Monday, July 23, 2007

Damo Suzuki/ Vialka

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How do I describe Vialka? If I tell you they're a duo, he on guitar, she on drums, both on vocals, you'll probably think "ah, White Stripes", but they're nothing like that, although they share a certain aesthetic that might be described as primitivist (although not primitive). Maybe if Jack and Meg had grown up listening to Magma instead of Led Zeppelin they might have turned out something like this, although it's impossible to imagine Vialka ever writing a song for a Coke ad. If I tell you their music spans genres from Eastern European folk through punk, jazz and Beefheartesque avant-blues, with the odd bit of reggae thrown in, you might imagine some sort of polystylist sound; but they never really sound like anything other than themselves. If I tell you that Marylise Frecheville wears a fantastically unconvincing blond wig and occasionally jumps out from behind her drum kit to dance in the audience while Eric Boros remains in half-shadow on the stage, encouraging us all to clap, you might have the idea that they're a "wacky" band; but there's a forceful sense of purpose behind what they do that is utterly compelling and has no trace of novelty (which doesn't preclude a wry humour coming through). The only category I feel the need to put them in (although they describe themselves as "nomadic turbo-folk") is "good music". They're one of the most distinctive and engrossing acts I've seen recently, and I commend them to you.

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Having left the stage at the Spitz, Vialka come back, as this evening they, augmented by a flautist, are acting as Damo Suzuki's band for his latest appearance in London. It's a different atmosphere tonight to the last time I saw him; It's Sunday night, the audience is a sitting one rather than a dancing one, and there's the small matter of the curfew. So tonight's show is perhaps a more cerebral affair than that November night, which pushes towards a more reflective mood. What's remarkable about Damo's performances is the way that the musicians he plays with seem to absorb entirely into his vision, without ever losing their own voices, so that here we hear the sound of Vialka subtly altered to become something that is clearly of a piece with his previous performances, yet also unique. And next time, it'll be different again, an unpredictable, unrepeatable event with Damo at its centre, acting as the focus that draws it all together. What you can't fail to take away from any of his performances is a sense of the sheer generosity of his spirit.

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