I don't aspire to spend my Saturday nights in college student unions. So, though I'm a fan, I was tempted to skip Fog's show last night at the Whole Music Club in the U of M's Coffman Union. But I knew I couldn't miss it when I heard at the last minute that Fog was the opening band, and the main event was a thirty-year-anniversary performance of guitar master Rhys Chatham's 1977 "Guitar Trio" composition.
Though called "Trio," the composition has been played by more than three guitarists for quite some time. Last night the seven guitarists—seven!—included Chatham, plus Erik Fratzke (Happy Apple, Zebulon Pike) and Andrew Broder (Fog) from Minneapolis, and Rob Lowe, Ben Vida, Todd Rittman, and David Daniell, all from Chicago. Greg Norton (formerly of Husker Du, currently of The Gang Font) was on bass, and Tim Glenn (Fog) played drums.
You know that almost ethereal intensity of a really passionately played rock 'n' roll guitar solo? Multiply that by seven, and imagine it lasting forty-five minutes. Seven guitarists played the same chord at the same time, while Norton played bass and Glenn played drums. During the first twenty minutes, Glenn tapped the same cymbal to the same beat, in fact, which seems pretty conducive to a repetitive-strain injury.
This was one of those shows where I looked around and thought How can this be the entire crowd? It was historic, and utterly underattended. Yes, it's underground and off the mainstream radar, but that's the beauty of it.
Rhys Chatham was a founder of the No Wave music movement in New York in the seventies. His minimalist, avant-garde style is influenced by punk rock. He is a composer, a guitarist, and a trumpeter, and was the first music director of The Kitchen, in New York City, where he helped guide musicians such as Philip Glass and Brian Eno. He expatriated to Paris twenty years ago, where he has since composed a song for 100 guitars ("An Angel Moves Too Fast to See") and for 400 guitars ("A Crimson Grail Moves Too Fast to See"). But "Guitar Trio" is his signature piece.
Chatham and David Daniell are touring twelve U.S. and Canadian cities in support of the thirtieth anniversary of "Guitar Trio," using local musicians at each venue. The shows are being recorded and will be released on a CD called Guitar Trio Is My Life.
During last night's performance, the seven guitarists all stood in a circle around the perimeter of the Whole's tiny stage. Chatham led the group by turning around to face each of the guitarists and nodding to each. Though all seven electric guitars played the same chord, strumming on various places of the guitars' necks, Chatham led the tempo and beat changes. He was the conductor of this show.
Andrew Broder, Mark Erickson, and Tim Glenn's performance as Fog was a long time coming. The group hasn't been playing many live shows lately since it's been busy recording a new CD, Ditherer, which comes out this spring.
Fog's set was all new stuff from the upcoming album. Judging from the songs "You Get What You Paid For" and "My TV Has the Plague" (I'm guessing on the titles here, since I haven't yet seen the liner notes) I can't wait to hear the recording. I already know "Your Beef Is Mine," which is a cover of rap group Mobb Deep's "Eye for a Eye," will soon be playing on repeat on my iPod.
Broder's nasal-y, yet somehow sweet-sounding voice, blended perfectly with his pretty guitar licks, Erickson's rocking bass riffs, and Glenn's hard drumming. When three guys from Why? joined on vocals during Fog's last song, "Hallelujah, Daddy," it was the perfect end to an invigorating set that preceded the absolutely mesmerizing "Guitar Trio."