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Boris, Wang Li, Sexmob & Colin Stetson

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Boris

(le) Poisson Rouge

May 6, 2013

It's hard to corral Boris into a metal-generic corner. Whilst this Tokyo trio's prime reputation revolves around a spiraling psychedelic ascension, it is just as likely to get grubby and direct, or even poppy and spangled. This Poisson show was the first of two nights, dedicated to a general 20-year career overview. The second evening was destined to reproduce a specific album, Flood (MIDI Creative, 2000), and to concentrate on the abstracted drone facet of the Boris output. The first night was sold out, but the Poisson never packs in the punters to an excessive degree, so there was still space to roam around, seeking an appropriate vantage point.

Unhinged lead guitar solos abounded, mostly delivered by the stage-left Wata, but also occasionally by Takeshi, when he wasn't intent on abusing the bass neck of his two- headed monster axe, crafting rumbling runs. Drummer Atsuo spent much of the time with one stick held triumphantly skyward, steeled for an inevitable thunder bombardment. He judiciously used a large back-mounted gong for full dramatic effect. Atsuo concentrated on the kind of totally symmetrical beat-insistence that would drive most improvised music devotees to the brink of frustrated madness. Deeply unimaginative, savagely anti-syncopation in outlook, but still imbued with a brutal caveman power. This is a band that can sound as cosmic as the Acid Mothers Temple on one song, and then become as uncomplicatedly biker-rockin' as Motörhead during the next. Song lengths varied accordingly. Boris numbers sometimes possess a mainstream structure, disguised by rampant riffing, hardening an extreme carapace around a melodic soft centre. After around 75 minutes, an encore was called for, but sadly never arrived. The set was cut off somewhat suddenly, just as the threesome was developing another layer of climaxing. It was an abrupt finish to a dark-slugging, densely molten, core-spewing set.

Wang Li

The Graduate Center

May 7, 2013

This gig was the last in an adventurous season of Live@365 global music concerts, that being the number on Fifth Avenue where lies this bastion of the City University Of New York. The music has ranged from Hungarian gypsy cabaret to a Trinidadian orisha ceremony. Certainly no conventional perception of what might be demanded from a world music series. Wang Li's performance came with an introductory clarification: that all of his sonic emissions were perfectly natural, and without any intervention from electronic processing. Only a touch of microphone reverb was allowed. This Chinaman's chosen instrument is the jaw harp (or kouquin, in Mandarin), of which he has quite a collection. Wang Li was born in Tsinghao, but now resides in Paris. His armory looked quite unlike the small metal devices used by most American practitioners. These Chinese versions are usually larger, played in a horizontal fashion, with their thrumming extensions protruding to the side. It also looked like they were fashioned out of bamboo. This was a rare opportunity to hear the mouth cavity as an orchestral stage. Closely amplified, every nuance of vibration, twanging, altered pitches and circular-breath droning was magnified into the makings of a large-scale musical expression. Using his voice to accentuate the groaning foundation, Li became at one with the jaw harp buzz.

Li's circular-breathing techniques were even more apparent when he took up the hulusi calabash flute. This is a Chinese equivalent to the harmonica, although looking more like a horn, with its bulbous gourd-middle and blowing mouthpiece. He mostly employed this instrument to create atmospheric pieces that developed in linear fashion, thickening layers as breath accumulated. Playing in dimly-lit conditions, Li communicated the aura of an introverted ritual rather than a starkly starred entertainment. Nevertheless, he always maintained constant interest in his sound painting pieces. This was partly due to a curiosity about his instruments and methods, but mostly due to his sheer narrative skill. Each piece was like part of an audio-visual journey across the Chinese landscape, often shunting tracks to make a pilgrimage through Li's inner mind itself. He was not the most cheery soul, boasting an extremely deadpan verbal delivery, morose, pessimistic, blunt and prone to sudden outbursts of mild confrontation with the audience. Li was not an entertainer in anywhere near the conventional sense. This was just as well. His collection of sonic devices was not too much of a novelty display, but rather the strange tools for even stranger musical interludes. Many of his pieces sounded like fragments of a lengthier adventure, an edited sliver of a much longer odyssey.

Sexmob

92Y Tribeca

May 8, 2013

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