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diskant rewind: Honey Is Funny #10

Posted: August 19th, 2008, by Chris Summerlin

(Originally posted April 2004)

Honey Is Funny by Chris Summerlin

OK. I need to redeem myself and write something worthwhile, so how’s about some bands I’ve seen play recently?

Let’s start with Three Piece Xylophone Quintet which is actually just one man – Chris Tree – and whatever he feels like playing. Comparisons are redundant, Chris just makes music every day for his own amusement (in about a thousand different styles), and when it comes to a gig he tries to compress the whole history of his musical endeavours into one 30-minute portion. Of course, he doesn’t succeed in being totally representative of the vast range of music he’s made, but what he ends up with is a truly bizarre version of the modern folk singer – in that he plays acoustic guitar and sings – but his arrangements owe more to free jazz and Beefheart than to Bob Dylan. Every gig he’s done seems to be different too. An A&R man’s nightmare, but it makes for interesting stuff. Last time I saw him he had a Minidisc of himself talking going through the PA while he played, oblivious to it, or seemingly so.

Sneaking Fog are based in Norwich and I had the pleasure of playing with them in Lords. Because of their style and their locale it would be easy to dismiss them as a second generation The Darkness. But this is Metal. Not Rock. The singer is an aural spit of Brian Johnson of AC/DC and the band play ripping 80s style metal, like the best bits of Motley Crüe (which are obviously very good indeed). The guitarist blows any idea of them being ironic out of the water, and the singer spent at least 50% of the gig grabbing his crotch.

Charalambides have been mentioned before. I got to see a slimmed down version of them play at ATP. I make ambient guitar music, and I admit that most of the genre is boring as hell. Stars Of The Lid especially – well, most of their records. But Charalambides made a hushed drone that is still super-exciting. I think it’s because the guitar dude doesn’t use a delay FX pedal, which means he has to constantly create the sound and he can’t sit back and wallow in what he’s done by allowing the box to play it back for him. He has to stay on top of it, which gives a live performance some real tension. Combine that with his female counterpart washing quite fast strummed guitar over the top, perfectly countering each other, and you get a wash of sound. Their set at ATP was like getting a guitar master-class, it was great.

Aktion Unit, or whatever they were called, thrilled me too. Thurston Moore and Jim O’Rourke paired up with the most ferocious freeform drummer I’ve ever seen and a sax player that could blow a golfball through a hosepipe. The thing worth noting was that Moore and O’Rourke were the weakest link. As the pace stepped up, the only thing either of them could do was to thrash away at their guitars – or in Moore’s case, throw an amp around, which says more about the freedom of their bank balances than the freedom of their minds. This noise violence was great, don’t get me wrong, but in amongst this ferocity the subtle changes in pattern and tone of the sax and drums spoke volumes. When I say subtle, I mean the subtle change between beating a snare to death and beating a bass drum to death, if you see what I mean.

Lungfish are prophets. The weekend at ATP was over after they played. I missed them tour the UK when I was in Australia, and I was gutted. I know from listening to their records that this is a physical thing, and to witness it live would bring it all together in my brain, so when I heard I would have chance to see them I was beside myself. What I didn’t expect was for it to be a rock show comparable to any I’ve ever witnessed. So much is made of the workmanlike quality of Dischord bands but in Lungfish (and Fugazi and Ulysses before them) they have true entertainers. It might offend them to say this, but seriously, they ruled the big stage – the setting was completely correct. The sound was enormous and engulfing, with a wobbling swampy warmth, and Daniel Higgs as a performer was astonishing. I later went to the beach with them and drunkenly tried to articulate how much I love their band – and I suspect I failed. This week I have Lungfish’s Love Is Love on my stereo alarmed to come on and wake me up. I rise from bed every morning on time and leap into the day.

Sonic Youth played mostly new songs. New songs that had hooks from the heavens and a huge fat riffy sound that was pure ZZ Top no less. The album will kill, hopefully.

I came round to Lightning Bolt. I am reluctant to suck their chaps as much as everyone else, the idea of playing on the floor is one I neither like nor dislike. Everyone knows that’s how they are, so I don’t think you can complain, and mic-ing this kind of thing up would lose its immediate power. You have to hear it from the source and it has to stay vibrant and move as much air between them and you as possible in as little a space. If onlookers choose to spazz out like they have seen in popular music videos on MTV2, that’s their problem. Their music actually reminds me of late 80s happy hardcore blow-your-whistle rave. Seriously; it peaks and builds in the same way and has a similar pace. The best bit is that none of the LB copycat bands that will no doubt spring up will be able to match them. Everyone talks about the speed of Brian A’s drums, but Brian 1’s bass playing is something else. At sound check at the ICA we all stood – mouths open – watching his FEET as he pedal-tapped back and forth creating mini bands all by himself.

Plans And Apologies are from Derby and won me over. They have a certain schizophrenic quality that I love to see. The band Selah had it once, and then they all swung the same way at the same time and it went. I am sure internally they all wish the rest of the band would swing to their own individual tastes to make it more cohesive, but externally they are more interesting for it. One minute it’s Slint, the next it’s Billy Bragg. Praise be for the indecisive band. Give me that over the bloody Cribs any day of the week.

Saw Bobby Conn at ATP and didn’t get into it, but saw him in Nottingham and thought it was amazing. He played a couple of things that I knew in amongst the newer songs but the main draw was the super choreographed show. The bassist at one point ran up to the balcony of the venue to take a picture of Bobby hanging from the lighting rig. I was also trying to work out if the guitar player is the guy from the Obsessed or not. Sure looks like him. And to think, Bobby was nearly on Gringo.

I nearly forgot Vincent Gallo at ATP. What? Why didn’t he perform his album like he did the night after in London? Why play a bad instrumental jam with the dude from the Chilli Peppers for over an hour? As an expert in bad instrumental music I can safely say I could have knocked out better with a hangover on a Sunday morning. Though, it was cool to see PJ Harvey walking round Camber Sands.

Dr Coca Cola Mcdonalds is rapidly becoming a Jesus-like figure in my life. I finally witnessed a live performance (and buffet) and it was truly four-dimensional. All the hits were played (Gene Hackman, I Don’t Like Heavy Metal I Like The Jazz, Don’t Join The Army Unless You Want To Kill People) together with a new Def Jam styled cut-up called I Don’t Like The Jazz I Like The Heavy Metal where the Doctor yelled “DO YOU LIKE GODFLESH? DO YOU LIKE CARCASS?” over and over. And then he finished with If You Buy A McDonalds Happy Meal For Your Child Then You’re A C*nt. I wish the Doctor was my Doctor.

Debbie And The Sea Of Fire was similarly excellent. A princess and her slightly crap sounding but huge home Wurlitzer organ complete with preset rhythms. Not only did we get a Bossanova Stevie Wonder cover but also a dynamite closing tune about the sickness in the world:

Go out Saturday night
And get in a fight!
IT’S NOT RIGHT!

Yeah sister! And she raps too.

Ithica Art Ensemble is also a solo act, in this case Rosie who was the original vocalist for Month Of Birthdays years ago, if you saw them back then. You know how sometimes you know something is going to be good before the people have started playing just from the way they carry themselves? Lungfish is a good example of this. Rosie has this too. The personal quality of what she sings about has had her placed in with other female perfomers like Ani DiFranco but I think the way she presents the songs takes her out of that and out of the narrow (and patronising) bracket of the ‘female performer’. It is singer songwriter acoustic guitar, but yet it isn’t. The guitar for one thing is incredibly harsh sounding, she manages to near approximate Steve Albini’s sound using an acoustic (and a huge Marshall stack, to be fair). But her playing is fidgety, conversational and most importantly involving, so everything works on two levels. You’ll have to see her play.

Spin Spin The Dogs are from Nottingham and do it for me. I could be cynical and say that their blend of The Fall, Circus Lupus and Jesus Lizard is very now, and what they do is nothing new, but they do it so well and with so much flamboyance that it works perfectly. A lot of that rests on front man Vincent’s willingness to make an ass of himself to put a point across – but it’s this lack of self consciousness (genuine too, not affected) that puts SSTD up and above trends. When I saw them they played Ring Of Fire in tribute to Johnny Cash except they decided to do it on the spot and instead of playing it (they didn’t know it, I think) just sang the whole thing a cappella with crowd participation.

The Dust Collectors played probably one of the best gigs I have ever seen a few weeks back. Some of them have played in bands like Los Planetos Del Agua, The Telescopes, Cato and a million more, but this represents a serious effort on their part to up the benchmark of what is possible from a ‘small’ (i.e. not financed or full-time) band. Lots of instrument swapping, cornet, trumpet, sax, upright bass, keys, flute, projections… Their songs often revolve around a single motorik rhythm and bass line allowing cornet/guitarist/vocalist Jerry the room to freeform poetry over the top and then this is punctuated by euphoric bursts of horns somewhere similar to the free-but-riffy sounds of Archie Shepp. High praise indeed. Because Jerry plays cornet, it’s like he comes to a pause in his conversation vocally and then answers himself on his horn. But they managed to combine a cinematic feel with some arresting jazz sonics (not lounge acid jazz rubbish) and the deadpan narrative of Arab Strap say, which I am sure Jerry gets a lot being a Scot – so I apologise. I really got the impression that the whole 45-minute set was written as a suite in its entirety. The finale came when a lady dressed as a sailor stepped forward from the crowd in a quiet gap between songs and stood in the front on the dance floor on her own. I thought she was a mentalist. Then she started tap dancing and the band, who up to this point had looked on in the same way we had, struck up the last song perfectly in time with her and she danced a routine to it. Perfect.

The Paper Chase were one of the most aggravating and confusing bands I’ve ever seen. They were neither here nor there with their choice of sounds, their songs were memorable for the wrong reasons, and surprise: people went bat shit over it. The gig was rammed. They said the right things, like all US bands do, but you got a sense that their involvement with any kind of underground ‘scene’ or network was purely for their own devices, whereas a band like, say French Toast, seem to represent one small section of something larger that is interconnected and very much alive. This was band > record > tour to promote record > thanks for coming out to the show > buy our record. It had the feel of a large rock show, and all the trappings, but set in the familiar confines of the ‘scene’ (see my previous columns for a definition of the term ‘scene’).

Luckily Designer Babies supported. Vocaliser Kushal was on fine form, a little less aggressive than past gigs (no bad thing after he kicked a pint out of someone’s hands at The Social in Nottingham) but still making mischief. A group of people had sat at a table right in the front – in fact later on they asked me to not stand in front of them! – so Kush jumped onto the table (pints everywhere) and sang into their faces. They gave us two awesome new songs; the first was an instant classic and I want any kind of copy of it. It works from a straight up dancehall-style bass riff, but with a crazy shifting time signature that you have to give up on guessing and just gyrate too, hoping you’ll be in synch next time it comes round. Kush grabbing his crotch and ‘winding’ gave no doubts as to where the song was coming from. Love the Babies…

Missed 90 Day Men as I was en route to a gig to support The Paper Chase. And we broke down, anyway, and made it to neither. The irony.

Part Chimp were the loudest thing I have ever witnessed. It was supreme. Made better by knowing that by watching it, I was missing the Locust. Made worse by Stella Artois. Why do it?

Shellac at the Scala was great, not for the old songs like usual, but for the neweys which were for the most part instantly memorable. The “Is this thing on?” song about what seems like a desperate man’s lone radio show to no-one in the face of a lost love and possible the end of his life (maybe – that’s the non-specific feel I got, anyway) is up with their finest. It has that concise but affecting quality of The Billiard Player Song. They also have a newey with a galloping harmony part that suggests it’s not just me that’s been listening to Thin Lizzy 24 hours a day.

Uzeda were as good if not better which makes my crap falling-asleep-at-ATP-and-missing-them act unforgivable. Agostino is a truly phenomenal guitar player and the rhythms may be grossly technical but like The Slits, Uzeda play life rhythms that you imagine are as easy as breathing to them, but impossible to recreate for others, in the same way that my fingerprint is different to yours. They reminded me of The Ex, who I saw ages ago, and was completely blown away by. The difference between playing something strange for the sake of it and playing something strange because it’s normal to you is the difference between right and wrong, as far as I can see.

That’s about it. Listening-wise, I am wrapped up in:

The BandThe Band
Weird WarIf You Can’t Beat ‘Em Bite ‘Em
LungfishLove Is Love
Archie SheppYasmina, A Black Woman
Maxton Grainger – 7″
Blonde RedheadIn Expression Of The Inexpressible
ZZ TopTres Hombres
Fabulous Foxes – Demos
Bob TiltonLeading Hotels Of The World
NirvanaIn Utero
Charalambides
Led ZeppelinHouses Of The Holy
Deerhoof

Been reading:
Space Is The Place – The Lives And Times Of Sun Ra
by John F. Szwed

Films:
The Burbs

TV:
Relocation, Relocation
(Kirsty…)
Grand Designs
Dumber And Dumber with Tommy Vance

And did you see that documentary Death On Camera about the in-custody death of Christopher Alder? Insanity. If you missed it, do a quick Google search and read up on it for further evidence of why the country we live in is so messed up. The man was brought into police custody having sustained serious head injuries, and allowed to die on the floor of the custody room while the policemen present chatted and ignored him. He also had his trousers round his ankles and was face down. All this was caught on camera. He had been the victim of a fight, and was taken to hospital where he was eventually discharged after becoming violent (through drink or side effects of concussion). The police picked him up in a van having been called to assist. He was conscious and clothed when he got in the van (and had one laceration to the lip and one tooth missing from the original fight). He arrived at the station with his trousers round his ankles, mud on his legs, two teeth missing and another laceration to his mouth. Everything points to him somewhere along the line getting a beating between being picked up and arriving at the police station. The van and the police uniforms were cleaned before any evidence could be used. A further CCTV tape catches audio in the custody room after Alder was pronounced dead and laughter and monkey noises can be heard. The case against the five policemen was thrown out of court. Can you believe this?

Sorry to end on a downer. But do look it up and read up on it



Chris Summerlin

Chris lives for the rock and can often be seen stumbling drunkenly on (and off) stages far and wide. Other hobbies include wearing jumpers, arsing about with Photoshop and trying to beat the world record for the number of offensive comments made in any 24 hour period. He has been married twice but his heart really belongs to his guitars. All 436 of them.

http://www.honeyisfunny.com

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