Thursday, June 04, 2009

Le Weekend 2009: Eddie Marcon, Tenniscoats and Bill Wells, John Edwards, Trio Arco, Drew Mulholland and Adrian Utley, Muscles of Joy

It’s now three days since the Sunday of Stirling’s Le Weekend festival, and I’ve left it rather too long to put a review together. This evening and yesterday have been full of what seems to be the best ever Duncan of Jordanstone degree show here in Dundee. Maybe it’s the new, spacious venue, but in previous years I’ve come out having liked two or three things, this time it’s twenty times that. Yesterday my favourites were Jessica Buchanan’s pieces in steel, silver and gold, strong industrial lines encompassing intricate, organic shapes – they reminded me of that crazy tree in the header up there*. Today I got an unexpected barrel of laughs from the TWIG duo’s furniture. It is quite something to see their ‘One Night Coat Stand’ piece, work out that it is a bit of a rude shape, then realise you are in the midst of a forest of lamps, large and small, which might be taken, not that it was too obvious, and they were actually quite elegant, almost like easels, but were one’s mind so inclined... Surely not, let’s check the labels – sure enough, ‘Large Schlong’, ‘Small Schlong’. Sadly there don’t seem to be pictures of the lamps online, but their blog does record, disarmingly, ‘Today we received our sprayed schlongs from Bentleys!’ They had sold lots of them.

But where was I? Le Weekend. Which concluded, for S. and I, with a brief acoustic set from Tenniscoats and Bill Wells, in amongst Rue Five & David Galletley’s How Children Learn exhibition. Like the one last year from Bill’s National Jazz Trio of Scotland, this was a set which benefited from being held in daylight with open windows. The complete lack of amplification was good, too. For creating the illusion that this totally special occasion was nothing really, just something plucked from the air, as transient as a breeze. The feeling was similar to walking around the best bits of the degree show – art as something easy and free for everyone. Except you felt that between them, Bill, Saya and Ueno could have provided enough Art Power to fuel several degree shows. Whatever it is that the more talented of those students have stumbled upon or worked up to with the final years of their youth (I’ve just remembered the dining table with the sugar paper table cloth and the goblets made of apples), these three have turned into a way of life. You can hear it in this interview with Saya. How did they do it? A question you should never stop asking yourself. What songs did they play? Well, ‘Wiltz’, with new lyrics from Saya, and only three others, but the final one, sung I think by the National Jazz Trio of Scotland singer, was one of the most beautiful things I have ever heard. Ueno bafflingly able to coax some sort of delay texture from his unamplified acoustic guitar, while a violin mocked up rusty stabs of feedback, and then a simple descending tune and the words, ‘I’ve spent so long in trying to escape you’. Hearts were melted.

Saya was also onstage for part of Eddie Marcon’s set the previous evening, contributing up and away harmonies to Eddie Corman’s more measured singing. In case this sounds like a sleight, it isn’t meant to be, but Eddie Marcon’s charms are quite different to those of the Tenniscoats. They are closer to Nagisa Ni te in their slow, calm delivery, but they are less rapturous too. I’ll admit that until seeing them I didn’t think they were really in the same league (almost no-one is, after all). On hearing their LP Shining On Graveposts last year, I was put off by a sound that seemed glacial when it should have been warm. I adjusted eventually, coming back to the record when I knew I needed to breathe more slowly, or just to breathe at all. Eddie’s rich toned Spanish guitar finger picking acted as a kind of sedative. This week, listening to new LP Wata no Kemuri no Syotaijo (which lists Eddie’s instrument as a ‘gut guitar’, disturbingly – is this why her blog is full of cats?), and Ai Aso, Tenniscoats, Reiko and Tori Kudo, new Geographic release (!) Gok, it has been difficult to snap back into hearing anything less elemental, I almost want to wipe everything else from my iPod, live permanently at this slower, richer setting.

There has been a marked change in the band since Shining on Graveposts. The drumming has opened out, and there are now amazing peals of flute everywhere. Reminiscent of the shift from Five Leaves Left to Bryter Layter, things have become simultaneously looser and more focused. So it was a great time to see them. Eddie seemed nervous between songs, but not at all when performing them; in matching green shoes and tights, with hair frizzed wildly outwards, she looked suitably aloof from everyday concerns. Marcon barely moved, letting his bass and his rug-pattern trousers do the talking. Mizutani switched between melodica, flute and saxophone, doing so much with the sound that I presumed at the time that he was Marcon. It was altogether a gorgeous hour, I hope they can make it back sometime.

Some other people who played:

John Edwards, a double bass improvising jazz musician, began his performance in the Tolbooth bar with a polite apology: ‘I’ll be playing for about twenty minutes, so if you can’t stand it, it’ll be over soon.’ Then he took his battered bass in his hands (he didn’t use a bow), and battered it some more. There were bangs, slaps, superfast runs of notes. It was incredibly loud for an unamplified performance. Energising, invigorating, I didn’t know I liked jazz that much.

Trio Arco had a double bass too – sometimes bowed, sometimes plucked – along with a cello and a viola. They played one long piece and a shorter one, again improvised. At the beginning the first one was a flurry of high pitched notes followed by a slap, then the same, repeated. It didn’t take long for S. to start pretending to swat a fly to this, following it in the air with darting eyes during the high, whiny passage, and then – thump! It took Trio Arco ages to catch their fly, the performance didn’t have the immediacy of John Edwards’. The second, shorter piece was better. Gentler, lighter shades. Castanet sounds coming from somewhere, though there weren’t any, then a drop in volume and a melodic, plucked bass line topped with a darting viola that could have been a flute.

Drew Mulholland and Adrian Utley were OK, producing an encompassing guitar drone with volume peaks pulsing through it, like a tremolo pedal set to its slowest setting. Without wanting to complain that I emerged from the auditorium still being able to hear, the only way this kind of set was going to impress was by being twice as loud. As it was, people were still covering their ears during the obligatory feedback at the end, but it seemed like more of a gesture. A woman walked out, too, carrying her 3 or 4 year old daughter, who had been equipped with green industrial ear protectors, which was a good look.

Muscles of Joy were fun. Their songs were very rhythmical and occasionally out of time, which made for a kind of amateur charm (does that sound snobbish? I love amateur charm). Their set consisted of five pieces intended as a reaction to the great short animations of Norman McLaren – an influence on artist / animator Katy Dove, who was one of the band. They swapped instruments a lot, were more concerned with texture than melody, and were not dull for a second. As part of their impressive percussion setup was a large marching machine, lit in pink and white to look like marshmallows.

* Now gone, but it looked like this, from this photo.


Anonymous said...

The final song Bill and the Tenniscoats played was a version of Singleton from the Trio's Also In White record.

That song kills me every time I hear it, and I didn't think it could be improved upon. I clearly didn't reckon upon the effect that replacing the harmonica with a violin and adding vocals would have. Stirring stuff.

Jon said...

Nice review. I wrote the Saya interview you linked to - thanks for linking! She also did an interview on that site for her forthcoming OneOne album, which is a great record...

Interesting, too, that Saya produced the new Eddie Marcon album, which could account for its more fullsome flavour.

Chris said...

Thanks Jon, your interview was great, it really captured this new 'all-consuming musicality / otherworldliness' (as horsemeatpie put it) that Saya has picked up.

Really looking forward to the OneOne album. Found your piece... It sounds like Blur, you say!? Didn't expect that!

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