Archive for September, 2008

Dirty Guitar

September 22, 2008

Looks like we’re on our way to yet another ‘chain reaction’ of a week.  Fast on the heels of Sam Phillips comes her frequent guitarman Marc Ribot with his Ceramic Dogs.  My Ribot fandom was a fairly slow evolution.  I remember hiking uptown on a snowy winter night to check him out at a Jewish social center somewhere near Lincoln Center.  I was there to keep a friend company and wasn’t totally digging it, but wasn’t much getting it either.  The whole night was bizarre.  The performance was in some cocktail bar with all these half-dressed yuppie Jews desperately trying to make a Saturday night.  And there’s Ribot onstage doing his Sonic Youth thing – lots of atonality, lots of experiment for the sake of experiment.  I remember watching him rub balloons and various other plastics against his guitar for some intriguing noise.  I wasn’t sure if I liked what I was hearing, but all these years later I remember everything.  Maybe it was the contrasts that impressed – the absurdity of the deranged downtown genius erasing the slick uptown ‘scene’ with his every crazed stoke. 

I started to make sense of his music when I began picking out his sound on several of my favorite pop records.  He’s done some great work with T-Bone Burnett and he’s appeared on most of Sam Phillips’ secular discs.  He creates some beautifully evocative sounds on Omnipop, but it’s on Fan Dance that he really stands out.  He digs right in with his dirty, dirty guitar.  By the end of that album you feel so sticky you want to wash your hair.  Songs like “Incinerator” are like a slinky pas de deux between her sultry vocals and his filthy sustained slides.  It’s there that I really started to recognize a Marc Ribot guitar.  He is incredibly eclectic with his projects, but there is a trademark boozy sound that runs through them all.

Though I’ve seen Ribot a few different times since that first New York experience, last night was only the second time I saw him headline.  With his fellow Ceramic Dogs (Shahzad Ismaily and Ches Smith), Ribot grabbed at every curiosity shop of musical possibility and carried the audience with him all the way.  At times the proceedings ventured near Lou Reed’s New York [O happy day!], but mostly they went in every and all directions – both at once and in sequence.  Fine musicians all, it was a helluva ride!

Avant-Popstress

September 20, 2008

This is no less than my third attempt to write about this week’s Sam Phillips experience.  In between new albums and tours it is easy to forget how utterly captivating she is when she’s standing on the stage in front of you.  Her songs are obscure and enigmatic and slyly suggestive and her live performances feel like one big wink to the audience.  Nothing is ever what you expect it to be and she does her best to keep you guessing as she knocks you off center again and again and again. 

The most striking thing this time around was the total stillness of her performance.  Every move, every expression was careful and deliberate.  My sister and I are big fans of her mute terrorist in Die Hard With a Vengeance and this week’s concert left me wishing she’d do more silent film work.  She has the same physical charisma that marks the very best silent film performances. 

Contemporary silent film has been on my mind quite a lot since my recent encounter with Guy Maddin’s amazing Brand Upon the Brain!  Though I do believe Sam could do good work with Guy, I also think Isabella Rossellini is his first and most fruitful muse…  And so it goes that Kenneth Anger directing Sam Phillips in a silent short of LA decadence is my fantasy collaboration of the moment.  Their respective works draw a similar portrait of that city in my mind – a city of dreams and disappointments and excesses and lots of good clothes.  Watching her performance this week, I could not put Anger’s Puce Moment out of mind.  Is it a similar brand of avant-art they’re selling?  Probably not, but I still hope for that glitterball of a film that’s playing in my mind.