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Michael Gira / Thurston Moore / Laura Cannell (live at Saisonscape)

The Barbican, London
30 March 2016

Saisonscape March 2016Spring is sprung, the grass is ris, I wonder what this thing at The Barbican is? Well wonder no more; it’s called Saisonscape, and it’s a series of concerts which have been organised by Art Assembly‘s Julia Dempsey to celebrate the idea of growth, renewal and the creation of new life in an artistic context. That all sounds quite heavy, but for tonight’s concert she’s chosen musicians who play set pieces but allow themselves room for improvisation to illustrate the theme.

 

Laura Cannell live at Saisonscape March 2016

The first of these is Laura Cannell, who plays music blending parts of mediaeval tunes and folk music on dual recorders and violin, based in nature, history and folklore. Her brief explanations of some of the pieces give them an air of psychogeography, a secret history of English music. It’s enchanting.

Thurston Moore live at Saisonscape March 2016

Then we have ex-Sonic Youth dude turned local north London man about town Thurston Moore, who makes a point of leaving spaces between his (few but long) pieces in order to accommodate the Barbican’s “no entry or exit while the music’s playing” policy. “If you ever come to The Barbican to see Terry Riley, don’t leave, or you’ll never get back in”. He plays three pieces including material from his latest album The Best Day, sitting on a stool with a 12-string acoustic guitar.

Thurston Moore live at Saisonscape March 2016

Accompanied by video screens showing mushrooms growing, lovers kissing and the sun, well, sunning, he gives us epic pieces changing from extended drones to Fahey-esque complex minimalism before resolving themselves into something approximating rock’n’roll songs; a couple of verses and choruses like lone islands of language in a sea of strings. It’s almost certainly very self-indulgent, but that’s no bad thing when the result is so hypnotic.

Michael Gira live at Saisonscape March 2016

Returning from the interval, we see Michael Gira already on stage, staring us out Swans-style. He plucks a couple of notes repeatedly for the next few minutes, remaining otherwise motionless and baleful as the audience return. Then he smiles, introduces himself, and off we go. The contrast between his intensity as a performer and his avuncular between-songs presence is, as always, marked, as is the oddness of watching such intimate mayhem with the house lights on.

Michael Gira live at Saisonscape March 2016

Tonight he eschews the shoutier parts of his oeuvre for a more traditionally song-based set, though Gira being Gira the line between the two has always been a beautiful blur. “The Promise Of Water”, for example, is as frighteningly intense as anything in his catalogue, as is “My True Body”, with its yelps and none-more-black crescendos. At his most lyrical — “God Damn The Sun”, for example, which he sends us off with tonight — he’s like a more abstract Leonard Cohen, the driving repetition of something like “Dress Rehearsal Rag” taken in an even darker direction.

Michael Gira live at Saisonscape March 2016

We even get some material from the forthcoming Swans album (as well as My Father Will Guide Me Up A Rope To The Sky‘s “Jim” and “Lunacy” from The Seer, a song he says has never before been performed live, and which works remarkably well in its new stripped-down format), including a harrowing piece written for his wife, who apparently sings it on the studio version. Of course, as he points out to us, these songs will sound massively different when performed by Swans, and based on what we hear tonight, they’re going to sound massive full stop. He overstays his allotted stage time, but not his welcome. And that’s what captivating an audience is all about.

-Words: Justin Farrington-
-Pictures: Dave Pettit-

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