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Topic ClosedGuapo at the Spitz, 15/1/06

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Syzygy View Drop Down
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Direct Link To This Post Topic: Guapo at the Spitz, 15/1/06
    Posted: January 16 2006 at 18:28

Guapo at The Spitz, January 15 2006

The Spitz is a well established home for adventurous, out there music, the venue itself being a smallish room above a bar/restaurant that is part of the beautifully renovated Spitalfields market. It was a fitting setting for the first date on Guapo's short European tour, their first as a four piece with guitarist Kavus Torabis (Monsoon Bassoon/The Cardiacs). Guapo were the headliners, but there were 3 other performances beforehand which all deserve a mention.

First up was Peter Cusack, a founding member of the London Musician's Collective and a stalwart of the UK free improvisation scene. Tonight he wasn't playing guitar but presenting recordings via his Ibook - he has had a long standing fascination with environmental sounds. He has a slightly professorial air, and gave a fascinating explanation for each piece. A couple were recordings of electro magnetic fields, one from Highbury and Islington tube station and the other from a car manufacturing plant. Then there were some recordings from the oil fields of Azerbaijan, a desolate landscape and one of the most polluted spots on Earth, although he found a strange kind of beauty there. Haunting and evocative, not what was expected at all but well worth arriving early for.

Next came another London Musicians Collective veteran, Clive Bell, playing with Dave Ross. Bell is one of the foremost UK practitioners of the Japanese shakuhachi flute (and once gave Mrs Syzygy a couple of lessons on it). Many of you will have heard Bell on the introduction to the album version of Peter Gabriel's Sledgehammer. He also plays many other ethnic wind instruments, while Dave Ross played assorted electronics, autoharp and a percussion intrument that looked like a non stick wok with a lid. The first piece featured the shakuhachi, and the combination of this traditional Japanese instrument and electronics worked rather well. Subsequent pieces used harmonica, sheng (a Chinese instrument related to harmonica) and some other devices I couldn't put a name to. Enjoyable, but not quite enough for me to buy one their CDs.

Fulborn Teversham followed, an acoustic/electric group formed by rising UK jazz drummer Seb Rochford (of Polar Bear), whose hairstyle would not look out of place in The Mars Volta. Completing the line up are keyboard, played by Nick Ramm (who looks like a physics student stumbling into a morning lecture 30 minutes late), tenor sax played deftly by Pete Wareham (who looks like an extra from the John Cassavetes jazz private eye series Johnny Staccatto) and vocalist Alice Grant, who disappears off stage for herbal tea when not singing. The sound took me back early 80s Rough Trade releases by the likes of Lora Logic, skeletal and experimental, with some of VDGG's Brechtian interludes thrown in for good measure. The instrumental passages were prone to noodling, but Alice Grant's voice played off against Wareham's sax to great effect, and she moved from a punky East End snarl to beautifully controlled jazz singing with a crystal clear tone.Check out some samples here

http://profile.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.viewpro file&friendID=41888742

And so to the main attraction, Guapo. Last time I saw them (just over a year ago) they were a 3 piece with Matt Thompson on bass. On that occasion the music won me over instantly, but the performance itself was very low key. They have now evolved a highly dynamic live show, mostly courtesy of bassist Dave Ledden and newest recruit Kavus. Ledden takes to the stage looking like the villain in a spaghetti western, complete with a black cowboy hat. Kavus looks like the young gunslinger out to make a name for himself, with an impressive quiff and razor sharp sideburns. Somethimes they square off against each other, other times they take on the audience - Kavus with a psychopathic stare that promises something unpleasant in the near future, possibly involving a flick knife, and Ledden lunging out at the front row with his axe. The stagecraft reminds me of the interplay between the late Tracy Pew and Rowland S Howard in the Birthday Party, one of the most formidable live bands of the early 80s on their night. Dave Smith attacks his kit with vigour and precision and directs the proceedings from the drum stool, occasionally standing up to play the gong with the reverence you'd expect from the abbot of a Tibetan monastery. Daniel O'Sullivan sits behind his keyboards looking like a character actor in a Hammer horror film, maybe one of Dracula's domestic staff, his flowing locks occasionally shaking in time to the music. Bundles of joss sticks either side of the stage occasionally shroud the musicians in smoke. The general effect is a highly watchable performance by a band at the top of their game.

The addition of a guitarist to the keyboard led power trio seemed a little superfluous when I first heard about it, but in practice the expanded line up works extremely effectively. Kavus is not a mere embellishment to the Guapo sound, but rather opens up space and enables the pieces to realise their full potential on stage. His presence means that Dave Ledden is able to concentrate on the low end of the bass, and it is often his playing that anchors the whole ensemble while Dave Smith plays mathematically improbable fills on the snare drum or executes another deft roll on the tom toms. Daniel O'Sullivan is also freed up to add more electronic embellishments and to flesh the sound out. Kavus himself plays a beautiful hollow bodied Gretsch with approximately eleventeen effects pedals, his lead guitar lines usually played with a similar tone to Fripp circa 1972, although his phrasing is more red blooded rocker than ascetic intellectual. Tightly focussed ensemble playing remains the order of the day - nobody noodles, nobody coasts and there is no extraneous soloing.

The set opened with Kavus, Ledden and Smith playing a 3 gong gamelan style intro to Black Oni (though they didn't enter through the audience as they have been known to).Once the opening was complete, they tore into the piece at a murderous pace. The expanded line up allowed the melodic strengths of Black Oni to shine through, and during part 1 Dave Smith deployed his twin floor tom toms to thunderous effect. Kavus played the harmonium on part 4, on disc the quietest passage but here the sine wave and drones were swathed in ear punishing distortion and feedback before the final part entered at about 8.7 on the Richter scale, though the extended ending was drastically curtailed. The 43 minute album was played in about 25 minutes, possibly because they started rather late. This was followed by a relatively short piece that I didn't recognise, which culminated in a wall of sound that moved slowly but purposefully between 2 immense chords . Then came the opening of 5 Suns - by this stage the band were firing on all cylinders, and it was here that Kavus really made his mark on the music. As good as his playing was during Black Oni, he was mainly filling out the live sound so that he full effect of the recorded piece could be duplicated onstage. On 5 Suns he added a new dimension to the music, realising melodic ideas that were only hinted at on the album. A moment of genuine drama occurs when Daniel O'Sullivans keyboards pack up - odd buzzes and squeaks had been coming through from time to time throughout the performance. It's moments like this which can make a show, and at a signal from behind the drums the remaining trio vamped for a minute or two, gradually taking the volume down, while a replacement lead was dug out. A brief, crystal clear arpeggio rang out, four heads nodded as one and the piece resumed without missing a beat - they hadn't simply recovered from this equipment malfunction, they had actually incorporated it into the piece to remarkable effect. Throughout their set the playing was incredibly tight - Ledden and Smith have coalesced into a near telepathic rhythm section, and the interplay between the four musicians occasionally borders on the uncanny.

Any gripes? The sound quality was a bit erratic, probably due to the malfunctioning equipment, and it would have been interesting to see some of the more adventurous bits of presentation that I've heard about. Black Oni felt rather rushed and there were sections which could have been exploited better, though this was perhaps because the set had to be shortened. These are minor quibbles, however - the current live incarnation of Guapo play with abundant fire and skill, and unlike some bands on the scene when they rock they rock hard and they take no prisoners. Right now they're white hot - catch them while you can.



Edited by Syzygy
'Like so many of you
I've got my doubts about how much to contribute
to the already rich among us...'

Robert Wyatt, Gloria Gloom


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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 09 2006 at 10:43
Great review. Thanks Chris.

BTW, let me know if you plan to go to the Spitz anytime in the future as I'd be glad to tag along.
I must remind the right honourable gentleman that a monologue is not a decision.
- Clement Atlee, on Winston Churchill
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Direct Link To This Post Posted: February 09 2006 at 16:10
Thanks Simon, if there's anything coming up that you like the sound of let me know - I've not seen much in their current listings that leaps out at me, but I'd be happy to follow your recommendations.
'Like so many of you
I've got my doubts about how much to contribute
to the already rich among us...'

Robert Wyatt, Gloria Gloom


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