Herrema seems have all three going on.
As the last time I saw them (pre-dissolution), Neil Hagerty seems both more together and more unassuming. Notably, as they come on it’s Herrema who gets the applause. (From their stage personas, you’d imagine them as having a Chuck D and Flava Flav relationship, striker and team mascot, though that doesn’t seem to be the way they actually worked.)
You’d probably drive yourself mad trying to figure out how much it’s meant to sound that way, and how much its just coming out like that. It is uneven. (And YouTube suggests other nights might have been still more uneven.) But that’s kind of the point. Rock music is supposed to be volatile and unpredictable, something you don’t do right by doing correctly. (Or it least it was before it became a heritage industry celebrated by Tory MPs.)
For a band who always manage to sound just like Royal Trux, there’s quite a variety to their music. Rip-roaring punk anthems co-exist with out-there noise guitar and, at one point, a trance-out groove with mantra vocals.
It’s generally considered that the weight of rock history got too much and snuffed out the creative spark. Bands became merely citational, concerned with keeping a tradition intact, like the worst kind of folk music. Keeping things vibrant meant wiping all that from your mind and just striking your guitar.
Yet perhaps the most interesting thing about this band, formally speaking, is that they quite openly took up rock history, often sounding unashamedly like ’Exile’ era Stones, and even releasing a trilogy of albums which represented the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties respectively. And it never seemed to dampen them down.
From Manchester, a couple of days before...
Patterns, Brighton, Mon 29th May
But pedigree though that is, you should put it all aside, really. As OOIOO are very much their own outfit. Though chiefly known with the Boredoms for playing drums, here she trades in guitar and, on occasion, the trumpet. Reviews suggest they were previously more a solo project with some hired help. But tonight they couldn’t be a more focused live band.
There’s the post-punk of the Slits and Raincoats; the off-kilter rhythms and scatter drums, the songs which seem to construct and deconstruct themselves. There’s also the deranged funk of the Talking Heads’ more out-there moments. But there’s also abundant girl-band harmonies and pumping pop hooks. Better hooks, in fact, than any pop band you’ve heard lately.
Like Deerhoof, there’s the sense that left-field sonic exploits and pure pop aren’t being brought together, but were only ever separate in your mind. As Thrill Jockey say, they’ve “subverted expectations and warped perceptions of what constitutes pop and experimental music”. But more, there’s the same exuberance, the feeling they’re making music for the sheer joyous pleasure of playing it.
But there’s less of the naivete of Deerhoof. In fact the melodic yet skittering instrumental breaks are more reminiscent of what prog did after post-punk had happened by and unplugged it’s mellotrons. Think if ‘Discipline’ era King Crimson had become a Deerhoof covers band. Or possibly vice versa.
And that weird name which sounds like binary notation, apparently based on some doodle of Eye’s, barely pronounceable to the rest of us, Yoshimi manages to say it like it means something.
OOIOO gigs are quite literally a delight.
THE COSMIC DEAD
The Green Door Store, Brighton, Thurs 25th May
Let's start by conceding the point. Yes, the Cosmic Dead is a crap name. Mashing up the name of a couple of classic psychedelic bands is akin to calling a soul group Sly and the Family Tops, or a punk band the Buzz Pistols. But don't judge this book by the cover, okay?
The… polite cough... are a self-styled “psychonautal cosmodelic buckfaustian quartet from Glasgow”. And after seeing Mugstar and entertaining the prospect of the map being bejewelled by numerous Hawkwind-styled bands, the Hertfordshire Hawkwind and the Huddlesfield Hawkwind and so on, it seems there really is a Glaswegian Hawkwind. Okay, alliteration would compel them into becoming the Glasgow Gong. But they sound more like Hawkwind, and when was that ever a bad thing? (Extensive research reveals they've even released a split record with Mugstar.)
Arriving late after being held up mid-Channel tunnel, and sound-checking hurriedly before us assembled folk, they launch straight into their out-there space rock. There's scant regard for song elements to let us in gently. It's all cosmic jams, and cosmic jams today, no stodgy sandwich parts to chew through. There's occasional vocals, but more spacey chants than singing. In fact when they speak, it's easier for them to eschew the mikes and avoid all their assembled effects and delays. (Fortunately their tonsils are at Glasgow decibels, so mikes prove superfluous.)
What does a band need if it's going to get really unhinged? A hinge, right? Tracks are rooted in a powerful rhythm section however far they wander, which keeps things compelling rather than meandering. Rather than float and morph, they tend to shift between quite well defined sections. The result is a set which feels absolutely out of control and entirely driven at one and the same time. Proceedings ends with the guitars looping and everyone bashing at drums. Bar the keyboardist, who adjusts the sound via dials, balanced precariously on an alarmingly teetering stack of amps.
I start to seriously consider that holding a band back from the stage till the last moment, perhaps by 'forgetting' their dressing room key, might actively encourage them to let rip when they finally get there. So we may partly have Channel Tunnel stoppages to thank for such a blistering set. If so Southern Rail could be a gift to the Brighton gig circuit.
Their other remarkable feature, besides being such a good band with so bad a name, is the keyboardist's uncanny similarity to a young Robert Wyatt. I'm not such what the market value of Robert Wyatt lookalikes is, but should there be one this guy could be away.
BRITTEN SINFONIA + BRIGHTON FESTIVAL CHORUS
Brighton Dome, Sun 28th May
Part of the Brighton Festival
And that very American sense of spaciousness seemed to infuse the works. Someone hatched the ingenious idea to stage Copland’s ’Fanfare for the Common Man’ (1942) with two brass sections placed up at either ends of the circle, granting it a natural stereo effect. But it also gave a sense of physical space to a piece with great musical space, like one of those drawings where little is actually drawn, but large expanses are still somehow suggested.
It was followed by his ’Lincoln Portrait’ from the same year. Now we at Lucid Frenzy towers are less than entirely convinced by the whole ‘Lincoln freed the slaves’ narrative, as perpetuated here. (Brief summary of argument – don’t believe the hype.) Yet a Lincoln quote, if said in 1862, does seem to describe his music: “the dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present… As our case is new, so we must think and act anew. We must disenthrall ourselves.” To this day Copland sounds bold, new and expressive, something like Berenice Abbott’s dynamic New York photography.
Copland may be a rare example of a genuinely successful Modernist. If we were to take Modernism at its word, it aimed to rid art of its cultural baggage and just speak directly. Yet most found it challenging, if not indecipherable. To find a value in it, we often have to reject seeing it in its own terms. Yet Copland’s music feels like it’s aimed straight at your heart. It was populist in the positive sense of the term, and even became popular. Both pieces being conceived of as contributions to the war effort suggest art with a social purpose.
’Harmonium’ was written when Adams was still breaking away from Modernism proper, and with it’s sinfonia and full choir must have seemed something wildly different. In fact the choir is dominant for long sections. The brass in particular seemed indebted to Copland, yet also making an appearance is Terry Riley’s ’In C’… in fact, its actual C! In my favourite section the double basses took up a low thrum, which slowly spread through the other instruments before finally sparking the full-throated choir off again. A crescendo, about the thing you least expect from a Minimalist composer.
Had Adams asked my opinion before composing this piece, I’d have probably told him he was attempting to pull together the irreconcilable and could only end up with the most jack-of-all-trades post-modern slop. Fortunately for us all he didn’t, and the piece works superbly.
As with the previous programme of American music, these dark and orange days seem the most important time to remind ourselves of what is positive in American culture. How much of it came from an immigrant/ New World perspective, of recombining and making new what had come before. And how much it then contributed back to the rest of the world.
This has been not just a great week’s run of gigs, but one where each event has it’s own unique character. You might not expect Copland to sound much like Melt-Banana, and he didn’t. But then neither were Melt-Banana much like Royal Trux, or either like the Cosmic Dead. Everything was best at being itself.