This Little Underground
Bao Le-Huu takes on Two-Man Gentlemen Band, Woodsman, Swans and Sir Richard Bishop
Published: September 22, 2011
I was duly warned about their sonic crush ahead of time, but no amount of verbal admonishment – nothing – can ever prepare you for this. And I’ve got readings to back me up on this: According to the club’s sound guy, the meter went over 120 decibels. According to the Federal Interagency Committee on Noise, that’s just shy of a “military jet aircraft take-off from aircraft carrier with afterburner at 50 feet (130 dB).” Fuuuuck. Even if you’re deaf, this is viscera-collapsing.
As impressive as this volume is – and it was – what made Swans’ performance especially moving is the live, monolithic duel between beauty and brutality. Despite the sonic gale, their ethereal melodic aspect was still highly audible and comprehensible. Like a seasoned Sherpa, they never once get lost in the blizzard. Total entropy has never been so elegant.
Not quite as massive but equally transporting was opener Sir Richard Bishop, who established a dizzying, enveloping trance the second he started. His dark, rich, bottomless Eastern guitar style is dazzling in technique and staggering in grip. Under his spell, the cigarette smoke in the room seemed to thicken and curl, morphing rock club into opium den. This is not the postcard snapshot of gentrified world music or soft-core exotica. Beyond just giving you a glimpse of a far-off place, the deep waters of Bishop’s guitar draw you into its complex, turbulent heart. Unlike the meditativeness of peers like Jack Rose or John Fahey, Bishop pursues – no, attacks – his muse with burning hunger.
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