Festival International Musique Actuelle Victoriaville: Day 3 - May 19, 2007
Los Angeles-based singer/songwriter Carla Bozulich hasn't performed in some time, as she explained at her evening performance of a new song cycle, Evangelista. Surrounded by a group of Montreal musiciansbassist Tara Barnes, organist Nadia Moss, violinist Jessica Moss and cellist Beckie Foonthe featured performer appeared before the crowd for a one-time performance, the kind of exclusive experience that has come to define FIMAV.
Bozulich first emerged on the potent post-punk scene of the early 1990s, perhaps best known for the rock- centric alt-country of the Geraldine Fibbers. Known for wearing her emotions prominently on her musical sleeve, she gave a performance that was raw, imperfectand wonderfully human. There were moments of sheer beauty contrasted with instances of harsh aggression and fragile intimacy pitted against moments of cathartic rage. All with an honesty of delivery that made it another festival high point.
Most of her music came from Evangelista, a recent project that's not only a welcome return for Bozulich, but one of her finest projects to date. That violin and cello can mesh so well with visceral electric bass, organ, and Bozulich's untrained but absolutely perfect electric guitar, is a strong testimony to the integrity and feasibility of the singer's conceptand, of course, to the flexibility of her group.
Bozulichwho confessed that she was very nervousseemed, at times, to barely contain an uncontrollable energy striving to get out. The result was a dynamic performance during which she explored a range of emotions, with a voice that could be powerful one moment, vulnerable and whispery the next. At times walking the stage, elsewhere sitting on its edge and, at one point, lying flat down on her back while she sang, Bozulich may have been nervous, but you'd soon doubt that initial disclaimer, based on her unforced yet commanding presence.
Her group was equally impressive, with Jennifer Moss and Foon sometimes creating a chamber-like ambience even while, at times, surrounded by the denser atmosphere of organ, and electric guitar and bass. But they were equally capable of their own kind of fiery intensity. In addition to bass, Barnes contributed some samples that linked the performance to the technology-based sonic landscaping that's been a defining point of much of the festival.
The audience response was overwhelming, and when Bozulich returned for a well-deserved encore, her intention was to play an old Geraldine Fibbers song on her own. But a quick on-stage discussion with Jennifer Moss resulted in an unexpected and compelling duet. It was the kind of surprise that made for a loose but captivating performance that both addressed and exemplified the imperfect wonders of the human condition.
When the British progressive rock group Gong first emerged in the late-1960s, following singer/guitarist Daevid Allen's departure from the nascent Soft Machine, it became the prototype for psychedelic space rock. And while many point to American groups like The Grateful Dead for fueling what would ultimately evolve into the jamband scene, Gong was doing it first (or, at least, concurrently) on albums like Camembert Electrique (Charly, 1971) and the Radio Gnome Invisible trilogyFlying Teapot (Virgin, 1973), Angel's Egg (Virgin, 1973) and You (Virgin, 1974).
The apparent death (or, at least, debilitating illness) of progressive rock in the late 1970s meant considerable challenges for Allen and wife/Gong co-founder Gilli Smith. Still, despite various geographic relocations, the pair pushed on through the 1980s. With the advent of the internet creating a resurgence of interest in groups by bringing together fans in a virtual global community, Allen began to build a veritable cottage industry of Gong spin-offs, including Gong Maison, Mother Gong, Planet Gong and New York Gong, on which he (and sometimes Smith) collaborated with an ever-increasing pool of international musicians.
Acid Mothers Gong is a relatively recent pairing of Allen and Smith with Japanese psychedelic rockers Acid Mothers Temple, and the group's FIMAV performance represents another North American premiere for the festival.
Acid Mothers Temple, when compared to the original Gong, is far more trippy and intense, an ante that is only upped when combined with Allen, Smith and guitarist Josh Pollock. Long, largely anarchistic jams filled with feedback, heavy reverb and speed riffing by Pollock alongside AMT guitarist Kawabata Makoto and bassist/flautist/drummer/singer Atsushi Tsuyama are fueled by AMT's remarkable drummer, Tatsuya Yoshida.
Acid Mothers Gong: Hiroshi, Pollock, Komori, Tsuyama, Smith, Yoshida, Allen, Makoto
The set opened with a psychedelic drone, Smith beginning one of many chants, "In the beginning," which was a fair start. The spacious ambience became increasingly chaotic, culminating in the arrival of Allen, dressed in a Catholic frock chanting "Vive Le Quebec" repetitively until reaching the final word of the infamous speech by French President Charles de Gaulle in 1967 ("Libre"). It was the beginning of largely political rants that dominated the set, including "A Letter to George Bush" and a diatribe on terrorism ("Why terrorists, why terrorists? Where resistance ends terrorism begins. They are freedom fighters, not terrorists"). Allen ultimately took off the frock to reveal an all-white getup underneath, clearly part of the group's political-theater agenda.
Political disposition aside, the music itself was mixed. Between the eight musiciansalso including keyboardist Higashi Hiroshi and guest, soprano saxophonist Keiki Komorithere was more than enough to create some seriously joyful noise. The problem was that, over the course of nearly two hours, the largely continuous set, while cathartic, approached an unpleasant monotony. Wildly chaotic free play was juxtaposed with spacey ethereal passages, but only occasionally did some semblance of song form emerge, and when it did, it didn't last long.
Song form clearly wasn't the point, of course; but even the most exploratory collective improvisation needs a focus, needs to tell some kind of story, even at an abstract level. There were segments that approached narrative, but they were ultimately consumed by the frenzy that drove most of the set. Allen, approaching seventy, spent as much time gesticulating as he did playing, singing or chanting. Smith stood largely still in front of her mike. Theatrical presentation was an equal partner to music and lyric, but by the end of the set the lasting impression was of a one-trick pony that's overstayed its welcome.
Still, one can't expect every show at any festival to be stellar, especially with a festival like FIMAV, where complacency is forbidden and experimentation is de rigueur. Half the fun is in attending as many shows as possible and finding out what worksand, occasionally, what doesn't.