Thursday, 10 July 2008

Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp & Sculptress @ The Band Stand, Hanley. July 6th.

Review by Steve Dean

Photos by Simon Bamford

Having met the multi-talented Mika before when visiting the Capoeira Art Brasil company in Tunstall, I was only half-surprised to see her taking the stage as part of the support act Sculptress at the Band Stand last Sunday evening. Playing no less than four instruments; cello, flute, clarinet and a Japanese koto, she was accompanied by three other members bearing two electric guitars and a bass; only they didn’t actually play them - not in the conventional sense anyway. Sitting on the floor with their guitars while Mika sat on a stool in front of her koto, an instrument rather like a zither, the three electric musicians, their instruments’ pick-ups suitably close to their respective loudspeakers, set up a three-part harmonised and droning feedback that peaked and troughed throughout the 45 minute or so instrumental set.

Comprising of a single composition, the set began with a continuous plucking from Mika as the distorted guitar behind her very gradually built into an atmospheric ambience; hanging hauntingly in the air as Mika gradually phased the koto out and took up her clarinet. The EBow-assisted backing frequencies turning to a metallic grinding, a series of long notes were maintained by the clarinet as the incessant heavy whine once more gathered body. The sustained harmonies eventually back at full ambience, Mika then changed to the flute, briefly giving the music the kind of Bohemian feel so beloved of the beatnik movement in the early 60s, before the venue filled with an intense, almost Indian-sounding drone. With Mika now on cello, the overall sound became almost harrowing as it persistently grew to a crackling and fiery intensity; putting me vaguely in mind of some of Brian Eno’s more impassioned endeavours. It was at this point that the first sign of a recognisable melody appeared as Mika took bow to string while the drone died away to nothing. Returning as a kind of radio static, the effect eventually turned to a vaguely unsettling sound almost as if some kind of electronic baby was crying somewere. Fading into silence, Mika was left soloing until she finally rested her bow. The audience, delivering the loudest of applause, knew it was at an end. Different; and really quite brilliant.

The Geneva-based Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp were something else again. I haven’t seen anything quite like them before, and after what I saw on Sunday, I’d certainly like to see them play again. Infused with a lively sense of fun, this talented six-piece band took us through an immensely entertaining set made up of all sorts of influences - although the resulting sound is essentially their own. They boast an exemplary standard of musicianship and an equally excellent playlist. My initial reaction to the chaotic opening number, with vocalist Liz’s shriekings and yellings over a cacophony of seemingly random notes and erratic bangings and crashings, was one of eyebrow-raised bewilderment. However, the point of it all became very clear when the precisely-timed nature of the band’s second number smoothed out the vibe completely. The show henceforth was so engrossing, it is hard to think of a highlight; but I loved the bass intro to the captivating ‘Afrogarage’ and the drum soloing in the same number was sensational. The band’s instrumental line-up of trombone, marimba, electric guitar, double bass, violin, drums and various percussion made for a musical concoction pulsating with Latin, tropical and African rhythms. Tastily coating them with jazz, punk, pop and myriad snippets of exotic music from around the world, Orchestre Tout Puissant Marcel Duchamp have developed a kind of avant-garde cabaret act that should enchant lovers of good music everywhere. Wonderful stuff.

After such a fine performance, I was truly saddened to hear that it would be the final one to be heard at the Band Stand in its present form, the venue’s doors closing for the last time that evening. John and Jane have been marvellous hosts and I’d like to thank them on behalf of Stoke Sounds for some truly great times. The venue will be sorely missed.

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