Le Guess Who? – Day Three: Six of the Best
Despite being over the half-way point, the best of Le Guess Who? is yet to come. With a evening of heavy hitters ahead of us, including sublime sets from Destroyer and Kamasi Washington, we fuel up with some strong coffee and settle in for the long haul.
We’re not in the same reality as Dan Bejar, you know. With eyes closed and one hand on the microphone stand, he seems lost in a world of his own creation; one where the lush, baroque pop of most recent album Poison Season can feel poignantly, even profoundly beautiful. Hell, if we were given to clichés we might even start to use words like ‘life-affirming’, particularly in reference to the sublime moment where opener Bangkok explodes into technicolor expanses.
It’d be so easy for Destroyer to get this wrong – to rend the charm of Bejar’s Hunky Dory-esque nuggets into a hoary, overblown mess – but the fluid, immersive nature of their live show makes such concerns an irrelevance. Joseph Shabason’s strident sax heroics on Dream Lover point towards the chest-beating anthemia of Bruce Springsteen’s more celebrated moments, but these songs never cross the line from graceful to grandiose. Instead we’re treated to a performance of poise and splendour, where guitar, piano and sax spill into each other in bursts of intuitive, tightly-focussed magnificence, while our host allows us to witness the universe he’s fashioned for himself with a quiet and distant confidence. Wonderful stuff.
Whether they know it or not, it’s likely almost everyone in the room is already familiar with Angel Deradoorian, the one time member of Dirty Projectors and much sought after session musician who’s lent her considerable vocal chops to the likes of Phosphorescent, Flying Lotus and Vampire Weekend. Tonight though, playing material from her sleeper marvel of a debut The Expanding Flower Planet, she gets the chance to reintroduce herself on her own terms – and what a first impression she makes.
She begins alone, and with just a bass guitar, a microphone and some nifty loop pedal trickery proceeds to conjure a shadowy ensemble of phantom doppelgangers, echoing in words in heady surround sound. It’s when her sister takes the stage however – practically her mirror image, possessing a set of pipes every bit as capable – that things get really trippy. Together, the two weave weird psychedelic canopies disembodied voices driven by earthy krautrock rhythms that’s over all too soon. “We have 24 more songs for you,” she jokes towards the end of set. If only.
Attending Shabazz Palaces’ set takes some dedication: their performance here is one of the few billed on the TivoliVredenburg’s Cloud Nine stage, located at the the top of three escalators and several flights of stairs. Even so, the esoteric Seattle hip-hop duo play to a full house, and those in attendance are rewarded in advance for their stiff calf muscles the following morning with a solid set that covers a fair portion of last year’s Lese Majesty as well as fitting in early favourites like Free Press and Curl and Are You... Can You... Were You? (Felt).
Their mixture of live percussion with triggered samples ensure that it’s a dynamic performance, affording mixmeister Tendai Maraire the leeway to wander from the familiar script of the recorded material when appropriate. Ishmael Butler is also on top form, taking obvious pleasure at the folks in the front row mouthing back his cerebral words of wisdom. Fingers crossed a third outing is on the cards for next year.
Shannon and the Clams
Yeah, it’s pastiche. But what pastiche: homing in on the inherent joy of early rhythm’n’blues stylings such as doo-wop and surf, Shannon And The Clams wrap it all up in raw, rickety rock’n’roll and just watch the dance floor go. The interplay between Shannon Shaw and fellow singer Cody Blanchard makes for compelling viewing; there’s an effortless cool flowing forth from the stage that could seem studied in the wrong hands, but makes ‘em pretty easy to love.
The moustachioed Blanchard twangs mightily away at his guitar, while Shaw is ebullient and affable (not to mention in possession of a raw-throated, sparingly-deployed scream that’s pitched perfectly at this sort of knowing, throwback-but-in-a-good-way punk). There’s a grim inevitability to The Clams’ future, where they’ll be intensely loved by the garage rock fraternity without burning their way into wider popular culture. Shame too; their knack for boiling poptimistic primitivism down to such unrestrained joy deserves so much more. Best to appreciate this day-glo party for what it is: a helluva good time that won’t change your life, but when you’re in the midst of it, it’ll make you question why you bother listening to anything else.
We know what death feels like. Spoiler warning: turn back now if you’d rather be kept in the dark about what it’s like to experience your spirit taking leave of this mortal coil. In the beginning, it’s like waking up in a thick fog. The light’s dim, but if you squint hard enough you can trace the outlines of a handful of ominous black totems, arranged in a semi-circle like the otherworldly arches of stonehenge. For a long while there’s just this: a deep and consuming silence. Eventually – perceptible at first – the totems begin to shudder and a faint, guttural rumble works its way through your feet and up your spine, growing and growing until it penetrates the recesses of your skull.
Suddenly, a sharp sigh snaps you to attention and you look up to see a single hooded figure hunched over what looks like an alter, its fingers stretched and head bowed. More figures emerge from the mist and for a moment there’s a flurry of movement as capes twist and ripple into position, but it’s quickly over and all is still once more. With nothing left to see, you close your eyes and the sound takes you, it’s edges no longer distinguishable, the thunderous howl as much inside as it is out. Utterly immersed, as if returned to the womb, and finally, at long last, at peace, you feel like you could stay like this forever. That is, if Kamasi Washington wasn’t due on downstairs in 10 minutes and you didn’t fancy getting to the bog first.
If you thought Kamasi Washington couldn’t possibly replicate the stupidly ambitious, almost parodic grandiosity of his 3 hour cosmic jazz opus The Epic in a live setting then you’d be thoroughly wrong. While is travelling band is a smaller ensemble than appears on the record - at its busiest there are eight musicians on stage, compared to the 12 credited on the album – each member plays with an intensity and obvious passion that’s an absolute thrill to witness, to the point that it’s exhausting just trying to keep up.
The chemistry on stage is electric, no doubt because the whole project is such a familial affair. Not only has Washington known his bandmates since he was in nappies, as he informs via a charming anecdote about being schooled on the skins by drummer Ronald Bruner Jr. on his third birthday, he also brought his dad with him to perform a show stopping flute solo during a number dedicated to his grandmother that has more than a few in the stalls reaching for the hankies. Still, the set’s stand-out moment has to go to The Magnificent 7’s white knuckle opening extravaganza: anyone for drum tennis? In a showdown to end all showdowns, drummers Bruner Jr. and Tony Austin (did we mention he had two drummers?) go head to head in a breathtaking display of strength, technique and endurance, batting back and forth monsters fills till the audience has cheered itself hoarse. We’re still pinching ourselves.