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Fushitsusha/John Butcher/Temperatures (live at St John at Hackney)

5 October 2012

Keiji Haino’s trademark wall-of-guitar noise, with its many layers and overtones, often puts me in mind of church organ music at its loudest and most resonant. so this mightily atmospheric and imposing place of worship felt like an oddly appropriate setting for his fabled power trio Fushitsusha’s headline slot at this triple bill.

First up were Temperatures, a bass/drums duo who took your jaded been-there-heard-that correspondents by complete surprise. Put simply: they don’t sound much like anything else, rather they seem to occupy some ruptured gap between genres, and they are brilliant. Astonishing fluid polyrhythms topped off with chanted underwater vocals, locked tight in a shambolic shudder, grounded with precision bass kicks. The best new band either of us have seen in a very long while. You want comparisons? Ermm… well… free improv, non-irritating Sonic Youth stylings mixed with Lightning Bolt, the whole then being mated with lengthy tension-filled Frippertronics. Or something. Look, just go and see them, or buy their superb album.

Next up was John Butcher, playing a solo set of improvised sax. Butcher has a formidable reputation as a solo improviser and didn’t disappoint: by moving his sax aircolumn in direction and stage positioning, he couples timbre and space into spectro-spatial motifs. He made judicious use of circular breathing, producing taut coils of sound, oscilloscopic traces of pitch. Perhaps most impressive was his canny exploitation of the acoustics of the church, exploiting the delay and reverb latency, tracking from layered blasts down into pointillism. Then more pulsed and propelled – a foot gain/volume controller producing feedback sculptures, the multiple frequencies coalescing suddenly into newly-uncovered timbral planes. Formidably arpeggiated arcs collapsed into frilly razors via Ayler and a mutated Erik Dolphy.  Stealthily and exhaustively, Butcher cycled through extended technics without ever falling into muso tedium. Terrific.

And so to Fushitsusha. I had never seen them live before, despite the fact that at one time I would have argued that they were the most exciting rock band on the planet. That, however, was a different line-up, and it remained to be seen whether Haino’s new bass and drum cohorts could live up to this legacy. They began in a ferocious blur of rock noise, briefly thrilling but almost immediately reaching stasis, saturation point. Where could they go from here? They pulled back through a slowing double articulation of the high tom and embarked on a long series of slow, ominous trudges through Haino’s familiar tropes, with heavy use of silences to punctuate the din. Haino often gives the impression of being in need of an editor, and parts of this set dragged – the pulverising volume could not cover up the longeurs, and a set approaching two and a half hours would have gained much from some trimming. Matters weren’t helped when Haino broke out the hand percussion and hammed it up absurdly with wizardy flourishes as if he were auditioning for some sub-Gandalf role in the next Pokemon movie.

Thankfully, he strapped his guitar back on and interest was restored as brutal slabs of bass-drum-vocal matter were called down and hammered like spikes into the heads of the (largely adoring) crowd. The final 20 minutes were the highlight, despite (or perhaps because of) being the most conventionally rockist: Sabbath-style doomsludge stretched to raga-like dimensions, with Haino playing uncharacteristically melodic lead lines, arcs of light amid the murk. This triumphant finale wrung a roar of ecstasy from the crowd, and Haino, impenetrable as ever, marched wordlessly offstage before returning for a brief, blasted encore, then disappearing once more.

Patchy, then, but striking and memorable too, Fushitsusha remain dense and heavy as a black hole. But also rather dry – the sex, dirt, and humour of the rock seam that spawned them are entirely absent from their art, and there were times tonight when I’d have happily traded all this ‘avant-rock’ nonsense for a blast of the Stooges or classic-era Motörhead. But it’s the sheer dark weight of Fushitsusha that is their trump card, and in the end, they won this hand.

-Ayyaz vs. Haunted Shoreline-

(Flyer found at church: Book of Numbers 11.4-6, 10-16, 24-29

Almighty gods, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless…draw us to your city. The rabble among the people had a strong craving … And wept … And said “meat … Eat!”)

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