Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Review of the RIO festival 2009 - Part 3

Day One had ended about 3:15 in the morning with James MacGaw of Magma looking to see who had more bottles of wine and looking for a place to crash for the night (Kavas from Guapo had offered his hotel room to James, but I am not sure if James was in any shape to understand him!). Steve and I got back to our hotel at about 3:30, and at 9:30 the next morning, Steve rudely woke me up with a telephone call. Both of us walked like Zombies to the Hotel Ibis in order to get a ride from Fabrice and Francis to Cap Decouverte.

We walked into the lobby of the hotel, and we saw a couple of the guys from Magma having breakfast. Steve is a minor celebrity in the Magma world, as he spent his own money in the late 1980’s to bring Magma/Offering over to London. I have always subscribed to the old saying “Never Meet Your Heroes, For They Are Sure To Disappoint You”, but some of the guys from Magma came over to chat. I had a nice little talk with Philippe Bussonnet in English, and then I had a good talk with Benoit Alziary about percussionists and marimba players. Benoit told me that he was a huge Magma fan before he was joined, and that he was in awe at landing the gig. We saw James floating around the lobby, which meant that he thankfully survived the previous night. We got to chat with Stella Vander and Francis Linon, and I even got to shake hands with Christian. Overall, a great way to start the morning. I am waiting for the drops of poison that I slipped into Benoit’s coffee to take effect …. and then I will be the new vibes player in Magma.

Steve and I found Gaetan Villard, and we gave him some money to buy a few bottles of wine, as we intended to host the post-concert festivities. Thanks Gaetan!

The first act of the day was Charles Hayward, and to tell you the truth, he blew me away. He is still the one act that I keep thinking about. Charles was the drummer for Quiet Sun, This Heat, and Camberwell Now. In fact, I saw Charles play with Camberwell now in Reims in 1984. Charles now gives solo concerts that combine electronics, piano, and drums.

The set opened with Charles prowling around a darkened stage with a blue flashlight. There were contact microphones planted on the floor of the stage, and the mikes were piped into various electronic effects. After crawling around the stage for a while, Charles moved to the grand piano, and played a few songs that reminded me a bit of Robert Wyatt. Then Charles moved over to the drums and played and sang at the same time, all the while being backed by some tracks of electronics. It was quite an interesting set, and was a very pleasant surprise for me.

The next group was the Belgian band, Aranis. This band is comprised of ex-students from the Antwerp Conservatory, and the instrumentation consisted of piano, guitar, double bass, two violins, flute, and accordion. The music reminded me a lot of Astor Piazolla’s Zero Hour, or perhaps early Art Zoyd. Very composed, and very tight playing. Lots of 16th notes. They were warmly received by the audience, most whom had never heard of the band. They are my pick for inclusion in a future Nearfest.

Combat Astronomy was next up. This band had great potential, as it featured Elaine DiFalco and Dave Wiley of Thinking Plague. However, the band was plagued by sound problems, with Elaine’s vocals ending up way under the mix and the bass ending up way above the mix. They also had a new drummer and did not have their bassoonist with them. I walked out about 3/4 through the set, and I was not the only one. Everyone was disappointed with Combat Astronomy, and from what I heard, the band was puzzled about why they received such a lukewarm reception. This shows you the importance of the sound engineer at a festival. Most of the bands at the festival used the in-house sound engineer and light technician, and it came back to bite Combat Astronomy. Later on, Steve Davis played me their first CD, and to tell you the truth, it was pretty good.

The final band of the night was Koenji Hyakkei from Tokyo, who I am just going to abbreviate as KH. The musicians were supremely confident when they got on stage, and the crowd just knew that this was going to be something special. The band was led by drummer Tetsuya Yoshida from Ruins, a long time disciple of Christian Vander. The band was rounded out by bass, keyboards, soprano sax and operatic vocals. The Austin Powers-ish outfit that was worn by the lead singer was a fantastic bit of design, and actually contributed to the power of the music :-)

KH was complete 300% Zeuhl in-your-face for over an hour. Extremely complex time signatures and breaks, with the vocalist and soprano sax moving in unison. It is just amazing how some musicians can commit this stuff to memory. The slowest song was about 160 beats per minute.

The crowd gave them a huge standing ovation, and would not let them leave the stage.

After the concert, more drinking and eating. Thanks to Rodolphe, who brought me a chunk of excellent French cheese. Again, we got back at 3:30 in the morning, totally happy and shit-faced.

(End of Part 3)

1 comment:

  1. Re: Combat Astronomy. Trust me, Most of the members of the band were dissapointed in the sound and their performance. Hopefully, they are not completely judged by their set, because there were several difficulties that factored in, but they definitely knew it was less than impressive.