Dead C / Northampton Wools / Sightings / King Darves
[Bowery Ballroom; New York, NY]
It's with some serendipity that New Zealand noise-rockers the Dead C would be making an appearance in New York at the same time the actual Dead Sea scrolls would be on display at the Jewish Museum in the very same city. Indeed, for both, a Manhattan appearance is equally rare. Though there exists no tour t-shirt to document the scrolls globe trekking, the band, the Dead C are on record as having only made one journey to the states before this tour, to play the Los Angeles chapter of All Tomorrow's Parties back in 2002. Like the scrolls, the Dunedin, New Zealand band's extensive back catalog has been ruminated over, each new release pored over for meaning and intent, and as is the case for both, new paradoxes arise out of every examination of their output.
New York City parking regulations had me circling the Bowery Ballroom 20 or 30 times before settling upon a viable spot to stash my ride. Unfortunately, I had already missed openers King Darves. Bummer. So it would be Northampton Wools that would whet my live music whistle for the night. The guitar mangling duo of Thurston Moore and Bill Nace invoked the spirit of Derek Bailey, as the two started out with spacious, delicate amblings only to build towards further rupture and the all-out guitar squall Thurston has manifested in over a bazillion projects. In a particularly pleasing moment (after several awkward silences), Thurston, in a fit of fury, slammed a file against the strings and continued to absolutely maul the guitar that sat torturously, crying out for help upon his lap.
Sightings continued the guitar abuse with their skronk 'n' pummel routine. Rich Hoffman provided plenty of dyspeptic "bass face," switching from slinky-snake charming riffs to retard rumble, while Mark Morgan danced around the stage doing a hybrid Russian folk dance mixed with a modified version of the limbo. The synth pad/actual drum drumming of Jon Lockie further accentuated Sightings half-man/half-machine hybrid attack. The whole Sightings package kind of sounds like what Einstürzende Neubauten would if they were around in the late-'60s — call it industrial-edelia if that suits you (it shouldn't). Not recognizing this song cycle from their latest Through the Panama, it stands to reason these new jams are to be featured on some sort of new album, which has me atwitter with schoolgirl-like excitement.
Dead C took the stage last and culminated a night of discordance. Mike Morley's lethargic drawl wove a dream-time musical language with Bruce Russell's guitar noisiness. Russell, in a perpetual Quasimoto slump, leaned over his guitar, not necessarily playing it, but maybe exploiting it, inserting a small metal strip between the fretboard and strings and producing a steady stream of feedback from the small amp he had in front of him. The drumming of Robbie Yeats was impressive; holding together amorphous rock tendencies can't be easy, but he pulled it off. Their set was full of peaks and valleys, build-ups and let-downs, while an underscore of atonality held it all together. The performance for the most part lacked the energy of some past recorded shows (gotta love that video of them on New Zealand television) and opted for more unilateral unfoldings and subtle crescendos. Although the sheets of sound built up by the C reached some transcendent heights, I felt, overall, they kept it mired in a sort of cosmic funeral dirge. Dead C have to be commended for their unique vision, their disregard of convention, and the sheer influence they have bequeathed, which makes it tough to decry such a seminal and legendary band for being "boring." To save face, I'll revert back to that old axiom about Wagner's music and say that, like the German composer, Dead C are better than they sound.