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Current 93 and friends

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cover imageAcross two nights in London, David Tibet celebrated his 50th birthday in style. As well as two performances by Current 93, a host of fellow travelers took to the stage in his honour. Simon Finn, Nurse With Wound and Comus all rubbed shoulders with Tibet’s newer friends Rameses III and These New Puritans. This was an unforgettable weekend for me; a two for one introduction to Current 93 as a live band topped with the added bonus of a handful of artists I never expected to see along with some old favorites.

28 & 29 May, London, UK.

cover imageAlthough I arrived in time on the first night to see Simon Finn, I was unfortunately delayed within the venue so for his first few songs, I could only listen to them through the doors in the foyer (the joy of London venues and those bearing cameras). Once I got in to hear him properly, I was calmed by his beautiful performance. Flanked by Joolie Wood on violin and Maja Elliott on piano, he gave magnificent renditions of his songs including a stirring version of “Accidental Life.” However, undoubtedly the zenith of his set (and possibly of the night) was his closing song, the classic “Jerusalem.” While the recording from Pass the Distance is one of those great moments in time forever captured in the studio, to hear “Jerusalem” fleshed out and performed live was an exceptionally moving experience for me.

There was a complete change in mood as Nurse With Wound took over from Finn. Starting with a subdued and droning arrangement, this was a very different Nurse With Wound gig compared to the ones I have previously experienced. Instead of playing around with sounds from the NWW archive and mixing them in with the live sounds, this time Steven Stapleton and his crew played almost completely in the moment. Lynn Jackson joined them to sing some (huffin’ rag) blues which worked exceptionally well with the noise the boys were making. After she left the stage, the music continued in this low key style.

cover imageAbout halfway through the set, I was beginning to feel like they were a little lost until Andrew Liles donned a pair of sunglasses and joined Stapleton on guitar. With Matt Waldron on bass and another surprise guest named Rick on trumpet, the group shifted into a higher gear and started to rock out hard. The set finished with a superb version of “Rock’n Roll Station,” Stapleton seeming more comfortable on the mic than he did a couple of years ago. The real magic was Colin Potter’s live manipulation and looping; sounds re-emerging after a few minutes to surprise the audience (and from the look of the trumpet player, some of the performers too!).

The arch dandy Sebastian Horsley introduced Tibet and Current 93 with a speech that was both hilarious and touching. Current 93 took to the stage as less of a band and more of an orchestra. With at least 12 people on stage at any one time, the music never sounded anything less than earth-shattering which is what I suppose Tibet was aiming for. Beginning with a mixture of songs from Aleph at Hallucinatory Mountain and Baalstorm, Sing Omega, the mood was seriously apocalyptic. Live, songs like “Invocation of Almost” are giants compared to their album counterparts and the hallucinatory imagery seems far scarier when it is being generated there in front of me. The cataclysmic effect is reinforced by Liles’ electronic rumblings which punctuated the music; thunderclaps from gods. Less frightening but still thrilling was the radical re-working of “Black Ships Ate the Sky” (which would be more accurately described as “Black Ships Ate the Neu!” thanks to its motorik beat).

cover imageThe new songs represent a logical progression both musically and lyrically when compared to Current 93’s last two albums. The nightmares of Black Ships Ate the Sky and Aleph... have morphed into an epiphanic new form. Eliot Bates’ oud stood out in the songs from Baalstorm, giving the music a distant and historic feel; Tibet’s interest in Coptic studies may be pushing the music towards more ancient forms than previously explored. Yet, Current 93’s place in the rock tradition was hard to deny when there were three electric guitarists (Matt Sweeney, Keith Wood, and James Blackshaw) each adding their own snaking lines to the songs. Bridging these eastern and western musical influences was Alex Neilson, whose drumming was at one moment like the patter of rain before raging like a storm at the end of time.

cover imageThe last portion of the set saw Michael Cashmore join the already bulging ranks on acoustic guitar. Taking the lead, Cashmore led the group through “Mary Waits in Silence” and “Whilst the Night Rejoices Profound and Still” (the latter giving rise to an especially emotive performance by Tibet). Cashmore’s playing was so precise and almost stark compared to the other three guitarists sharing the stage; his presence highlighting how much Current 93’s approach to melody has changed in recent years. Cashmore was then replaced on the acoustic for the final song by Stephen Emmel; “Niemandswasser“ capping off the first night perfectly.

After such a night, the second evening had a lot to live up to. Rameses III got things going on the right track with a succinct but glorious performance. Seeming to pick a note and stick with it for their set, there was a danger of the music becoming boring. However, they picked a good note to play and, using a variety of approaches to vibrating their guitar strings, they covered a large range of textures in a short time. From glassy drones to pastoral finger picking, I could have happily sat through Rameses III for a lot longer.

cover imageHowever, I lose such conviction when the next band is Comus. Much like Simon Finn’s Pass the Distance, Comus’ First Utterance is one of those albums that sounds like a complete once-off. Faced with the reformed Comus, I was unsure how much of that dark magic was bottled up in the musicians lined up on the stage before me. Yet from the opening unhinged strains of “Song to Comus” I was enraptured. Although Roger Wootton and Bobbie Watson’s vocals have aged, all their unearthly power was intact. “Diana” and “Drip Drip” both nearly brought the house down. Glenn Goring’s amazing guitar solo on “The Herald” was beyond belief, I have seen many virtuoso players but few (if any) with that skill and expression.

What surprised me most were the new songs (for a forthcoming EP) which, unlike those that made up the aborted second Comus album, capture the spirit of First Utterance. “Out of the Coma” in particular captures that mixture of sex and death that made First Utterance so powerful; Watson’s backing vocals simultaneously captured the rhythmic aspirations of an artificial respirator and the erotic panting of sexual oblivion.

cover imageConspicuously young compared to Comus were These New Puritans. Their mixture of unswervingly heavy percussion, woodwind textures and underground dance music was something that I was unsure of to begin with. Drawing largely from their new album Hidden, the electronic beats combined with the two drummers was like Aphex Twin at the helm of Swans circa Public Castration is a Good Idea and it sounded (and felt) great. Yet the vocals were lost in the mix, meaning that the songs lacked to focus needed to make my final decision on them. In a smaller venue with a standing crowd, These New Puritans could be brilliant but on this occasion they seemed a little out of place.

With an entirely different set to the previous night, Current 93 brought things down in pace. There was a more sombre and poignant mood compared to the wilder and heavier songs of the night before. Again, they began with pieces from Aleph... and Baalstorm. “Not Because the Fox Barks” took on a whole other life in concert and in “Passenger Aleph in Name” from the new album, it has found its twin. Baby Dee had her moment to shine on another new song; the carnival organ of “I Dance Narcoleptic” saw her let loose on the keys (in contrast to her demure performance at the piano throughout the rest of the two sets).

cover imageCashmore made another appearance on another set of older crowd pleasers. “A Sadness Song” and “A Gothic Love Song” both came across strongly with the large ensemble adding depth to the compositions; Blackshaw’s slide guitar providing a warm updraft to an already soaring “They Return to Their Earth.” The climax of “They Return to Their Earth” saw Tibet in fine form, delivering the final verse with supernatural conviction. A surprise appearance by Bill Fay saw nearly the entire band sit back and bask in his gentle performance. Cashmore accompanied him on “My Eyes Open,” the simple guitar melody and Fay’s gentle voice met with a rapt silence by the audience. This was a far stronger version compared to the version on last year’s Still Some Light album and it was hard not to be moved by Fay’s words.

cover imageSaving the best for last, an encore of “Lucifer Over London” nearly took the roof off the venue. The Black Sabbath guitar line intro was replaced with John Contreras’ own take on the cello, confusing me momentarily. However, there was no mistaking the song once the band got into full swing. The rolling riff becoming an orchestral tidal wave as Tibet rode the crest like Poseidon in his chariot. Becoming incensed, Tibet was a man possessed and powered through the song before leaving backing vocalist Sarah Dietrich to sing out the evening on her own, the other musicians each exiting the stage one by one until the music dissipated into the night air like a ghost in the fog.


Last Updated on Tuesday, 01 June 2010 12:44  


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