Thurston Moore with Tom Raworth, Alex Ward and Steve Noble at Cafe Oto, 20 March 2012

This concert was announced only a week before it was staged and sold out within two hours of tickets going on sale, with no pre-publicity. I think it’s fair to say it was hotly anticipated. Convened by Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, it presented two of his abiding passions, poetry and free music, together on the same bill.

First set:
Thurston Moore: poetry reading
Tom Raworth: poetry reading
Thurston Moore: electric guitar; Alex Ward: clarinet

In his introduction, Moore recalled meeting poet Tom Raworth six years ago in Chicago, where the poet had a week-long gallery residency with saxophonist Peter Brötzmann. Raworth made his mark as a key figure in the British Poetry Revival of the 1960s and 1970s, but later developed his current, distinctively fragmented and pop-informed syntax.

Moore credited Raworth’s ‘Outburst’, a typeset magazine cranked out from the poet’s London basement flat in the early sixties, as a formative influence on his own small press imprint ‘Flowers + Cream’ and the ‘Ecstatic Peace Poetry Journal’, which he edits. It seems Raworth shares the nostalgia, since he revisited and photographed the flat while on this visit from his current home in Brighton. There’s a link to his Flickr page on Raworth’s website.

Moore introduced Raworth with a reading from some of his own poems, starting with “Book Thief”, a confident poetic statement in a similar vein to Patti Smith’s writing. A later poem riffed on the notion of “hanging out”, shamelessly name-checking Mike Watt and the Minutemen among others. It’s a device which Moore routinely deploys in his lyrics, self-deprecatingly situating himself as just another alt. culture fanboy.

Where Moore carries himself with adult slacker insouciance, Raworth got straight to point with a directness cut with apparent nerves. He spieled licketyspit through a succession of poems. Truth be told, there wasn’t time for fully-developed comprehension of his meanings to dawn, but the stream of associations of both connotation and rhyme were enough to trigger a rich stream of thoughts and mental images. One sequence of poems, each lasting less than one minute, included “Out of a Sudden”, “Crowded with Otiose Passengers” and “Pyrophoric”, all derived from his limited edition No hard feelings: for Steve Lacy album, on which Peter Brötzmann overdubbed his readings with music. (CvsD 0009 was released on Corbett vs. Dempsey in 2006 as just 100 hand-numbered copies, but is readily Googlable).

Alex Ward’s association with Thurston Moore dates back at least as far as 1997, when as a member of Thirteen Ghosts he recorded the Legend Of The Blood Yeti album with Moore and Derek Bailey. The duo closed the first set with a coruscating clarinet/electric guitar duet. Moore began seated, cradling his guitar in his lap and tapping out ringing sustains with something metal, but he was soon up and goading Ward to extremism with tortuous noise creation via whammy bar abuse.

Second Set
Tom Raworth: poetry reading; Thurston Moore: acoustic guitar
Thurston Moore: acoustic guitar; Alex Ward: clarinet, alto sax; Steve Noble: drums, percussion

Raworth got the second set under way with a second set of readings, this time accompanied by Moore, who thrummed a plugged-in 12-string. Raworth read from some of his more directly accessible works, of which the scathingly ironic “Behind the Lines”, from the time of the Iraq war, went across particularly well. But the most immediately effective and readily appreciable reading of the evening was his dissection of a poem by an unspecified Poet Laureate, each line recast as an anagram. The effect was absurdist, yet peppered with surprisingly apposite turns of phrase, and the speed of Raworth’s delivery was viscerally immediate here.

As the night’s final act, Moore and Ward were joined by drummer Steve Noble, Ward’s long-time sparring partner and collaborator in power improv trio N.E.W.. Moore played with maximum intensity, strummming up a wracked wall of electric noise on his amped acoustic, and Noble was in his element, either stoking the momentum and intensity with free rhythms while steadying the tempo, or bolstering the free-rock jazz-off with insistent repeats. Ward began this set on clarinet, blowing a fierce solo on the mouthpiece alone at one point, before switching to alto saxophone, an instrument I’ve never seen him play before (he’s generally regarded as a guitarist first and foremost). His effect on the more lyrical horn was to temper the conflagration and draw down the heat such that Noble could indulge in his predilection for colour playing with gongs and other metal percussion. Still the night ended on a high, with Noble, as always, up for more; but the others rightly decided that the balance between sound and fury had already been nicely struck.

… where credit’s due, to Geoff Winston, for taking better notes on the poems Raworth recited than I did, and for reminding me that Ward was one of the Thirteen Ghosts, in his review for LondonJazz

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