Le Guess Who? May Day – Utrecht 24/5/14

Laraaji set up a Zen vibe – his famous “internal orchestra” no less, and matters got way out; we were lost by some rippling brook, wandering through a collective unconscious. Mrs Incendiary said “this is what cats dream when they’re happy”.

 

I suspect the designers of the new Vredenburg venue have a sense of humour drier than the Gobi desert or are remarkably lacking in irony. You see, there is a large scale model of a dinosaur in the foyer; a T-Rex, which, (I noticed during the afternoon frolics on May Day’s LGW?), had a bunch of flowers placed in its open mouth. Maybe dino just got put there by some joker, I don’t know. In any case, perusing Vredenburg’s upcoming programme revealed gigs from such stalwarts as Joe Satriani, Pat Metheney, Soundgarden, Bootsie Collins and Megadeth, and our cynical old minds couldn’t help but stare at said terrible lizard and wonder if… well; you know the rest. It’s all about getting bums on seats at the end of the day. Anyway, the new building is neat, functional and flexible, clean, well designed (to this layman’s eye) built with modern leisure opportunities in mind and in easy reach of the all-important retail facilities (increasing retail footfall, doubtless), and looks like all the other new concert venues, if we’re honest. Reassuringly the same but different in irrelevant detail. There’s nowhere to crash and the floor squeaks underfoot. You could also hold PowerPoint presentations there (or whatever new refinement of digital lunacy has taken over from PowerPoint presentations on the seventh layer of hell) and no-one would bat an eyelid.

Given there was no Mini Who this year, Incendiary hung about the foyer to watch the 3voor12 sessions which boasted Big Ups, Pangea and Black Lips. Big Ups were high on our list of things to see, and this mini session (captured here) did not disappoint. We think they are charming beyond measure; the singer having enough cocky, preppy charm to be at once annoying (in theory) BUT get away (in practice) with a whole raft of camp moves and 6th form soliloquy nonsense that would see lesser lights laughed at. The moment where he dropped the mic under a carpet, momentarily forgot where it was, and searched about the stage looking like Larry Grayson looking for his half-drunk G&T was priceless. And the fact that this sort of stage school stuff was interspersed with him screaming blue bloody murder – à la Minor Threat – was a massive bonus. Oh yeah, before I forget, Incendiary dug their racket big time; an incredibly heady mix (M’Lud) of Minor Threat, Pavement, and Pavement doing the Fall properly; i.e. with total aggression and psyche-spikes “a quiver”. The singer’s got these Joey Ramone moves too which had me thinking of that bunch of psychicke morons (yes, laugh, but look at the way he bends his knees and leans forward). The rest of the sessions paled by comparison. Thing is I don’t really dig Black Lips or Pangea. Everyone in those bands looks like they’ve walked out of a Robert Crumb cartoon. Not a bad thing, but not something we dig. Never mind, we are always wrong, out of touch and uncool. Don’t read us if you want to be ahead of the game, or loved by the Beau Monde.

Enough frippery! Incendiary were up for some fun, and looking to turn matters on their heads during the evening. If you wanted classic rock bands on the night, there was plenty to get excited about; with Neutral Milk Hotel, The War on Drugs and Hallo Venray in the Tivoli Oudegracht alone. Elsewhere, for those wanting something less cerebral (and maybe a tad less hirsute), Future Islands, Scott & Charlene’s Wedding, Pangea, Black Lips and Shonen Knife shook their collective thang at places like EKKO and Helling. We’d already decided to give axe worship a break, preferring to spend the night at RASA in order to watch a whole bunch of single lads standing behind laptops making atonal noises, backed by slightly abstract with projections. Yeah man. Laptops. All night; with only Big Ups and Fat White Family providing the hotrod guitar action later on at EKKO. That’s where it was at for us. Laptops and Beamers. Far from the Madding Crowd, but with no sheep. Geddit?

RASA was unsurprisingly quiet; with a smattering of about 20 or 30 Heads, waiting for Petrels, (aka Oliver Barrett) to come on down and knock out his sonic rumble. Barrett’s work is dry, drier than the whitened and desiccated contents of a Bronze Age barrow mound exposed after 2000 years on some blasted chalk down. On the night, Barrett looked to go for the jugular, laying down some increasingly stretched, scorched passages of mid tones that rested lightly on an ever-so-slightly pulsating rhythmic undercurrent. The tone was classic English Pagan throughout; the stuff that could have sound-tracked Children of the Stones; or a white witch’s take on Oramics. We could be bold and say it was soothing but never reassuring; and at times pretty sinister in its abstraction, despite the gentle melodic builds.  Behind him a large orange globe flitted across the screen, interspersed with street scenes of – I think - Sunset Boulevard, which kept breaking down, or breaking up; no doubt unintentionally. All this angsty fractionalization eh, playmates? It’s like Adorno’s popped up all over again to disturb us… But hey, Incendiary was soothed. We could dig this quiet scene, far away from the hullaballoo of the guitar fest elsewhere.

After a short break we had Talvihorros, (aka Ben Chatwin) who took hold of the groovy mindmap Petrels had created and added a rich layer of harmonics, subtle twists of looped melody, and a very, very spacey, almost jazzily abstract take on classic ambient. Reminiscent of imperial era Brian Eno, Talvihorros’ sound started to get mighty close to Music for Airports stuff in places (or even JMJ’s Oxygene), but with all the 70’s must and gauze whipped away. You see this wasn’t chin stroking stuff; as the music first gave you a “tangy” and very digital kick in the nuts, and then enveloped you in this dark Gothicke cloak. It was as if a shadow trailed after the sound. You dig? Regardless of the melodramatic after burn, the huge sound kept pushing the listener down into a vat of uncomprehending but very pleasing haziness. Incendiary nodded off for a while. Yes, it’s a compliment! Man; the sound threw open the psychicke portcullis; defences down, agents of memory flitted round the open gate, we tarried in a waking dream, only to be brought round again by the thick, syrupy, short-circuited, micro chipped nonsense that was being executed on RASA’s stage.  Fantastic. Then (after some much needed red wine) we got Ensemble Economique (aka Brian Pyle) who brought a guitar on stage. As well as a mic… Sacrilege! Not allowed! (An aside, these lads never call themselves by their own name do they? - unless it sounds like Fabio Orsini’s – no; they’re all making up aliases that could be the name of a spaceship captain or Futurist poet.) ANYWAY; Ensemble Economique started to build on the sonic fissures and tectonic shifts of tone and texture that had slowly opened up in RASA courtesy of Petrels and Talvihorros. The sound was huge though; huger than anything preceding it. At one point we were on a ship; waves crashed against the Good Ship Economique’s hold, pressure was continuously built up through monstrous slabs of noise, and mile high breakers, packed with enough texture to send you 5 fathoms down, crashed against our senses. The backdrop looked like a radar screen close up; vertical white lines crossed relentlessly on this screen, waiting for some subterranean tremor, searching for some hideous lost chord or monstrous electronic earworm that lurked in the depths. And then it was ALL CHANGE! High pitched, strangled-soul-boy singing, guitars, loops of Sinead O Connor, what on earth is going on? Actually Incendiary loved this bit; even though there were mutterings and grumblings close by. It was such a bravura volte face, such a dizzy and unexpected mess and such a snarling invitation to walk out of the room. A few more crazily Gonzo bedroom laments (at terrific volume, let it be said) followed. Brilliant. His 5 or so remaining “fans” went ape.

What next? Well, children, if you’re good and drink yet more wine, I’ll tell you that it was time for Sun Araw, jamming with the legend that is Laraaji. Sun Araw (aka Cameron Stallones) came on with a pal of his; a pal, moreover, who fired up a laptop to knock out a plethora of demented, and skitty rhythms that sounded for all the world like a ping pong ball rattling round a tin. Stallones, for his part looked to complement this racket by laying down a set of dubby Afro-funk guitar parts and wiped-out, glitchy keys that slid and burped their way round the axe stabs. There was a set of background range of blurts, bleeps and yawps that constituted the vocal line too. Funnily enough the sound – despite being thoroughly up to date old bean – was (at times) not a million miles off The Catherine Wheel, David Byrne’s solo effort from 1982. In that Sun Araw’s muse is as modern as hell but also incredibly close to that old modernist music that pop experimentalists were mucking about with when all those Yamahas started to turn up round 1980. Mad. Spaced. But this was a hot gig, no doubt about it. Then Laraaji came on, orange hat an’ all, and quietly started to lay down his gentle vibe. Gently coaxing the quietest of sounds out of his table of diverse instruments, including a hand held set of chimes (which worked to remarkable effect against all the squiggling), Laraaji set up a Zen vibe – his famous “internal orchestra” no less, and matters got way out; we were lost by some rippling brook, wandering through a collective unconscious. Mrs Incendiary said “this is what cats dream when they’re happy”. I got that.  Ridiculously soothing, Laraaji nearly had us trapped in a state between time and space. But, just like in Easy Rider, although we were hip about time, we just had to go. We’re pissed we missed his zither playing too. Sometimes you just hate festival programme times.

And what do you know? Our date’s late at EKKO. Bugger. We take in a bit of Speedy Ortiz who rocked out hard and Quilts, who turned into Neu! at one point (albeit an Adult Net take on Neu!) but Laraaji had us in his spell. Only one thing for it; Fat White Family. The last gig we saw at ACU last year, (back when they were off most people’s radar in NL) the show was incendiary, rumbustious and fucking intense. This time – one man down due to wedding duties and “fresh” from a long drive from Berlin - they locked into a patient, deadly groove; allowing the space that the absence of rhythm guitar afforded to bring out some weird, glitchy take on that early Funkadelic rumble. Further, singer Lias was holding back a degree of psychicke reserve; something that kept the expectant crowd on tenterhooks. More Dragnet and Hex and Maggotbrain than Monks or Swell Maps, Fat Whites were pacing themselves; Autoneutral and Touch the Leather allowing Mr Saoudi to slowly come up on a Big Eyed Bean from Venus he’d happened to swallow earlier.  Yes we all knew there would be a release but when, how, how much? When it did come the place went bonkers; more so than at ACU if I’m frank.  The funniest thing about that audience reaction was seeing one camera lad join in the mosh pit, giving up the ghost of trying to get the “money shot”; realising there was more to this bunch than met the eye, or lens.

Now; I really, really like this band as they’re smart and definitely no one trick ponies. Thing is, their audience here has latched onto one of their sonic tricks (“scruffy urchin” rabble rousing) and love it so much that it is still negotiating how to respond to the others (the psyched out groove and dark soul). So when the kick off started it was intense; this was the audience’s cue and they knew it. Shamefully Incendiary joined in, grabbing respected national journalists in the scrum, and getting a bang on the ribs from some loon for our troubles. Top fun. (An aside. As a wearer and champion of M&S pleated slacks as a rock and roll trouser, I was also glad to see the band doing the decent and putting them on show. Take note, trend hounds!)    

After this, a stagger to ACU to join the demented artsy underbelly of Utreg; there to take in Big Ups. Show of the day? Probably. I mean I dig the happiness Neutral Milk gave (people said it was epic) but I like a little salt and vinegar on me crisps. You dig? And frankly Big Ups blew the place to pieces. Much more demented and dangerous than their afternoon set (not surprising I know) the band launched into one screamathon after another. Here the Minor Threat / Fugazi references that I keep hearing about them made total sense. The singer still went through his routine of droll asides, (like a game show host camping up to great effect, at one point finding a phone), but the band screamed the place down. On the night, the guitarist was fabulous in wringing out just the right amount of impact and personality out of simple licks, chords and refrains – always the sign of a great band in my opinion, and the rhythm section was tremendous; propulsive, insistent, beating out warning tattoos at every opportunity. The room literally threw itself around, bouncing from wall to wall, imitating a set of ships passengers tossed about in an Atlantic gale; prompting nervous glances from the wallflowers who had tried to inch forward to take a sneak peak at the band. Even the singer couldn’t keep his cool, and threw himself into the sweat box in front of him. What a gig! Afterwards, chattering and gibbering like Barbary Apes we got the night train home and saw the sun come up over a still sleeping Leiden.

What was all that about?