Saturday 10 November 2018


Brighton Dome, Fri 9th Nov

I first saw the now-legendary Smiths in this very venue. They finished the gig with ’Meat is Murder, the first time I ever heard that track. Naturally enough, it seared itself into my still-young brain. It was not just a great gig, but one of the gigs by which other gigs should be measured.

No matter how often it’s done, it’s still weird to see them used now as a signifier of that era. Because back then they seemed the very antithesis of all about them. As wrote Simon Reynolds in ‘Shock and Awe’: “The Smiths represent the common people, all those marginalised or left behind in the enterprise-culture Eighties.”

In sound and look they represented a a kind of template outsiderhood. You belonged if you were gay, straight but sensitive and unmacho, celibate by design, celibate despite your most strenuous efforts, not necessarily celibate at all and pretty much all the rest of it. The message was - to us, the outside is the inside, uncool is our cool. In the words of the song “You shut your mouth/ How can you say/ I go about things the wrong way?”

But of course a lot has happened since then…

The first thing Marr does on taking the stage, before speaking, is a quick flurry on his guitar. And he is of course not just a great but an exemplary guitarist, with a signature style you recognise in just a few seconds. Tony Curtis’ description of Marilyn Monroe’s walk, “it’s like jello on springs”, pretty much covers it. He studiously avoids show-off displays and cliches. And while he does run into solos these days, they’re always short and sweet.

At which point it occurs to me I’m not sure I’ve ever heard him sing. (Despite this album being his fourth. Sometimes things pass me by.) Whatever you might say about Morrissey these days, and let’s take all that stuff as read, he had one of the great character voices - a classic case of Not a Good Singer, But A Great Singer. Marr’s voice is admittedly less strong. At best there’s a Bernie Sumner purposefully grey quality to it.

And this is most apparent, inevitably enough, with the Smiths songs. ’Bigmouth Strikes Again’ may well need the big mouth behind it. But there’s a powerful version of ’Headmaster Ritual’. ’How Soon is Now’, effectively the Smiths anthem, already quoted up above, concluded the main set. The vocals are perhaps more intonatory. But it’s based around a pulse over which other elements are orchestrated. It’s effectively an extended remix of itself, the ’I Feel Love’ of outsiderhood. Not a recipe for a live number. Yet somehow it becomes little short of heartstopping.

He also manages a storming version of Electronic’s ’Getting Away With It’, which I’d previously dismissed as filler. Though admittedly the other Electronic track was filler.

But the gig’s about, and dominated by songs from, his new album ’Call the Comet’. Not all tracks are memorable, but some shine. There’s the jangly, exuberant post-Sixties sound you’d expect, but elsewhere things are sharper and punchier. One, which in police parlance I now know to be called ’New Dominions’, verges on electrobeat. Marr without Morrissey is revealed to be more Mod than Indie, focused and cool rather than effusive and exuberant.

The gig may be summed up by his warning that i-phones needed to be charged before breaking into ’There Is A Light That Never Goes Out.’ Then, after the obvious finale, seemingly unable to resist, calling out “let’s do one more!” He could have done that a few times over without much disagreement.

I believe I may have mentioned 'How Soon Is Now'...

Patterns, Brighton, Fri 2nd Nov

Psychedelic warlords Acid Mothers Temple are of course no strangers to Lucid Frenzy’s shores. Because, after all, who could pass up another chance to see them? All you can really be sure of in advance is that psychedelic freak-outs will be involved, and they’ll play some version of ’Pink Lady Lemonade’. (Essentially, their theme number.)

Ever shifting, they have a new vocalist. The most remarkable thing about which is that she’s actually a vocalist. At times the vocals are even given space to dominate the number. (I’m not clear whether Cotton Casino, credited on the new album, is a pseudonym for Jyonson Ysu, credited for the gig. It gets tricky when those line-up shifts combine with their love of wacky pseudonyms. Whichever, the gig seemed to involve more singing than the album.) An early number floats past like a cross between Black Sabbath’s ’Lagunae Sunrise’ (if you don’t know it, Sabbath’s least Sabbath track) and dream pop. At other points she chants and wails like a dervish.

Guest artist Geoff Leigh, of Henry Cow fame, (who’s not on the new album) started off playing more than a little tentatively on flute, as if unsure what his contribution should be. But he became more involved as the gig went on, and fared better when pumping on sax for the more freak-out sections. (His default instrument, so I’m told.)

The gig somehow felt like a completely spontaneous event while also a carefully orchestrated study in contrasts. A stripped-down groove just seemed to getting tighter and tighter, before breaking into ’Pink Lady Lemonade’. (Told you that would come up.) The finale, which I now know to be be ’Cometary Orbital Drive 0011’ started with another of those mesmerising mantra riffs the band seem endlessly possessed of, before building a huge free-form freak-out around it.

It’s something of a cliche to describe psychedelic bands as sonic cosmonauts. But Acid Mothers Temple do genuinely earn the analogy. They’re fast becoming to psychedelic music what Miles Davis was to jazz.

Speaking of ’Cometary Orbital Drive’, from Norwich two nights later…

The Con Club, Lewes, Sat 3rd Nov

I’m not sure now which I’ve seen more out of Acid Mothers Temple and ex-Can frontman Damo Suzuki. But I keep coming back to both for the same reason, the utter disregard for predictability. I always say, when you’re tired of trance-out, long-form musical improvisations with shaman-chanted vocals, you’re tired of Damo Suzuki.

This outing features many of the same players from Zoff as previously, though not an exact duplication. And, perhaps for that reason, things kicked in more quickly than at other time.

The previous gig had gone through peaks and valleys, picking up a head of steam, pushing forward, then gliding down the other side. This time, though it had its share of dynamics, it involved more subtle shifts and gradations. As often with improvised music, you’d hear something sublime rise up but have to accept it would shortly be gone again, and contented with the way it would just be replaced with something else.

Then for the finale everything did pick up that head of steam. In his Can days they called those pulverising riffs Godzillas, presumably for the way they’d mightily strike aside all before them.

Alas, what got going quickly was also quickly gone. They played for less than an hour, which with little doubt left the audience wanting more. But perhaps that’s a disadvantage of this type of music. When the players themselves can’t tell what’s about to be unleashed, it’s all but impossible to plan things out like that in advance. You have to take what comes.

This time there is footage from the gig. Of course you really need to hear the thing as a whole, but it might give you a flavour…

That’s two Dictionary Pudding gigs into two successive nights. And two dollops of evidence that the good folks there don’t just put on notable headliners, but endeavour to fill their bills as best they can. (Even if a tardy show-up like me often ends up missing the support acts.)

Supporting AMT, it would be tempting to describe the Hare and The Hoofe as having asked the reality-warping question “what if Prog could be fun?” Which isn’t quite right, for while they tend to perform song cycles they’re beat-driven affairs packed with verve and energy, with few to none Mellotron solos. They’ve coined the term “popepretta” to describe them. They come complete with absurd stage costumes and vocals reminiscent of the theatricality of of Gilbert and Sullivan.

Supporting Damo were Adrena Adrena (as covered a while back) and Chop Chop, with their edgy but catchy off-beat funk, as if insistently repeating only a fragment of a melody behind stream-of-consciousness lyrics. The singer seemed a mixture of wildly agitated and effortlessly cool. Their only merch was a lyric book, with a download code for the music, suggesting he may primarily be a poet.

Onca Gallery, Brighton, Wed 7th Nov

Part of the Aural Detritus Concert Series

“Three’s a crowd” may well be a maxim invented by and for impro musicians. The genre relies on players listening intently to one another, no-one having any notion what those others will do until they’ve done it. Which makes it easy enough to see why the more manageable duos - okay, sometimes trios - predominate.

Mark Wastell, conversely, has thrown such caution to the wind, and has been convening the large impro ensemble the Seen since 2002. (You have to say ‘convened’ rather than formed, as they never play with the same line-up twice.) Intrigued if this would even prove possible, I watched some clips on-line. And concluded they worked by building up a drone-like wall of sound, which each player thickened rather than added an individual line.

As it turns out, I was quite wrong. Though there were (count ‘em!) eight players the performance started out quietly, and ethereally, a composite of fragmentary sounds. The introductory section seemed to me to be made entirely by contact mikes, though I’m always getting that kind of detail wrong. It creaked, ratted and shook, like the door opening to the spookiest of haunted houses.

From there it sometimes did build up into that wall of sound, but not in any even or schematic way. Moving through various sections like taking the scenic route across itself, it included feedback, full-on ambient sound sources and stuff that might have actually come from some kind of instrument. It was numinous and exploratory – like exploring the rooms of some old mansion, your every sense stimulated and alert.

They played for a little less than an hour. And what wasn’t quite enough for Damo Suzuki would normally be a much longer time for a full-on impro outfit. The large ensemble, rather than turning into too much confusion, kept things both effective and moving. Pretty much every player dropped out at some point, awaiting their moment to come back in. So however much there were highs and lows in terms of dynamics, musical quality was pretty much a constant.

From elsewhere, from last year. Though it was enjoyable, if something to a challenge, to try and match players to sounds at Onca, this shadowy underlit venue does more to match the mood of the music…

Coming soon! More gig-going adventures...

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