Sunday, October 29, 2017

Arto Lindsay, Beauty Pill at the Warhol

Arto Lindsay finally made his first trip to Pittsburgh on Wednesday, October 18. Touring in support of his album Cuidado Madame, which came out earlier this year on Northern Spy, he played with a quintet of longtime collaborator Melvin Gibbs (bass), Paul Wilson (keyboards), Cinque Kemp (drums) and Gustavo Didaova (percussion). The album is a delicate balance of Brazilian song structures, polyrhythms and Lindsay's sensual voice, complemented by - and sometimes in direction collision with - the noisier sensibilities that he's honed since his days in DNA. (For more detail on the origins of his music, check out my conversation with him here.)

Yet, the live Lindsay was just as wild and frenzied as the fans of his early stuff might wish for. Soundcheck ran a little late, and the sounds seeping out of the Warhol's auditorium were high on volume for starters and hinted at a heavy dose of skronk along with the smoother tones of bass and keyboards. Yes, it's hard to write about Arto without using the word "skronk". But this bit of onomatopoeia belongs to him. Other guitar players like Fred Frith might have massacred their guitars before no wave was a blip on the radar. But no one else has encapsulated that sound so consistently as Arto, lo these many years.

During our conversation he confessed that the reason he played a 12-string Danelectro had nothing to do with preference and everything to do with opportunity. In other words, a co-worker had a 12-string Danelectro that he wanted to sell, so Arto bought it. Simple as that.

As far as his approach to playing and tuning, he explained it this way: "In the beginning, I used to tune it. The shtick is, I tune for tension. In other words, it’s comfortable to play, for me to fit in my style of running my hand up and down the neck. But if I’m alone in the dressing room, I’ll make up a little melody with the strings, see what they sound like all together. And for having done it for so many years, I can pretty much find some of the basic notes on the guitar by ear. But there’s no secret tuning. There’s no fit. I found that… the thing is, I had to learn how to sing over this noise without any harmony instrument. When I started doing all these solo [shows], I found that even though it’s not in tune, it stays where it is. It doesn’t change tunings significantly during a set. Then it’s a reference. Even though it’s kind of a blot or a blob or a formless cluster… it’s still a reference and that helps."

For as frantic as he often sounds on record, Lindsay sure seemed to be having a good time onstage at the Warhol. He smiled a lot, walking around the stage with an expression that made him look a little lost. Lest anyone think he was actually gone, mentally,  he always snapped by quickly knowing exactly where he was. Watching him produce the guitar sounds I've heard for all these years was exciting. It seems so otherworldly and random, but the way he moved around his instrument looked methodical, like he was going for a blend of a percussive snap and a little bit of a dissonant crunch.

Gibbs and Wilson alternated the bass roles. Sometimes Gibbs would take a lead, with heavy effects on his instrument, so it came off more like a guitar. Other times Wilson's keys added extra color to the sound. Didaova and Kemp emphasized the multi-directional rhythms of the music, the former adding different accents to the songs with a batterie of hand-held percussion and what seemed like a marching bass drum whose rims were employed as much if not more than the head. Gibbs gave Kemp a lot of direction and cues, so he might have been a newer addition to the band. Kassa Overall played drums on Cuidado Madame.

Beauty Pill, who hail from Washington, D.C., opened the evening with a set that went from Cocteau Twins-style flanged guitar to electronics that were almost too loud for the room to Beefheartian dissonance over a solid rhythm section. The songs were took their time but made sure to keep your ears on them for all of it.

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