Monday, 31 May 2010

Ben Frost + Teeth Of The Sea + Part Wild Horses Mane On Both Sides - The Luminaire - 30th May 2010

Just like the music of many of his contemporaries on the Bedroom Community label, Ben Frost’s instrumental spaces are almost the definition of slow burning, taking several listens and the right sort of mood to become fully immersed in. Once they’re in there, however, both his full-length albums offer an oddly hypnotic head-trip, his most recent By The Throat in particular possessed of the sort of unearthly calm you might feel in the face of certain annihilation. His recent appearance as part of the Whale Watching Tour, alongside labelmates Nico Muhly, Valegir Sigurrosson and Sam Amidon, further emphasised the lulling effects of his music, a bewitching version of ‘Hibakjusja’ in particular tempering its feral aggression in favour of stargazing wonder. So it’s a treat to see Frost indulge his inner sadist this evening, stood centre stage behind laptop and mixer and in front of a truly bracing wall of amps.

The Luminaire couldn’t be better suited to tonight’s performance, as its low ceiling, crisp sound and deep blood red aura exude a similar volcanic glow to Frost’s music. Earlier in the evening, the delicate improve forms of Part Wild Horse’s Mane On Both Sides are deliciously tactile but curiously withheld. Their music hints at real depth but never reveals it, save one particularly arresting moment when drummer Pascal Nichols escalates the urgency to breaking point, sending a diffuse spray of percussion washing across Kelly Jane’s modal flute figures. Teeth Of The Sea are hidden behind a wall of tall people but occasional glimpses of a trumpet and the surprising sight of a Flying V add a neat visual counterpart to their heavy psych rock. Occasional periods of drifting ambience build to crushing walls of distortion before receding once again, disappearing offstage and leaving the space for Frost’s lone figure to wander onto the stage.

Central to Frost’s live performance is a wonderful contradiction between his warm and affable manner between tracks – punctuating pieces with witty comments, waving at friends in the audience during lulls in sound – and the superhuman concentration he displays whilst playing his music. It’s as if he is an instrument himself, his body jacked directly into the mains that power the equipment; leaning over his laptop or mixer to tease out gale-force columns of noise his body is tense, primed as though in defence, before visibly relaxing as the tension releases. At other times, particularly during stunning opener ‘Theory Of Machines’, he hunches over his guitar until the piece’s slow-build bursts into sudden life and he thrashes wildly as though blasted with a 220V current.

Solo Frost is a far cry from the softly orchestrated versions he performed with the rest of the Bedroom Community. Stripped of additional instrumentation and artifice the sheer power and stark minimalism of his music comes fully to life, aided by a sound system that physically ripples the flesh as the crescendo of ‘Stomp’ cracks like thunder through the crowd. After a set of twilit monochome instrumentals, sort-of closer ‘Killshot’ is beautiful respite, its opening keyboard figure growing in pathos before its structure is ripped in two by a thick, tearing wall of guitar distortion. As it fades into the distance the wolves of ‘The Carpathians’ surround the stage and chill the blood, offset against a gorgeous and violently nostalgic string melody that drifts, barely audible, from a tiny cassette recorder. It’s almost too late for the last train home by the time Frost finishes, but it’s not even crossed my mind for the past hour or so. I’ve been in some bleak, beautifully transcendent otherspace.

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