Monday, June 30, 2008

Mark Solotroff/Stillbirth/Sharpwaist/Silvum/Karlheinz - The Enemy, Chicago, IL, 21/6/2008 (C)

I found out about this gig kind of on a whim. Updating the TIS ( - CLICK HERE FOR HOT SINGLES IN YOUR AREA NOW) myspace one day I was looking at the bulletins and saw that one of the acts that I was friends with, or maybe the venue, or someone or something had posted a bulletin advertising it, and thought to myself "Well, gee, nothing else is working out while I'm in Chicago, I might as well try this out." I worked out heading down with Carter (and, as it turned out, my dad - a veteran of the old school performance art scene- for transportation's sake) and almost half expected us to be the only folks at the show. I wasn't too much off, other than the 6 people performing, during the first set, I'd say only about five other people were there, and the crowd built up to a strong fifteen to twenty people between sets.

The venue itself was pretty interesting. It was pretty much just a cleared-out space in a beat-up old studio apartment with some old furniture to make a small sitting area, and a pretty full kitchen /dining room. The sitting area/kitchen looked out onto a cold (-looking, it got pretty damn hot) concrete area which had the five set-ups in different areas and provided a great viewing space.

Against the rightmost "wall", which was a curtain covering up some sort of very large storage area, Mark started off the night with, as the flier described, "feedback using a clutch of microphones and his voice". Mark described his set as an Animal Law piece that he was still learning the melody to, but his performance was nothing short of striking. I can't honestly quite say I've ever really experienced anything quite like his set. The way Mark choreographed his every move to effect the shape of the feedback in the space was both sonically engaging and made me think more about the sound, making me take it for more than just its surface value. Every motion as small as creating a wall between two of the upright microphones with his hand created huge changes in the song that were somewhat surprising. I think the nicest part about the set was that from the description I was expecting more power-electronics-esque feedback-punching and screaming as frequently used in the other sets. It was much more enjoyable and interesting than I had thought it would be, and was definitely the most surprising of the night. Mark had the most tremendous presence of the performers that evening, performing with an ease that betrayed hours of practice, and years of performing.

Stillbirth came up next, assuming his spot at a small table near "center stage". His set began with him turning on a small table light, and the other lights in the venue being turned off. He presented what seemed to me to be relatively straightforward and very enjoyable power electronics. The lyrics were a bit clich├ęd in my mind: "genocide - tourniquet - genocide - killing women", but the effects he used to treat his voice were top notch. The performance aspect of the set were pretty good, the point where he fell on the floor and started moaning was a bit silly, but other than that - pretty good. The set was short and to the point, as it needed to be. In my mind the high point of the set was the image left in my mind of the lighting, and the ampeg cab pulsing with the rhythmic background noise, and so-and so standing eerily behind his effects table.

Sharpwaist seemed to be having some sort of issues that evening, but their piece was still great. It was nice to hear power electronics with a sort of lower droning in the beginning rather than the usual wall of white noise or pulsing stuff. It started off as somewhat generic power electronics, which I wasn't really too excited for and the main man spilled his beer on the floor and the guys from Silvum and Set 2 had to help clean it up while they continued to play. Eventually the second half of the duo kicked in and there was some great back and forth action. For a brief moment the main effects man dropped a distortion pedal into a metal crate along with a contact mic (or something along those lines) and shook the crate for just a few seconds, which created some great noise and spontaneity. This, for me, illustrated what the noisier acts were missing and was pretty cool to see. They also used a great series of back-and-forth screams that sounded awesome. In the end they were probably the best sounding of the noise sets.

Silvum in a way stole the show for me. Coming after two power electronics sets and presenting something wholly new compared to everyone else that had played, Silvum was nothing short of a breath of fresh air both in the context of the show and out of context. I don't recall quite specifically how it began, because I admit getting a bit lost in the experience, but what really matters is eventually Nick seamlessly took a piece of tape, measured it against his arm as if he'd done it a thousand times before, and then taped a microphone to his throat. The whole act was itself was very powerful to watch and was almost ritualistic as my dad described it later. The heartbeat worked perfectly into the music, running through some sort of delay and creating a kind of a train-sounding rhythm, and really brought the music forward on a lot of levels. The drone set proceeded with thought and created soundscapes that couldn't help but draw you in. The set wound down with the addition of… Breathing or vocals? I don't remember or couldn't tell. Either way, it sounded great. For the entirety of his set, except when using the mic, Nick stood almost completely still at his mixing console with a tremendous presence and sense of calm (though I might say his pulse might showed something else) which only enhanced the mood. Given my inclinations towards more minimal sorts of things, it's not surprising that this was, alongside the first, my favorite set of the evening. I talked to Nick afterwards and he was a very humble and nice guy, and seemed surprised when I asked to buy an album from him. Well the album was amazing as well, and is reviewed in this months Etherised, check it out.

Karlheinz finished up the night. Musically and performance-wise he was most forgettable. He had been the on-going "sound guy" for the night, and I didn't realize he would be performing so I was kind of excited. He performed three songs during his set, all of which were very much similar, and kind of generic. He screamed about some sort of angry things for two of them, and pointed at people in the crowd and ran around like you would expect him to, then performed an "instrumental" piece at the end which was referred to as the "Karlheinz Drone Set", which at first I took as a joke, then I kind of thought that was what he was doing… Then I just couldn't tell. I kind of felt bad when he raised his arms up above his head intending to swoop down and hit as many pedals as he could and unleash another huge wall of noise, but only managed to reduce the decibel level a bit and knock his pedals all over the place. I enjoyed his set anyway, and he seemed like an entertaining guy. Maybe if he hadn't looked so much like someone I knew, or worn that silly cop hat with the flashlight it would have been better. Oh well.

Over all, the show was great fun. I don't know that I would have picked a different venue to see this group of people, and the intimacy was very welcomed. Each performer brought something slightly different and they were each enjoyable in their own respects. The highlights of the night were definitely Mark, Silvum, and Act 2, all of whom made me think and were enjoyable to listen to.

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