I just went with Drew to see Rhys Chatham at the Empty Bottle. For those of you who don't know (and I didn't before last week), Rhys Chatham is a minimalist avant garde composer from the seventies, who was heavily influenced by rock and punk music. Basically if you can imagine, this guy composes pieces that involve sometimes hundreds of guitars playing one note or drone with a rock beat underneath. It sounds really simple but there is something raw that he is catching, the slight variations between all the guitars, the gut feeling and sheer volume from the performance. It's exactly what minimalist performances should be like, making the audience realize all the details of what they are hearing while putting them in a trance. It just has the added flavor of raw guitars and a heavy beat.
The opening performances were good, warming up the crowd for what was to come. Rhys Chatham came out on stage, as well as members of Tortoise and other local groups. All together there were eleven people on stage - one drummer, one bassist, and nine guitars. The first piece was Guitar Trio, a recreation of a piece he first played around NYC in 1977. It was basically, and I kid you not, the same note played for 40 minutes. Rhys jumped up and down on stage and opened his eyes wide, strumming furiously, despite it being thirty years since the piece was first performed. That's punk rock for ya. The second piece was very similar except the drummer (John McEntire) layed down a heavier beat, the strum rhythms were slightly different, and there was a slideshow displayed at the same time. The second piece also had more dynamics, more like a wave with a few ups and downs, while the first was a straight noise build up.
The "encore" took a moment of preparation, as all the members detuned their guitars randomly. Then all of a sudden they simultaneously strummed their guitars, creating a wall of sound that sounded like a bomb went off. McEntire continued a fury of drum playing (he was sweating his ass off and it looked like he was about to devour the drumset) while the rest of the band played disjunct, chopped, chunky bits of sound that made you want to bang your head against a wall (in a good way).
Oh one more thing...it was the LOUDEST F@#%IN show I've ever been to!
Himself influenced by minimalists Morton Subotnik and La Monte Young, the influence of Rhys on such contemporary groups as Sonic Youth and other experimental noise rockers is pretty clear after hearing him. Not just sonically, but also in terms of combining formal highbrow art theories with rock music in a way that makes it much less cerebral and more visceral. I'm glad I got a chance to check him out, it was a great experience, and definitely challenging. I recommend catching him if he is playing in your area, although it's pretty rare.