When Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore split up last year, my heart broke. I always felt that they were the perfect rock couple- Moore was the pop yin to Gordon’s experimental yang. And, as expected, Moore’s post Sonic Youth output has largely been filled with guitar pop. And Gordon has been largely quiet. So, when Noise Pop announced that they were featuring her new project, Body/Head, on their opening night of Noise Pop, I was thrilled. When I learned that it was a “noise” project with east coast avant gardist Bill Nace, I had very high hopes for this performance. My favorite Sonic Youth moments have always been when Gordon vocalizes over thunderous guitar shredding. To have a band that strips them down to the just this part was practically a dream show. So, yes, I needed to be there.
Surprises can be fun. It feels really good to get surprised by things. Sometimes, when you see a band set up their gear, you usually can get a feel for what they sound like once they start playing. And, sometimes, they will surprise you. Surprises can be fun. It feels really good to get surprised by things. Burmese, with their petite female vocalist, did not look like they would be creating the most primal, guttural noise I’ve ever heard. But, seriously, what a head melting treat! By all measures, Burmese played grindcore. Each song, which seemed to average in length between 45 seconds and 2 minutes, was a beautiful attack of pounding double bass drum and fuzzy, chugging basses. (The band played with two bassists, and, word on the street is that they usually do two drummers, too) The set was far too brief, and, although this crowd wasn’t the type of crowd to erupt into a full on mosh, I knew there were more than a few converts, because the entire room was abuzz with nothing but talk of this band. Before you know it, kids will be carving “Burmese Rulez” into their forearms all across America.
After the pure, brutal assault of Burmese, their was simply no way to get heavier. They basically set the room to maximum. What do you do when can’t go up any higher? Horsebladder, aka Elaine Kahn managed to have the right solution: by jumping off the cliff head first into the ground. Horsebladder was the polar opposite of Burmese, but to the point where it was so extreme, that body’s response was virtually the same. Her music was so slow, so minimalist that it was a bit disarming. She did not do “boring” music. The space was so drawn out that it was actually scary. All we had were minimalist, tribal beats that were just soft enough that you didn’t realize they were beats, and the slowly crawled under your skin as Kahn’s voice weaved and wrapped itself around those muted, pulsating beats. I don’t know if I’d feel the same way about this music if it were paired with a different band. It was as if one moved immediately from getting pounded senselessly with baseball bats into a relaxing hot tub.
The stage for Body / Head’s first San Francisco performance was quite simple. There were two guitars, one microphone, three amps, and video screen showing black & white projections of a couple hanging out in their living room, bored. The set began, unassuming enough, with a bit of delicate guitar playing, accompanied by Gordon’s signature slightly off key sing speaking. At first, this was vaguely reminiscent of the Gordon-penned material off 1997’s A Thousand Leaves- delicate washes of feedback and beautiful melodies. This was, however, a mere warm up. And the next 60 minutes took the crowd on a sonic journey that was filled with surprises and thrills.
Gordon and Nace are both solid guitar players. They also are creative noise benders. It was difficult to say when each piece began and ended, as the whole set was a whole piece, with the occasional short spaces within the set they may have been spaces between songs. As they set played on, guitars progressively got louder and louder. At Gordon’s feet were two paper plates that, between the two of them contained the lyrics to Nina Simone’s “Ain’t Got No…I’ve Got Life,” but under the cacophony of sound, I have no idea if this song was actually covered. The show was so loud that there was time in the set that I began to feel a bit of nausea due to the ferocity of the music.
Of course, very little of this guitar playing was simply chords and strumming. Nace played it much straighter than Gordon, however he was plucking the neck, the nut, and the bridge. During a portion of the set, he played some of the catchiest melodies of the night with a broken screwdriver jammed between the strings. Gordon, however, managed to one up him by doing five minutes of playing guitar by resting the guitar against her amp and stomping on the back of it in some very precise places. She did stretch by simply swinging her guitar around, and allowing the sound to fill the room. The simplest experiment of the night was using the guitar’s cable as a rhythmic buzz while Nace soloed.
It was a beautiful, stunning set. And, unlike most experimental performances where the audience is generally made of curious onlookers that leave after the first 20-30 minutes, this audience stayed on board the entire set. The room was in rapt attention, and even a handful of people found the groove buried in the fuzz and managed to enjoy a mild dance. This was pure, blissful, cathartic, and thrilling noise that was a joy to behold from beginning to end.
Full galleries from both photographers can be found here: