Never have I seen Alexander Varty get something so wrong as in his review of the No Neck Blues Band show earlier this month -- or, well, never have I seen his opinion so radically differ from mine, which is the same thing. I mean, in minor issues, sometimes we do disagree -- he apparently liked the Nels Cline Singers more than Mats Gustaffson's The Thing at the Culch during their jazz festival double bill, f'rinstance, while I felt Nels -- whom I like a great deal and enjoyed immensely at two of his other fest performances -- was a little bit more trepidatious that night and never quite "got there;" on the other hand, I had no problem with Mats' muscular blowing or his metal-inflected Ayleresque free jazz, which Mr. Varty found a bit limited (it's gotta be him who describes their set as being that of a "one trick pony with a broken leg.") These sort of minor differences of opinion are to be expected -- even tho' we may both be FBB music geeks*, and even tho' we DO end up at a lot of the same shows, we are different people, after all. In fact, that's what makes reading his reviews so interesting, for me: we share enough of the same reference points that I can usually see where he's coming from, while getting a different perspective. I like his writing, usually, I really do. He's one of the few writers who contribute to the Straight whom I read regularly. And he seems like a nice guy.
So what the fuck wasn't he on that night at the Arts Club? The No Neck Blues Band were INCREDIBLE, Alex. It was one of those shows where the music was so intense, so beautiful, so precious that I struggled to keep my eyes shut while listening, the better to have my consciousness transformed. In vast juxtaposition to AV's take on things, I thought that the level of organic cohesion they arrived at was remarkable, given the improvisatory nature of their music and the exceptional strangeness of their approach, which steadfastly strives to actively eradicate most of the falser, more ego-oriented aspects of songwriting and performance - to strip things back to the roots, even if that means occasionally producing something that could be conceived of as pre-civilized. (I think it fascinating and significant that John Fahey was a fan and that they recorded for Revenant; it's something I hope to be able to discuss with the band someday - their feelings about primitivism and "roots"). Their show was as blissful a musical trip as I've seen these last few years, up there with Supersilent and Fe-mail and Fred Frith (and Giorgio's cool circuit bending show, which Alex didn't really like either, but wasn't as flat out abusive of). Maybe he needs to close his eyes more during concerts? It really does help. (Or mayhaps he needs a good psychedelic soul cleansing to open up his ear channels? I have connections, Alex. Get in touch). Whatever is it that he could be missing, that he would (apparently) enjoy NNCK on CD, while considering their live performance, very much of a piece with the sounds they make on disc, such a godawful mess?
I mean, it's really quite puzzling to me!
I sometimes worry about the Straight, you know? They're such an institution in Vancouver, so well-regarded and, well, indispensible, really, that it seems sometimes like they've formed an elite, self-regarding clique, based wholly on their mere BEING the Straight, and not on the quality of the perceptions or writing. I mean, their film section flat out sucks, for one; they spend so much time detailing local film news and offering meaningless reviews of meaningless Hollywood fare -- as if the relevant poles of cinematic production were merely Hollywood vs. Us, rather than Crap vs. Art -- that they neglect to report on really interesting and cinematically significant movies coming to town, and seldom run reviews that say anything interesting (tho' I give Ken Eisner points for trying; he used to piss me off, but not so much, lately)... A a further example of said cliquishness and self-regard: it seems like Mike Usinger gives the Tragically Hip a bad review because (gasp!) the Hip have snubbed the Straight, as if the band's opinion of the Straight is somehow significant to the quality of music they make... Bein' number one can make one lazy, but it's kinda odd, innit, that, though I look at the Straight every week, I am far more inclined to read the articles in the Nerve Magazine and Discorder?
(The reason couldn't be that I sometimes WRITE for the Nerve Magazine and Discorder, could it? ...And that the Straight haven't kicked down my door and leapt into bed with me yet, despite repeated, uhh, submissions to them...?).
Er... Shape up, Straight!
*FBB music geeks: fat, bearded**, and bald. I am of the opinion that the most intense music and film geeks anywhere are fat, bearded, and bald. So intense is our involvement in geekdom, so sincere our devotion to the arts, so vast our knowledge, that we do not need hair or a slim figure to have self-esteem.
**(We wear the beards so we can recognize each other).