Third rails and rats, meet peysur.
by Chris Sea
warning: this review contains large amounts of due deference…and that’s because I love this man’s music. i even have a concert series, the rhythm box social, which pays homage to them.
it should be noted that there was a nice turnout for a show of this sort. no wave never had an enormous following, so it’s nice to see it starting to finally get appreciated. there were even little kids there! the show’s connection to the reykjavik arts festival certainly helps, and as I noticed the dark ambience at mengi created a harbinger of what
was to come. I must admit, stylistically speaking, the venue is really done up very well.
We waited until the room seemingly was near capacity. I was surprised to see folks like Snorri Helgason at the gig. Arto is a bit of a legend in the 80’s NYC no wave scene, so for his playing to appeal to the like’s of reykjavík´s most respected singer songwriters really made me curious.
Arto arrives with his what appears to be greenish bluish danelectro. boy do I love the look and sound of that guitar. so alien to a strat or a telecaster or a les paul clone. The drummer wore a ets hat, and that, as a new jerseyan, meant a lot. A dear friend of Mengi and Arto played bass. and what a beautiful bass it was. the arto I remembered from the film New York Beat Movie (Downtown ’81) took stage. I like how they
were dressed, very jazzer.
And of the audience? there were many studied brows at this event. fingers on lips, that sort of behavior. I wondered if Arto ever thinks that performing to the arty crowd is boring.
As for the sound, there was a bit of a muddy low end to the PA, but this actually added something to the riffs the band launched into. Arto uses a pad and paper to take music notes before performances. it that pretentious? I actually don’t think so. He’s not saying more about what he’s doing than doing.
The first few notes from the man playing the Apple were droning and a bit hypnotic at times, after that, it was Arto’s staccatoed assault. Was that Portugeuse I heard Arto speaking? Quiet basstones kept things driving forward. as for Arto’s voice, there were no gimmicky sounds, and there was a great deal of vox pitch shifting. The men were like technocrats on stage – musical engineers.
I wondered how Arto got to this point in his career. at one point do you become established?he’s on this stage because he did this brilliantly creative stuff first, along with glenn branca, fred frith, bill frisell, and the rest of new york’s madly expressive guitarists.
There were subtle delay effects used. very tasteful, and I thought it amazing what can be accomplished with so little. I saw no madness in arto’s eyes. I bet he thinks, will he satisfy this audience?
All the while I thought, “this is what a hurricane would sound like.” Arto commented after one track’s raging, epic ending, “That was pretty icelandic, if you know what I mean.” At one point, A Zorn-esque Painkiller beat was played by the drummer. Throughout the experience, you could only see slight dissatisfaction at the music in Arto’s eyes. This music could never get mass acceptance, I thought. the bassist offered us many a righteous, gnarly smile.- he was definitely into it, and hauling ass. smiles and laughs at the more oddball moments, great dense reverb on the amp, bass chords, with a violin effect on his instrument, it created a beautiful undertone,. a this sound proved a little overwhelming for the woofers at times.
Regarding the significance of each piece, I can made good use of an anecdote. I once asked bill laswell at an electric masada gig what he was doing up there. he said “bullshitting”, but in this bullshit sounded great. There were awesome, ass shaking passages from all instruments, great guitar nut plucking, and fascinating singing. everyone knows what a good groove is here, and many were to be had.. and their getting their moneys worth, the Portuguese makes it more creative.
Overall, arto’s harmonic note riffing was brutal, yet pleasant to my ears. his playing was legitimately good. i liked the smiles on his face as well; devoid of pretense. i found myself doing the closed lipped eyed thing – you know, like you just ate something sour. the sound was just so fucking rough and punishing. I loved it. The stop/start distortion on Arto’s guitar really added to that. There were moments when everything sonically connected seemed premeditated – but amazingly, that wasn’t the case. the subtlety of the sampling i appreciated. hello napalm death! after a while, I thought the drummer should at least stay on riff for a few moments more than he was, but he got me shaking my ass anyway. Arto offered very nice vox; a stream of consciouness lyrical manner. it seems many would find it pretentious howling, but I think it works. i found myself screaming “god damn” after one piece. I thought I heard “Fever” by peggy lee in it, and that must have been why. but too much sexuality makes the bespectatcled man awkward. he’s not really sexy miley cyrus type, but he is fun.I see him as like Ratso from Midnight Cowboy when he gets to his frisky talk.
There were some foolish women who laughed a lot during the set. Arto “Ahems” them properly. Fools- it its brave music, get used to it. It’s here and it’s queer. In general, I liked seeing Arto emote, as that’s when I would bite my lip – during the crashing of waves of sound. the icelanders were quite quiet, as expected.The band ran out of steam at the end, but I think that’s ok – they had said more than enough awesome things through their music. for the first time in a while, I heard the sound of icelanders emoting as they shouted and clapped for an encore. iggy pop hated encore. soemtimes I can see why. kind of fakey It’s probably a cliche to say that Arto plays guitar like how Pollock drip painted, but he did. As for the encore, I liked the clinky clunky shit at the end, like old 30’s swing or delta blues. Thankfully, groove is really a comfortable place for this group. And guess what? I was thankful I came.