A Hawk and a Hacksaw / Sutekh / Efterklang – Nighttown Rotterdam – 29/10/05

As it turns out the main addition to the set is not of AHAAH’s making – they are joined, presumably not by invitation, by two dancers. I use the term dancer in its loosest sense.

As it turns out the main addition to the set is not of AHAAH’s making – they are joined, presumably not by invitation, by two dancers. I use the term dancer in its loosest sense.


I was looking forward to seeing A Hawk and a Hacksaw as I’d already had the pleasure of seeing him live a couple of times this year. AHAAH, (as we’ll truncate him to from here on) if you aren’t aware of his schtick, is essentially a one-man band, the man being Jeremy Barnes. On his most recent record – Darkness at Noon – the sound of Eastern European folk music is fleshed out with trumpets and electronic effects. The live show is, by necessity, a much more straightforward affair. Barnes plays percussion and accordion and is accompanied by Heather Torst on violin. The songs, whilst stripped of some of their subtlety, still rollick along and the interplay between Torst and Barnes has clearly improved as the tour has gone along. Torst seems happier to improvise and because of this the unavoidable limitations of playing as a duo are stripped away.


Having said this, the set is far from slick – Torst plays a xylophone on For Slavoj and gets through to the end of her delicate playing before dropping the sticks and making a terrible din. The only sign of slickness comes with the absence of Jeremy’s hat – earlier in the year he wore a ridiculous hat with bells on it and a drumstick taped to it. Now that the hat has gone we don’t get to see Barnes’ shaking his head and hitting the cymbals positioned next to him. Still, when he gets up from behind his drums and walks amongst the audience we can see that he has spoons (or more probably cowbells) attached to the inside of his knees. His sartorial inelegance remains intact then.


In fact Barnes has quite a commanding presence – he looks like D.H. Lawrence for one thing, and whilst he is softly spoken his great roars during the songs focus any wavering attentions. Not that I can imagine that there are any – Barnes and Torst make for a very captivating duo. As it turns out the main addition to the set is not of AHAAH’s making – they are joined, presumably not by invitation, by two dancers. I use the term dancer in its loosest sense. They move to the music like limpid rag dolls, not so much throwing shapes as collapsing them. As they prance haphazardly around the stage Jeremy and Heather award themselves a smile. The criminally short set closes with the old anti-war folk song Portlandown and then they are gone…


…to be replaced by Sutekh. Sutekh is actually Seth Harris, a renowned West coast roducer. Tonight he stands behind his laptop and presses a few buttons. Music comes out of it. But is he creating it or has he just fired it off with one click of the mouse? He could actually be answering his emails as we watch him – we’d never know. Now then, kids have always listened to music in their bedrooms but until recently it has been hard to make it there without serious interference from mother. With advances in technology all this has changed and this is a good thing. But it is no use getting on stage and making music in the same way that you would in your bedroom. You are, after all, performing. Watching a pale kid hunched over a laptop is simply no fun. It might be very tricky to make the music but that doesn’t make it a spectacle in itself. I see people hunched over laptops every day at work. But I wouldn’t want to pay so see someone wrestle with a tricky spreadsheet however much I appreciated the skill involved.


Even when watching artists at the top of their game –such as Four Tet, for example – the feeling remains that you are witnessing technological plate spinning. Admirable perhaps, but edifying, no. (An aside – when I was a kid you always used to be able to watch people trying to set plate-spinning records. What’s happened to them? Why are there no jugglers on TV either? I guess, as Celebrity Love Island shows, we’ve become far too sophisticated for such simple pleasures.) It doesn’t have to be this way though – Jamie Liddell puts on an incredible show using inventive camera work and live mixing of the images. Sutekh doesn’t. As for the music – well, it was perfectly pleasant and electronic and beaty – it would be fine to listen to in a bedroom.


Top of the bill were Efterklang, three young men that also look like they’ve spent a lot of time in their bedrooms. They were the midway point between the two earlier sets as their sound incorporated both real instruments and technological gimmickry. Before they sloped on stage though, we are treated to a projected film. A note to people who project films at gigs: try to use colour every now and again. Why is black and white (and if it is grainy and out of focus all the better) nearly always the preferred medium? Still, the film, which mixed surrealism with soviet realism, raised hopes for the music we were about to hear. The band sat behind computer screens and hunched over their keyboards and guitar. Samples were created and then manipulated. A hand would move a mouse around.


Occasionally a drum kit was hit, though in truth it was perhaps the feeblest drum kit ever wheeled onto a stage. The songs were built up slowly and every now and again there was an explosion of sound, or at the very least some strained singing. The songs all tended to follow this kind of pattern though never with the level of predictability that Mogwai copiers manage. Polite applause was met with incredibly humble expressions from what I took to be the main man. His self-depreciation would have been understandable had we just awarded him with the soubriquet of Grand Poo-bah of the Universe as opposed to a smattering of appreciative claps. Still, I’m sure that the humility was as sweet as it was genuine. These were all new songs and so I’m not sure how representative they are of a band that I’ve heard a lot about without actually hearing anything by them. I could see something of the fuss but the thought remained that they seemed constrained rather than liberated by the array of technology that sat in front of them.


Words: Chris Dawson.