What the? Chairs at the Echoplex? What is this, a classical-music concert? Actually, it pretty much is, with headliners Stars of the Lid boasting two violinists and a cellist, in addition to core members Brian McBride and Adam Wiltzie on guitars and electric piano (they played with their backs to the audience the entire set, too; cheers, fellas).
Praised by 4AD Records honcho Ivo Watts-Russell as the most important band of the 21st century (gulp), SOTL have evolved from minimalist drone merchants to young-buck holy-minimalist composers (roll over Arvo Pärt and tell Henryk Górecki the news).
Right from the start of their set, SOTL justified their lofty position in today's neo-classical realm with all strings set to “glacial grandeur.” A sinking-of-the-Titanic poignancy washed over the reverent crowd (the Echoplex was maybe half full—not bad on a Monday night for some esoteric, beatless music). SOTL took us to (secular) church, in slow-motion. One wishes the performance were happening in an old ornate cathedral. But then we probably wouldn't be treated to the artfully psychedelic projections of Luke Savisky, who, it turns out, played a video cameraman in Slacker.
Last night, SOTL's music achieved a timeless, placeless stasis. There were no obvious peaks or climaxes; rather, a serene drift predominated, capturing the essence of melancholy. Through spare, economical means, SOTL created incredibly moving scores for the poignancy of the human condition (terminal, to be Pollyanna-ish).
I caught about half of opener Christopher Willits' set. He's a San Francisco-based guitarist who plays through a PowerBook, not unlike the great Austrian musician Fennesz. (You can view a demo of Willits' m.o. here.) The first track of his I catch is a tense throb, somewhere between mid-'70s Tangerine Dream and Hawkwind. Magnificent. Out of this streamlined stream of sound there splintered some spectral shards of guitar, then a cloud of microscopic clicks & cuts emerged with a stuttering choir, resulting in a passage of chaotic elegance and flawed beauty (the best kind).
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Later came muted oscillations and angelic ululations, foreshadowing momentousness, which manifested in the form of a piece that sounded like one of Neu!'s pastoral songs slowed way down; so gorgeous. Later, a liquidy blue-gray drone bloomed and radiated peace.
Overall, Willits expertly showed how the guitar can rewardingly function as an abstract sound generator rather than as a riff/melody machine. And the world is a richer place for it.
33 seconds of video from Stars of the Lid's set last night. Thanks, quartzcity.