Kim Gordon's Body/Head Puts the Noise in Noise Pop's Opening Night
Body/Head, Horsebladder, Burmese @ Rickshaw Stop
Christopher Victorio Body/Head at Rickshaw Stop last night.
Jason Lytle @ Brick and Mortar Music Hall
Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013 // Noise Pop Festival Opening Night
Better than: The ambient soundtrack at your local Guitar Center.
Noise Pop 2013 kicked off last night with something relatively rare for the 21-year-old indie music festival: Actual noise.
Well, okay: Hardcore fans of the genre wouldn't consider ex-Sonic Youth member Kim Gordon's new avant-rock duo, Body/Head, to be proper noise. But her careening, chaotic set with fellow guitarist Bill Nace certainly fell more in the realm of art music than pop music. It was a surprise choice for the opening night of a festival that has seemed in recent years to be inching toward more mainstream sounds.
Gordon and Nace, alone onstage at Rickshaw Stop except for a trio of amplifiers and a vast spread of effects pedals, traded squeals and squelches, thundering chords and piercing ribbons of feedback. Gordon occasionally moaned breathlessly into the mic, but decoding more than a few snippets of lyrics was mostly impossible. (Except for on their doomy, deadpan cover of Nina Simone's "Ain't Got No, I Got Life.")
Much of the set seemed improvisational, with Gordon usually playing more dronelike parts on her Fender Jazzmaster, while Nace generated noise using his Les Paul's strings, switches, and even the cable connecting it to the amplifier. After the second song, Gordon pressed her guitar's neck against her amp with her foot, held the instrument aloft while standing on top of two amps, and otherwise moved the thing in the air like a giant feedback theremin, all while messing with its whammy bar. Meanwhile, Nace pounded out boulder-fields of hurt from his distorted six-string. The performance may have been more noise than pop, but it was much more captivating than videos of the group's European performances have been.
Earlier at Rickshaw, dramatic contrasts were witnessed: The maximalist grind of Burmese -- towering stacks of amps, two basses, a growling female lead singer -- gave way to the spare suicide soundtrack of Horsebladder, a one-woman project from Oakland. Over minimal beats (often just an ominous thud), tape noise, and eerie organ loops from a cheap keyboard, Horsebladder's Elaine Kahn moaned and shouted cryptic, painful lines. It was haunting, challenging, and sometimes dull music, and not everyone in the crowd was ready for it. One guy near the front kept insisting that Kahn should hire a drummer, then yelled at her to stop playing. In the back of the room, many people were talking over Kahn's repetitive sound poems, or looking at their phones, and it was hard to blame them: Rickshaw isn't an ideal setting for music so spare and intimate, and certainly not after a band as sensorially stimulating as Burmese.
Christopher Victorio Burmese
We skipped the second half of the Body/Head set to rush down to Brick and Mortar for the last few minutes of ex-Grandaddy member Jason Lytle. There, Lytle and his melancholic voice performed with minimal accompaniment (just another multi-instrumentalist) for a packed, reverent house. Seated behind a keyboard, Lytle's voice onstage sounded just as sweetly sad as it does on his recordings. Begged back by the crowd for an encore, Lytle performed a stripped-down, mostly acoustic version of Grandaddy's "Levitz," which contains the lovely refrain, "Sunny days should leave a message on my phone." On the recorded version, underscored by a droning synth, Lytle seems remote, but onstage, backed by his acoustic, he sounded fully exposed, naked, vulnerable. It was a perfectly human moment to conclude a night of distant, difficult music.
Christopher Victorio Horsebladder
Christopher Victorio Jason Lytle
Star power: Many inside Rickshaw Stop were struck by the presence of the real, live Kim Gordon, who apparently hung out at the bar for part of the night. She also came out onstage to set up her own effects pedals -- no diva there.
Band to check out: What we saw of Burmese's set was viciously entertaining, and so is this video of the group performing at Hemlock Tavern. Also, apparently Thee Oh Sees' John Dwyer used to drum for them? Though we're usually not huge into music with growling, guttural vocals, Burmese is too heavy and too crazy to not investigate.