4. This is How We Die
That’s right, all you mothertruckers out there in internet land, This is How We Die comes in at the bottom of the pack. Before you all come for me like a pair of sexed up teens on a priest-murdering motor adventure, let me say that I think TIHWD is a pretty astonishing show, pretty astonishingly performed (no-one except maybe Stewart Lee can milk as much from a microphone as Crispy B). But coming back to it now in the context of the BAC triple bill this weekend, I’m reminded of what Bailey writes in the free sheet for his follow-up, Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight – that the poetry, the ‘fake stuff’, ‘didn’t taste good in my mouth anymore.’ There’s a sense in TIHWD, I think, of a desire to impress, a kind of showmanship. And while that cultivated coolness carries through to his other shows, it feels as though he’s subsequently rejected any impulse to seduce an audience with it. The music-driven stuff doesn’t try to beckon you in – the amps punch air out towards you whether you like it or not. It is, as my friend put it pretty neatly after the show, in service of nothing but itself.
3. Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight
The most beautiful of the quartet, the thing that really makes this show as special as it is is Lee Curran’s shadowy, stealthy, increasingly all-out ball-trippin’ lighting. I suspect that when he left the stage halfway through, CBB got stage management at BAC to ask the lighting operator to push the haze up, cos boy this show needs it. The performers can’t be present in front of you as real touchable bodies, and the wall of haze puts distance between you and them, makes them images, silhouettes, ghosts, dream-prints, backlit in evil stroboscopic turquoise. It’s darker than TIHWD. There’s none of the surreal humour to ease you into its rhythm, but instead the disembodied death-chant voiceover, repeating incantations – ‘you wake up, you wake up, you wake up, you wake up;’ ‘this is a hell-dream, this is a hell-dream, this is a hell-dream, this is a hell-dream;’ ‘brace, brace. brace, brace. brace, brace. brace, brace.’ If the show is harder to reach into that’s because it’s about failing to reach out – ‘you can’t imagine what it was like to walk to the fridge in his shoes, let alone a mile’, says Bailey in voiceover. The black hole of suicide opens up at the centre of Shotgun, like the central unoccupied stage space the performers wrap around. For me, TIHWD feels uncompromisingly nihilistic, but by peering into the abyss of death, Shotgun plants itself firmly in the land of the living – it feels affirmative, if only in the profound depth of its sadness.
2. Rated X
The wild card. This is CBB’s free jazz cousin to his usual studied formalism. I remember pretty little of the specific content of this show (weird cos it was only January that I saw it) – some references to Roswell and other conspiracy theories, some vaguely intimidating sexy talk to the audience (via camera). This feels like Bailey having a stretch, experimenting, being adventurous and to hell with coherence, to hell with ‘good’. It’s a mess of tangled wires. It’s FUN! I mean just read this credits list:
Tomas Jefanovas: videos, projections & screens, video synthesisers, audio synthesisers, drones, effects boxes, incense and escape driver.
Christopher Brett Bailey: voice, words, illuminati jazz lizard, saxophone, dance moves, electric guitar loops, effects boxes and sound fx.
Illuminati Jazz Lizard.
He wears a patch of prosthetic lizard skin over his right eye. He deep throats a mic with his saxophone (totally eargasmically). At the end, he and Tomas Jefanovas reveal a motorcycle that’s been hiding behind a curtain and ride off into the night. It’s a kind of theatrical punchline that we wouldn’t necessarily expect from Bailey. The show runs at a short and sweet 50 minutes of high octane verbal parlour tricks and musical gymnastics, giving way to a warm bath of ambient noise – it’s just pretty joyous to watch and hear. It has a messiness and complex incompleteness to it, which I think I value just ever so slightly more than its opposite – conceptual neatness and simplicity (ask me in an hour and I’d say exactly the opposite). Rated X presents an audience with a sparkly constellation whose dots they’re left to join.
1. This Machine Won’t Kill Fascists But It Might Get You Laid
TIHWD and Shotgun get pretty loud, sure, but never uncomfortably so. BAC hand out ear defenders but the first two shows are no louder – in fact, for the most part very much quieter – than your average rock gig. But This Machine turns it up to fucking 11. It takes a jackhammer to your ears, the kind of noise that kicks the air out of your lungs. It’s certainly the loudest gig I’ve been to (Sunn 0))) holding a close second place).
The band are a kind of distillation of all rock music ever – essence of ROCK – potent, sold in small bottles with pipettes, droplets to be squeezed directly into eyeball. At its core is the worship of the electric guitar. At the start the guitars hang on chains, weapons waiting to be wielded. We begin with a classical, sacred sensibility – the musicians solemnly hit the guitars with piano hammers, and they chime and resonate like gongs or church bells; Bailey prepares his with a steel rod. Then they climb down from their platforms, unhook their instruments, and prepare to rock.
TWO NOTES. jang-jang-jang-jang-jang-jang-jang-jang / jang-jang-jang-jang-jang-jang-jang-jang / – – – – – – – – / GRRRAAAOOOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWwwwwwwwwwww // jang-jang-jang-jang-jang-jang-jang-jang / jang-jang-jang-jang-jang-jang-jang-jang / – – – – – – – – /GRRRAAAOOOWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWWwwwwwwwwwww
It’s back to basics. Standing on their plinths like the four horsemen of the apocalypse, Bailey, Alicia Jane Turner, George Percy and Ivy Alexander strum out the purest form of badassery possible. For a long time they’re playing just one note, in unison, in insistent semi quavers – we start to get some variation, long sustained growls, rests – the pattern phases. The performers are set around the audience and the pattern is passed around in surround sound, attacking you from all sides. jang-jang-jang-jang-jang-jang-jang-jang GRRRAAAOOWWWWWwwww
Thee Silver Mt. Zion’s album Fuck Off Get Free We Pour Light on Everything opens with the kid of two of the band members reading a short text they’ve written for him: ‘We live on an island called Montreal, and we make a lot of noise because we love each other!’ The overwhelming noisiness of This Machine fills me with love. I maintain that Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight is inherently theatre – it’s framed as such, and operates on the metaphorical level that theatre is adept at doing – but This Machine is a gig (albeit one with a dramaturg), and in this respect it’s not concerned with doing anything but filling you with sound and glory.
It continues in a cycle of three troughs and three peaks. At the final peak, they put their guitars down (Percy’s is flecked with blood – he’s broken a couple picks and a string by this point) and let them continue to push out roaring feedback, while they go and fetch their DIY tools – a circular saw, a drill, a hammer, an axe. They proceed – methodically, efficiently, gleefully – to fucking fuck the fuck out of their fucking guitars. It’s a gesture that has a whole load of history behind it, a mythos and a symbolic weight – but it’s not as painful to watch as smashing a violin, say, rather simply delightful in its excessiveness. Where are they getting four guitars a night from?? How much is that costing them???? It’s destructive, but celebratory. It treats the electric guitar not as fine craftsmanship but as machine – replaceable, functional, unsentimental. It has a job to do, and once its job is done, we rejoice in the death of the machine. The band destroys what it worships (or pretends to worship). It’s a paradox that seems to unite Bailey’s work – that of joyful nihilism, formal excess and excessive restraint, unironic posturing – encapsulated here at its most ecstatically contradictory. It fills you up and empties itself out.