Thurston Moore, Michael Chapman and Dean McPhee
Purcell Room, South Bank Centre, London, 01 February 2013
Thurston Moore didn’t waste any time, flaying feedback from his acoustic-electric guitar with brisk fretwork while Michael Chapman was still plugging into his semi-acoustic. While Moore was obviously enjoying himself, Chapman seemed content to play a supporting role, chiming in to thicken the brew with thick, sustained chordal riffs. Neither strayed far from their on-stage amps, since both were calibrating their proximity to control feedback flux.
This short set of noise accession was a torrid climax to an otherwise sedate evening in the comfortably formal Purcell Room.
Dean McPhee had opened proceedings with a short, sweet set, playing just two of his exquisitely riverine, valve-amped guitar odysseys; first an untitled track from his forthcoming second album, then the title track of his 2009 mini album, “Brown Bear”. Michael Chapman followed, his brusquer finger-picking style freewheeling hypnotically behind paeans of nostalgia for a peripatetic past. “Fahey’s Flag” was dedicated to it’s namesake, once seen postprandially drunken, draped in a flag from the Nuremberg Rally, a sight, Chapman said: “never forgotten… Unfortunately”.
Chapman has the easy onstage assurance of someone well versed in his art. Moore, initially, and strangely perhaps, given his wealth of experience, seemed less so, though he eased into his own set of songs from the post-Youth songbook (“Psychic Hearts”, etc) soon enough. He introduced some songs by explaining their inspirations, commended to us dead poets (was it Wisława Szymborska or Vieru Chiznu-Prut? My memory sucks. Either way, RIP) and read with measured beat enunciation from his own poetry. He also shared amusing reminiscences of thwarted onstage ecstasies, and tested his audience on our knowledge of German free music (we knew nothing).
Moore’s songs are melodically distinctive; stripping them of group accompaniment emphasises just how melodically astute they are, yet renders them skeletal, and therefore incomplete. The highlight of the set was undoubtedly Moore’s unpicking of a new song, titled (I think) “The Lords and the Ladies”. Losing himself in the liquid complexities of a lengthy exposition, Moore was masterfully assured.
Thurston Moore, Jason Pierce and John Edwards
Cafe Oto, London, 25 January 2013
I’ve always admired Moore’s subtle use of preparations, unorthodox tunings and outré tone colours in his playing for Sonic Youth, also his enthusiastic championing of free music. Exactly one week before the concert on the South Bank, he had another gig at Cafe Oto, for which he was paired first with double bassist John Edwards, and then with guitarist Jason ‘Spaceman’ Pierce (Spacemen 3, Spiritualized).
A consummate improvisor, John Edwards dug deep into the grain of his music to accompany Moore’s aleatoric frottage. There were combative moments, but the duo mostly focused on texture and detail, playing at a slow, tumid tempo that occasionally slowed to a crawl. Edwards bowed his bass until it reverberated with dark energy, and Moore tapped all the potential of his setup, teasing every nuance from resonance frequencies controlled by variations in amp proximity: noise as subtle art.
The set with Jason Pierce wasn’t as successful. Pierce has also collaborated with heavyweight improvisors in the past, notably Matthew Shipp, but on this occasion he was reserved, appearing reluctant to play with any real spontaneity. Just when he seemed to be easing into a two-way exchange of ideas his effects units played up, emitting an unpleasant squall of raw sound. He had little option but to play harder to mask the effect, and he did a good job of it too, muting wayward pedal effects and amplifying others with slashing chords, reigning in the resulting squall of noise, shaping the feedback with sustain and applying looping effects. Meanwhile Moore did his own thing, no problem.
It was a spirited performance. Pierce has a keen ear for melodic development and, ironically, the fallback on pattern and repetition may have given fans of the duo’s more mainstream music a more satisfying sense of structure than anything they’d heard so far.