Noumena/Karen Thomas/Illusion of Safety/Noisegate/Deadly Karl/XTerminal/Red Shirt Jamboree
Speak in Tongues, June 22, 2000
[originally posted 26Jun2000]
After a slew of last-minute cancellations and yet another “what are you doing here?” appearance by the masters of just showing up and expecting to be allowed to play, the final lineup of the June 22 Noisegate show was finalized at 8PM on the night of the show. First, on 21 June, Kevin of Axis Mundi emailed me to say that he was cancelling—not just Clevelamd, but the whole tour—due to circumstances beyond his control (the club in Chicago that was his final destination closed down). Then, at 1:30AM on the day of the show, Maria Moran of Zipperspy decided to cancel her appearances on the rest of the tour dates. We’ll skip forward over the more annoying portions of the afternoon previous to the show to the point where Deadly Karl showed up expecting a place on the bill, and no one’s sure why. Noumena and Karen decided to combine their sets, and we ended up with a six-band bill.
I wish the order had been different so I could come up with something cute like “the first half sucked and the second half was fantastic.” Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. Oh, well. It was the best of shows, it was the worst of shows… or something like that.
Despite rumors of ATF agents haunting Speak in Tongues over the past few weeks and ordering them to keep it down, Red Shirt Jamboree opened things up with a fifteen-minute set of ear-crushing high-register noise that combined their usual synthesizer trickery with layers of samples from eighties thrash bands. Lovely nostalgic stuff for those of us who grew up on it. While RSJ are still in the larval stages of noise (I believe they’re an offshoot of a hardcore band, at least I think someone said that to me recently…), they have the potential to be one of the real monsters of the Cleveland scene in time.
The less said about XTerminal’s set the better.
Deadly Karl, who once again showed up expecting to be allowed to play (a technique, I must say, I really need to learn), were for some reason allowed to do so again. And in their defense, they must have been keeping their ears to the ground after the last performance at Speak in Tongues, because this time we didn’t get half an hour of recycled Throbbing Gristle. Instead, we got forty-five minutes of 1968-era Pink Floyd tripping out and continuing, endlessly, the solos in the middle of “Astronomy Domine.” A private and sealed-in-blood “no Deadly Karl” pact was made shortly afterwards.
Then came Noisegate. And I think I have a new favorite live band.
Noisegate, previously known as sludge-rock mavens, arrived with a slimmer, stripped-down look (maybe because there are only two touring members these days, Trevor Paglen and Chris Fitzpatrick, along with the guy whose name I don’t remember <uhh, sorry old chap> running the film projector) and a sound that can only be described as exactly the opposite of what they used to do. The crowd was treated to almost a full hour of stunning, beautiful ambient music accompanying an absolutely nauseating film. Not nauseating in the usual noise way, but vertigo-inducing to those of us who can no longer play first-person 3D shooters; it seems as if the film was shot from the passenger side of a car, mostly pointed up and focusing on telephone wires, streetlights, and the like. Motion sickness is a foregone conclusion (and I wasn’t the only person who felt that way, I found out later). And don’t get me wrong when I say “ambient.” While Noisegate understand more than most the uses of dynamic in a live situation, and some portions of their set were bar none the quietest thing I’ve ever heard at Speak in Tongues, they also understand musical composition… and when they build to a climax, they build to a climax. Floors and walls were shaking. Literally. But the style, the sound, never quite crossed the line into noise; you were always aware that what was happening contained music in some way. And the crowd were stunned. No one talked. Few people moved. Possibly the most respectful I’ve ever seen a crowd at SiT, and I have little doubt that Noisegate gained more than one rabid fan that night (I know they gained at least one: me).
The highlight of the night, for me anyway, was supposed to be Illusion of Safety. Everything I know of IOS, and everything I’ve heard, led me to think guitar-drone. Hell, the American king of guitar drone, Jim O’Rourke, was a member of the band before going on to bigger and more astounding things. But is that what we got? Of course not. I had previously been discoursing to various folk about my lack of depression at Zipperspy’s no-show performance and the imminent breakup of Pittsburgh band The Joysticks (presently on their final tour). Someone up there heard me, and decided I needed to pay for my heresy, and what we got from IOS was exactly what would happen if Maria Moran sat in on a Joysticks performance. Breakbeats, fuzz, and snatches of seventies easy-listening standards coming from what looked like a shortwave radio. Not a guitar in evidence, and no one sound stuck around long enough to be a drone. Most disappointing performance of the year to date by a “name” artist (go back to XTerminal’s set to find the most disappointing by an “un-name” artist).
After the bouncing around my ears took from the annoyance of Deadly Karl to the unfettered brilliance of Noisegate to the disappointment of Illusion of Safety, I looked forward to Noumena/Karen’s set with something approximating an open mind. I mean, what could possibly top this emotional rollercoaster? Leave it to Mike Shiflet and Aaron Hibbs…
before getting into the, erm, “visual” aspects of the show, I must say that whoever made Shiflet’s bass guitar is to be commended. That instrument has taken more abuse than any I’ve seen (and I watched nine inch nails successively destroy four full sets of instruments in one night…), and it keeps on tickin’. Astounding.
Karen and the Noumena boys made for a good study in contrasts; Karen did her usual lurk around in the corner thing, while Mike pummeled, pounded, stomped on, detuned, and otherwise misused the aforementioned bass guitar (I mean, what did it ever do to YOU, huh?). Aaron, meanwhile, did a theatrical (this would be a fantastic short film, by the way, you guys) kinda thing in which he, wired with a number of contact microphones, came out of the bar area, moved halfway into the audience, and fell flat on his face. Repeatedly. With less clothing on each time, and Mike parallelling the disrobing onstage. Until they were both naked. Oh, Calcutta. I will only say that (most of) the ladies of Cleveland missed a rather, uh, spectacular show. (And, since I know at least half of you are asking, no. Karen remained fully clothed throughout the evening. Despite the fact that it was damned hot.)
So the scorecard starts off with three hits and three misses, and we move on to…
The Falling Object Is a Man/Sikhara/Slick and Wicked
Speak in Tongues, June 24, 2000
We set another attendance record at Speak in Tongues Saturday night, breaking the previous record set by the Death Squad/Quell show on September 23rd, 1998 (number of paying customers: 3). I was the sole person there for the show. I’ve seen bands cancel for less (or more as the case may be), but everyone stuck around and played, and this is a good thing. Saturday’s score: 3-0.
Slick and Wicked, known to locals as Tim and Ralf (Ralf being Ralf Haussmann, the best damn soundman on earth, thankyouverymuch) started things off with a banjo-and-acoustic-guitar version of “Sweaty Mountain Rag” that had me picturing a front porch in Tennessee, moonshine, and hounds. Not good given SIT’s present wrangling with the cops. I kept sippin’ the Diet Coke and wishing it were ‘shine. Ah, well. Just to keep things interesting, their other song didn’t use any stringed instruments whatsoever, but a melange of sixties and seventies-era electronic equipment (including what I’m almost sure was a PET 2400 computer) that produced a kind of odd assemblage of experimental trip-hop, noise, and progressive rock that constantly shifted from place to place. The overall effect was beautiful, if a bit disorienting.
Sikhara took the stage almost immediately afterwards. Three guys, one keyboard, one sampler, and percussion. A whole lot of percussion. And while there’s noise and obligatory spooky keyboards and sampled voices, fading in and out of the mix, it’s obvious that the percussion (both sampled and live) is the main feature and the backbone of Sikhara’s primitive, ritual sound. And they are an absolute joy to watch. Live percussion is a very versatile thing than can stir up the most complex emotions imaginable… or it can be used to being out the most primitive. Sikhara would rather do the latter, and I’m half-convinced that the last thing they played would be considered a declaration of war in more than one culture. Aggressive, angry, simple. If they are playing in your area any time soon, I highly recommend you drop by. (Find out at http://www.radonstudio.com.) [ed. note 2013: dead link. The new home of Sikhara on the internet is here.]
Last was supposed to be The Falling Object Is a Man, but only one member of the band showed up. Which was okay with me, because what I got from Brian and his guitar was the show I had been expecting from Illusion of Safety two days earlier. For thirty minutes, Brian made his poor guitar pay for the sins it had committed in its past lives, shifting effortlessly from film music to ambient to noise to pop and back again. A perfect way to end the weekend’s live shows.