Thursday, December 30, 2010

Show review: James Chance at Beauty Bar, 12/29

Posted by Andrew

What can be said about James Chance that hasn’t already been said? For those not familiar, stop reading this and listen to him right now. Essentially the creator of the New York no wave scene in the late '70s, this guy destroyed CBGBs and the Mudd Club. If you were sitting down at a show, he would force you to dance; if the music didn’t do it, he would literally throw you into the pit. Over 30 years later, he’s not as confrontational to audience members. But being in the presence of a legend is still quite an experience. To be sure, James Chance does not give a fuck; he plays the way he wants to play. Last night at Beauty Bar, he provided a show as confounding as his recordings.

I had never seen live music at the venue before. The joint often hosts some great DJs, or at least big names that you want to be in the presence of. So when I heard that the James Chance / James Black / James White was playing, there was not a chance I would miss it. Any expectations I had of a conventional show were immediately shattered. The house DJ was going for a bit longer than anticipated. Really, still, I’m not quite sure just what happened next.

Essentially, white-tux-clad Chance would provide abrasive saxophone and keyboard whenever he felt necessary while the DJ spun instrumental takes of his recordings. Sometimes the beats would keep going after he left the "stage" (quotations because there wasn’t a conventional performing area), but as soon as you stopped paying attention, that raucous brass would hit again. The advantage of a non-mic’d and non-chorded instrument was that he could really do whatever he wanted. That means walking around the entire bar, away from the front row, and allowing those in the back immediate access. And it would stop again. And then a traumatizing keyboard cacophony would hit. Some vocal appeals would be thrown in and then back to the brass. The sound of Chance’s saxophone is like that drag of a cigarette after filter-line that burns the lips: and you still want more. The ash escapes into your coat sleeves, burning your forearm, and the angular gesture you make trying to soothe the burn is perfectly analogous to the sound emitted from the sax maniac.

Considering that what Chance does can essentially be boiled down to "noise," it's hard to gauge how exactly on the ball he was. Any other artist doing the same would most likely get a roll of the eyes from me. But when a progenitor such as the man himself performs, attention has to be granted. To the uninitiated, it may have seemed a bore. But the sax performance of "I Can't Stand Myself" was more than enough to make such a singular experience worthwhile. For those who missed it, there’s always the Eno-helmed No New York compilation. Contort yourself and get on it.

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