Monday, October 03, 2011

Eastern Promise: To Rococo Rot, The Pastels and Silje Nes at Platform, Glasgow, 1st October

With admirable hyperbole, Monorail’s last call for Eastern Promise invoked krautrock, laying down the challenge: ‘you wouldn't pass up a chance to see Can or Harmonia in 1974, would you?’ To Rococo Rot and Tarwater flew in from Berlin for the occasion, you see. It is something of a surprise that they – Alun Woodward and Easterhouse’s Platform venue – have managed to get the sponsorship to do this kind of thing. Isn’t the lack of funding what did for Triptych and Le Weekend? Serious times call for slashed arts funding, and all that. But maybe that’s too simplistic. Whatever the reasons, it is great to have an event like this back on the calendar. I must admit I’d thought we were in for a community hall experience, of the kind Tracer Trails put on, but no, Platform’s auditorium is pretty similar to the Tron or the Tolbooth – big, with theatre seats and a great sounding PA. Also Le Weekend-like was the splitting of performances between the main stage and the bar*, and the box office area was dotted with record stalls, which was a nice touch. Much vinyl and gimmickry (e.g. an Aidan Moffat bottle opener and, for no obvious reason, Jesus and Mary Chain T-shirts – which were rather tame, just saying the band’s name in big colourful letters. Actual Jesus and Mary Chain T-shirts, if you remember, used to say things like ‘Jesus Fuck’ on them).

Silje Nes kicked off proceedings. A thin blonde Norwegian in a black and white smock-like dress, she knelt in a circle of effects pedals, looping noises from a guitar and a small keyboard. After the opening instrumental she stood up to sing, making me think of a livelier Taken by Trees. She was excellent at conjuring up entire arrangements from the looping kit, hitting the guitar for rhythms and seemingly able to drop in chord changes at will (usually a limitation of looping musical phrases – as opposed to rhythmical ones – is that this can’t happen). There was a section in the penultimate song of really interesting noise, involving more kneeling and pedal work. ‘Interesting’ as in pulsating, MBV / Fennesz white-but-not-blank noise. Then the last song was pretty and quiet again. Warm reverb with icy delay.

‘We’re in the middle of recording an album,’ said Stephen Pastel, before correcting the collective consternation (‘2023? You’re kidding!’ is certainly what I was thinking) by saying that actually they are closer to the end. 2012 is the year to watch, apparently. The set would consist of songs from it, once they had limbered up with ‘Charlie’s Theme’: the long instrumental ‘Slowly Taking Place’, Katrina’s ‘Secret Music’ and ‘Ballad of Two Elms’, Stephen’s ‘The Wrong Light’ and the re-invented ‘Thru Your Heart’ (which, in my head at least, seeped into Teenage Fanclub’s song ‘Sweet Days Waiting’ last year). A recorded version would be a good thing, I think. Like Vic Godard going back to ‘Chain Smoking’ or ‘Stop that Girl’, some songs are worth a second look. There was nothing new in the set, but it sounded really wonderful, warm, together. Katrina’s drumming made me think of blaxploitation again (they have a brilliant song about ‘aeroplanes in the summertime’, which once did the same), by which I probably mean Superfly, slowed down to Isaac Hayes pace. ‘The Wrong Light’ sounded heftier and more alive than before, I almost forgot its debt to Galaxie 500’s ‘Temperature’s Rising’. It’s tricky – I wouldn’t say that their slow song turnover has been good for The Pastels, but the songs they do have are becoming gradually enriched. Maybe this is how music evolved before records, before Hollywood. We await, of course, eagerly, automatically yours.

I’ve never been To Rococo Rot’s before, automatically or otherwise. Except for once, when Katrina sang ‘Secret Music’ with them. I had half hoped that they might revisit this moment, being together on the same bill, but it didn’t happen. Aside from their Pastels collaborations, they always sounded too dry to me – not objectionably so, but enough to distance. So it was a nice surprise when they took to the stage and, unassumingly, with due care and diligence, tore the roof off the sucker. Stefan Schneider centre stage, swaying in tight circles, from the hips, to the feel of the bass guitar. Robert Lippok to the right, twisting his laptop stand to all angles as though to get feedback from an amp right, poring over the touchpad and his table of gadgets, including one that sparkled gold with hundreds of illuminated dots, visualised glitches. Ronald Lippok to the left at his kit, swinging his sticks down in great loose arcs. A group of fans gathered just in front of him, eschewing the theatre seats to dance the hour away. A voice behind me spectacularly failed to capture the mood: ‘Security should throw them out’, but at the end, taking bows to rapturous applause, Ronald mimed giving his heart to the dancers. I picked up a beautiful vinyl copy of Speculation from Monorail the following day (I love how Pet Shop Boys that title is), and will revel, I am sure, in finding out how wrong I was about this band.

* The bar wasn’t a very forgiving place to play – Animal Magic Tricks especially were not the kind of thing which works well above chatter, but Conquering Animal Sound were more fun, more slinky. It was just a pity I’d picked last week of all weeks to re-visit Björk’s Vespertine.

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