Subhumans at the Brickyard, Phil Minton at Ironworks
Earlier in the evening, since the Subhumans didn't go on stage until after 12, I attended the first set of the 11 PM Ironworks show: locals Peggy Lee (still playing better'n I've ever heard her play before), and Torsten Muller (who I've never had a complaint with, tho' I was kinda disappointed by the afternoon Western Front show he did with Lol Coxhill today) were joined by vocal improvisers Maggie Nicols and Phil Minton. It was Phil I went for. It was fascinating to watch. Having seen Canadian avant-vox poet-musician Paul Dutton perform on a couple of occasions, it was really interesting to compare the difference in their approaches. While Dutton is focused, in control, a sound poet in command of his rather unusual medium, Minton approaches things more as a jazz improviser, shaking, sputtering, and spazzing, entering the music, seeking a sort of trance in it, and following the flow of things in exactly the way a skilled improviser might play a saxophone. Both are interesting to watch, and damned interesting to hear, but something in Minton's rapturous entry into the music was oddly participatory -- you felt like if you could just take whatever drug he was on, so to speak, you might start doing the same thing with your mouth, too. (With Dutton, there's no question of this that enters your mind: you watch, fascinated, but you're more aware that he has you in his power, is guiding you, directing you, that you're following a performance and that there's a human being up there named Paul Dutton who is making the sounds you're hearing; and that you could not do what he was doing without years of practice. It's controlled in the best sense of the word... With Minton, "control" is the last word that comes to mind, and his very identity seems to melt a bit into his performance). A person unsure what to make of such a strange form of music could take their cues just by watching Minton's body, I suspect.... Maggie Nicols, meanwhile -- from Scotland -- seemed an immediately and deeply likeable woman, tho' not as extroverted in her performance as her male vocal counterpart; she tapped her feet sometimes, danced a bit, and offered a sometimes droning, sometimes singing, sometimes trilling and burbling and chirping female voice to the far left of the sound spectrum, perfectly balancing out the sound of Peggy Lee's cello on the far right. She could have been performing on a Meredith Monk record, at times -- her style involved more singing, and less sound, than Minton's. I liked her "Make Capitalism History" t-shirt, too. I probably could have stayed for their whole set, so slow were they at getting the Subhumans onstage at the Brickyard; their performance was an exquisite bit of improvised exploration. As usual with soundscape-type music, I tried at various points to close my eyes and focus on the sound, but for once, the performers were just too interesting to not watch them.
I sure am glad that I find myself enjoying Peggy Lee again. I was impressed with her when I first saw her perform in the early '90's, but on my return from Japan in 2002, was most disappointed when I saw her open for Erik Friedlander at the Culch; she seemed tentative, reluctant to really play her instrument, perhaps out of fear of seeming weaker than Friedlander, which she managed to do anyhow. Maybe it was just in my head but I wasn't impressed, and have been reluctant since to see her again; I'm delighted to find myself enjoying her again, and two nights in a row, no less... I don't think it's just in my ears, either; she seems to have grown considerably as a performer, in confidence and perhaps in technique. Cheers, Peggy!
...and now I must lay my sweaty flesh to rest for the evenin', to prepare for yet more jazz tomorrow. Again, I highly recommend the Dedication Orchestra at the Culch at 8 PM...