Friday, February 08, 2013

Thurston Moore / Michael Chapman @ The Glee Club, Thursday 7th February

Two genuine 100% guitar legends for the price of the one. Not bad eh? Whilst Thurston Moore, one of the poster boys of the alt rock scene and founder of Sonic Youth, might be the bigger name of the two Chapman’s been a folk hero for coming up to six decades now with none other than the mighty John Peel muttering his praises and playing his records (no doubt occasionally at the wrong speed) over the years. So what do you get when you bring a 70 something folk/jazz musician from Yorkshire together with an American noise rock icon? We had to wait until the end of the gig to find out...

First though Michael Chapman set the bar for all budding guitarists in the audience so high that they’d need oxygen to stand any chance of getting anywhere near it. Ambling on with a dour “I’m not Thurston Moore...honest” he launched into In The Valley showcasing the kind of richly textured nimble fingered playing that’s as much of a joy to watch as it is to listen to. 

Vocally he’s edging towards a Yorkshire version of late period Johnny Cash, gruff, well worn and shaped by a thousand and one late nights and undoubtedly more than a pint of ale or two. Like one of his peers, John Martyn, playing the guitar seems as natural as breathing, happily unlike Mr Martyn he’s still here and, on this form, playing better than ever. Each track came complete with its standout moments but the mind melting time warped slide guitar of Fahey’s Flag (dedicated to the song’s inspiration and fellow picker the late, great John Fahey) was the trippiest thing I’ve heard at an acoustic gig. Ever. 

Sadly far too few people know who the hell Chapman is but if you’re in any doubt of his influence take a listen to another of tonight’s highlights Kodak Ghost. Back in the day someone came up to him and said “’ere Michael, someone’s ripped you off...that Jimmy Page has copied your song Kodak Ghost on one of Led Zepplin’s tracks”. The name of that song? Stairway To Heaven.

After a brief intermission (beards were stroked, ale was supped etc), it was Thurston’s turn to impress. Anyone expecting a Sonic Youth greatest hits set (or even a sniff of a track) would’ve been out of luck. With the band on an indefinite hiatus (presumably exacerbated by the recent end of Moore’s 27 year marriage to fellow Sonic Youther Kim Gordon) tonight was more a case of, well...Moore. Like Chapman Moore’s clearly a master of his instrument and he manages to coax some truly impressive sounds out of what was, on the face of it, a pretty low key set up. His technique’s not as nimble as Chapman’s, veering between a more fluid style of playing/strumming and the odd burst of manic string melting ferocity that originally saw him lauded as a noise rock pioneer. Scattering the odd poem in amongst the songs, kicking off with She’s Crazy which is clearly about an ex (Kim possibly...hmmm), the set drew on his solo albums to date with one of the strongest being Space from the Beck helmed Demolished Thoughts. It’s a suitably floaty number, instrumental except for a brief piece of hippyish lyricism in the middle. Happily he’s not abandoned his edgier early self and Psychic Hearts from 1995’s solo debut was resurrected, much to the obvious joy of the super fans who clearly position Thurston somewhere above the level of God, Buddha or whichever made up deity takes your fancy. Thurston comes across a pretty likeable dude, revealing a delightfully childlike joy in discovering Oxfam Book and Record shops and filling the backseat of Chapman’s car / unofficial tour bus with a growing stash of vintage vinyl. It seems he loved Brum’s Custard Factory too...imagine the hipster heart attacks down there when Mr Sonic Youth wandered in...

Calling Michael back up on stage the show’s climax was, let’s say, a little more ‘experimental’ with Thurston brutally attacking his guitar with a screwdriver and tool file whilst Chapman laid on some (slightly) more conventional notes over the top. Suffice to say you’ll either love this kind of sonic terrorism or want to rip off your own ears and stick them into the bloody orifices. It’s certainly interesting to see just what sounds you can get from torturing a guitar and there’s a perverse pleasure to be gained from watching two accomplished players, separated by a couple of decades and the Atlantic but united in an obvious love for their instrument, rejecting all those hours of practice in favour of just letting rip. When it comes to how long this kind of thing should go on for though it’s possibly a case of less is Moore but the really hardcore fans lapped it up and would probably have been quite happy if they’d carried on playing until there was nothing left but bits of splintered wood and frayed G strings. The night overall? Cool as pluck.

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