Saturday, June 06, 2009

Tenniscoats, Mono, Glasgow, 4th June

Another thing that happened at Le Weekend was a screening of Wild Combination, the film about Arthur Russell. It left an impression of a man utterly absorbed by his music, to the extent that there wasn’t much of a story outside of that. He grew up, got bad acne scars, turned gay before Allen Ginsberg’s very eyes, played in some New York bands, and ultimately found himself making music more and more on his own, rarely with any intention to release or even to finish anything; the process of making it was almost all he cared about. In a touching scene at the end, his mother wondered aloud what success he would have had if he had lived, and his father added drily: ‘...or maybe we would just have got another 5,000 tapes.’ In a way, this devotion to recorded sound is fantastic, because it left us (eventually) with Love is Overtaking Me and First Thought, Best Thought, which are great, great records (the drone pieces on the latter leave me a bit cold, but the first half...), but it is no thanks to Russell’s treatment of his own songs that a lot of them came out. In the article on Tenniscoats I linked to last time (here it is again), there is a description of the duo from collaborators Tape, which suggests a similar absorption: they ‘literally play and sing themselves to sleep. They catch some sleep here and there, and wake up to musical work again with coffee and cigarettes as their only fuel.’ This is what I thought of watching Saya sing with Eddie Marcon in Stirling last weekend, and seeing her and Ueno play their short set the following day.

The turn with Eddie Marcon seemed unplanned: Saya appeared at the side of the stage as though unable to keep away from the music. She was content to watch, until Mizutani offered her his microphone, but given this encouragement, she soon moved centre stage, harmonising for a time then crouching down low during an instrumental section, totally unselfconscious, inside the sound. It was so powerful to see the effect the music had on her – I don’t understand how it was possible to see that, but it was. It didn’t strike me that way in 2006 or 2007, when Tenniscoats played sets which didn’t connect in the way that their earlier record, The Ending Theme, had. They made a lovely sound, but Saya’s stage presence was muted, sat as she was behind a keyboard the whole time. Ueno was always fun to watch, with his unusual volume guitar technique (see the Grizzly Folk article again, it involves constantly changing the volume of the instrument, fading it in and out as notes rise and fall). His guitar would move through the air like a fish though water, as though it were these movements which caused the volume changes.

Since then there has been a slew of great releases, and even a song, ‘Baibaba Bimba’, which equalled the early peak of ‘Mou Mou Rainbow’ and seems to have become their equivalent of The Sugarcubes’ ‘Birthday’: the song audiences hang on as though it had been The Bit Hit – not because it was a big hit, but because it sounds so fresh each time and so essential it is hard to imagine it ever not having been there. Impossible to imagine anybody actually writing it. Maybe it was in making the Nika Soup and Saya Source record Ipiya (practically a capella, just totally joyful) that Saya learned how to channel her love for music back out again; more likely it was always there, and I just missed it. But I think it is more obvious now, and that she has reached a point that Arthur Russell never got to, with his endless reworkings and unsatisfiable perfectionism. She can see the value in working quickly, and in sharing that work quickly: the audience is important, the now is important.

For Foolin’ Around 3 they started gently with some music from the largely instrumental EP Temporacha, Saya wandering around with a melodica and Ueno, seated, playing an acoustic guitar (sometimes, later on, he sang too). Throughout the gig shared that record’s spontaneous freedom. Released from the confines of a full size keyboard, Saya was free to move to the music, and to lead the band. There was constant eye contact between herself and Ueno, you felt that the songs were volatile, could change course or stop at a signal from her. Her voice was as pure as ever, but there was more expression there, a smile frequently bringing lines to life like there was no language barrier (she sang only in Japanese). Once she went further, coming to the front of the stage to sing with no microphone, and what I want to say is that everyone fell in love on the spot, but that would sound too flippant, but it is true. One of the instrumental songs from the Stirling gig got another outing, and Saya wouldn’t let Ueno play his part on guitar as he had then, instead making him use her keyboard, which he didn’t look too comfortable with. She might even have placed his fingers on the right keys to start him off. He got through it, smiling in bafflement, and at the end turned and gave the drum kit’s cymbal a bash, as if to say: ‘da da!’ Similarly, Saya stopped one song when she felt the drums were intruding, and on another, when there weren’t any, jumped up and down rhythmically until the drummer took the hint and joined in. That was the encore, a song which went, ‘Tenniscoats, Tenniscoats, Tenniscoats’ [*thump* *thump*, *thump* *thump*], and which drove the crowd crazy. The last song before it was ‘Baibaba Bimba’, which did that too: the goodwill in the air by the end was amazing, everyone was smiling, unable to quite take in what was happening. I have never seen a better gig, never felt so elated by a performance. The whole crowd felt that, a few of them say so here.

Afterwards I bought some records from the drummer John, and sat for a while happily listening to his tour tales. Saya and Ueno walked back in through the main door and I gave them a round of applause. Saya came over and after I had stuttered some inadequate praise for the show, she noticed that I had bought one of Ueno’s solo CDs (Sui-Gin) and asked, concerned, if I knew what it was. ‘Didn’t you tell him?’ she chided John, as though it was his job to deliberately put people off buying it. It is probably just a bit noisier that you might expect, or something*, but – how sweet of her to worry, even if it was hilariously disloyal to Ueno’s avant garde side. Lovely people, is the secret to lovely music.

* Actually it sounds like a mouse stuck in a clock. I have yet to work out whether this is a good or a bad thing.


Piebird said...

Wonderful, wonderful gigs - I was there for both and had to stay to the end of the Tenniscoats set at Foolin Around, despite excruciating pain which I only found out a week later was shingles. Worth it...

Chris said...

It was probably the Tenniscoats that cured you. They can do anything, you know.

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