Noise rock. It’s neither noise, nor rock. Discuss.
Whatever the connotations, last weekend in Los Angeles was a rock’n’roll sonic experimentalists’ dream come true, as the city played host to the long-awaited live reunion of My Bloody Valentine, some 16 years in the making. And despite the need for paramedics on night two, after the sheer volume and accompanying vibrations from Kevin Shields and co.’s musical onslaught caused a light fixture to fall from the venue ceiling and land on a concert-goer’s head, the shows marked a much-welcomed return.
But there was another avant-rock heavyweight in town last weekend as well. As if to remind listeners that he himself helped pioneer this subgenre of music in the first place (cue the Velvet Underground’s “Sister Ray”), Lou Reed was performing a trio of live improvisational dates with multi-instrumentalist Ulrich Krieger at the REDCAT/CalArts Theater at Walt Disney Concert Hall downtown.
The pair first met six years ago when Krieger took on the gargantuan task of transcribing and arranging a live chamber orchestra performance of Reed’s “Metal Machine Music,” a feedback-drenched work that was largely if not entirely improvised in the studio.
This past weekend marked Reed and Krieger’s first public performances together. The duo took the stage along with Sarth Calhoun, a computer-based sound designer, each of them surrounded by piles of effects pedals and racks of gear on tables, music stands and at their feet.
The hour-long performance itself was divided into two segments, each with its own set of intense, bone-chattering crescendos and decrescendos. Krieger’s saxophone was heavily processed into rich, electronic, glacial sweeps, while Reed’s thick distorted guitar chords took on the various characters of the effects pedals around him. Calhoun, seated behind a desk with computers and mixers, added chunky layers of sub-frequency bass vibrations to the mix, which reached near-deafening volumes at various points. The performers shared minimal interaction on stage, but when their eyes locked, it provided the performance with welcome jolts of humanity.
Reed, dressed in a black button-down shirt, jeans and sneakers, directed the flow with his minimalist guitar strokes, giving way to Krieger at various points along the way for impressive bursts of multi-note runs and frenetic staccato attacks on the sax. Calhoun seemed content to paint soundscapes underneath the others, but Reed was able to push him to the fore at times by revving up the tempo and volume of his own playing.
Unintended moments of comic relief peppered the performance, when Reed would abruptly wave his roadie on stage simply to then sharply point to the guitar that he wanted to be handed.
Not everyone was into it. Some left early, some were spotted playing tic tac toe. Others tried to communicate with written notes back and forth on their programs, as the noise was far too loud to whisper snickers overtop.
But by and large, the mostly bespectacled, smartly dressed, slightly graying crowd of curious onlookers seemed intrigued and interested in the uniqueness of what was being performed in front of them. They didn’t get to hear “Satellite of Love,” but if they paid attention, they surely felt the cosmic heft of three deeply creative spirits.