7 August 2014
Probably the best way to imagine this gig is to picture the Newtonian Laws of Motion resolving themselves inside a packed Turkish sauna. If Car A is driving down a road at 100mph, whilst Car B is driving at 100mph in the opposite direction, if they collide, they will crash at 200mph. You get where I’m about to go with this, right?So, translated into sonic terms, if Car A is not a car at all, but in fact a battered Fender Jaguar, and the man behind the wheel is Thurston Moore – alternative guitar god, mainspring of avant garde culture, and latterly resident of these parts – thrashing, trashing, grinding and mashing its six strings to within an inch of their lives, what we have here is a seriously speedy vehicle. However, if heading into a full frontal collision is Car B, in this case a left-handed Fender Strat (strung upside down and played the opposite way around, like some bizarre mirror-image Hendrix), the driver being Caspar Brötzmann – alternative guitar god, noise merchant supreme, and son of Peter ‘Machine Gun’ Brötzmann – bashing, smashing, knocking and socking the poor piece of wood until it begs for mercy, then we have double trouble on our hands. Each car is hurtling along at full speed, and imminent collision is going to occur at truly staggering velocity. And as with all such ‘inelastic collisions’, a large portion of the kinetic energy is converted to other forms of energy… such as sound energy. Assume the emergency brace position for impact when you hear the words “Brace, brace.” Café Oto tonight, a sell-out crowd packed into its tiny confines with scarcely an air molecule moving anywhere inside the place; the vacuum of deep space would surely have more of a breeze than this. I open a cold bottle of Asahi, and I swear the thing evaporates before I can even get it to my mouth for the first glug. But there is no time to stop and ponder such niceties, for on strides Thurston (white shirt, blond hair, two Fender Twins – Fender quadruplets?), positioning himself stage left, picking up his Jaguar and doing a quick pedal check. In short order follows Caspar (black shirt, dark hair, Marshall stack), taking up stage right, and doing his own set-up test. Amusingly, that involves him playing a delicate chord to test the tuning, the last time tonight that either delicacy or chords will form any part of the proceedings. For during the next hour, the two men proceed to make their respective guitars emit sound frequencies rarely heard by humans other than those that [a] study whale song [b] work in facilities that test rocket engines or [c] were once members of an anger management group alongside Blixa Bargeld.
From the deepest guttural growls to ear piercingly high screeches, each guitar player coaxes the most absurdly incredible range of sounds from their instrument, their respective tremolo arms being pushed well beyond the limits stated in the manufacturer’s handbook. Given that each instrument is pushed into the red for the entire duration of the set, I’m pretty sure that when Leo Fender first evolved the two designs this was not exactly how he imagined them being put to use. Nevertheless, it is a fantastic grid of sound, each man egging on the other to ever greater heights of guitar psychosis; or very occasionally heading in the opposite direction, taking the sound down into quieter passages of play where the slightest gesture or strum becomes significant and focal. Caspar’s gentle tapping of the underside of his headstock sounds particularly epic framed against a floating borderline-subsonic tone generated by Thurston. Each man looks utterly lost in the music, oblivious to the surroundings, the audience or the heat. When things gradually reach their end point, Caspar has to inveigle Thurston back from the sonic other room into which he has clearly decamped.Sonic Youth guitarists, Caspar, bent double, beats his Strat slowly with his fist, an exaggerated, Expressionist movement reminiscent of Tom Waits and producing an effect very close to the tolling of a bell. It’s absolutely extraordinary. At several points, Caspar appears to be singing, or at least mouthing utterances, but without a microphone his words remain completely soundless, washed away on a roiling tsunami of noise, like tears falling into a raging river.
Towards the end, Caspar’s Marshall stack gives up the ghost, breaking down completely. This seems only mildly surprising given the almost impossible task that it has been set for the evening. Understandably, Caspar looks slightly frustrated, although his smile reveals that he certainly sees the funny side, and gradually Thurston returns from the outer limits to share the joke, and the smile. With a final burst of guitar scree, the stage falls silent, and the two men share a warm and genuine embrace, two players at the top of their game, totally respectful of each other’s style, and obviously having enjoyed themselves hugely.
My ears hurt, and I’m sweating more than Richard Griffiths trying to make it round an SAS assault course whilst dressed in a one-piece rubber suit.
Never has poor road safety sounded so good.