Okkervil River, Vienna Szene Wien, 19 November 2007

Took the S-Bahn over to the Szene last night for a concert by Okkervil River. This group were a new name to me, I only looked them up when doing research for the column and immediately liked what I heard. Live, they didn’t disappoint. A six-man line-up (I’m a sucker for big bands; I love the hugeness of the sound they produce – cf. Jaga Jazzist, what happened to them?), with cornet, lap steel and accordion filling out the orchestration. Will Sheff was an arresting and formidable frontman, passionate and aggressive but with a strong undercurrent of melancholy which came well to the fore in the acoustic songs. I hate lazy comparisons but there were echoes of Tindersticks in the stylishness of the instrumentation, and of the Bad Seeds in the energy and conviction with which the songs were delivered.

All in all, a sparkling show, received rapturously by the usual attentive and appreciative Szene audience. Except, that is, for the two girls close to me who talked to each other throughout the entire concert. I’m still wondering what they could find to talk about at such length, and why they thought the middle of a concert hall was an appropriate place to do it.

Porcupine Tree, Vienna Arena, 15 November 2007

Trudged through the first snow of winter to the Arena last night for a concert by the British group Porcupine Tree. Their fusion of progressive and hard rock didn’t really grab me throughout, but there were many fine moments. Principally I was struck by the honesty and openness of frontman Steven Wilson. He came across as a humble but dedicated man, focusing wholeheartedly on his performance but with a complete lack of histrionic gestures. He’s no slouch on the guitar either.

The visuals screened behind the band were, for once, a useful accompaniment. There’s something rather intractable about Porcupine Tree, I think. They’re a complex, focused, almost futuristic proposition.

Ether column, October 2007

Having played host to some fine shows at the Donaufestival in April, the Minoritenkirche in Krems returns to active service this month with a series of concerts under the banner Kontraste. The highlight of these is the visit of American singer Diamanda Galas, performing Guilty Guilty Guilty, a suite of tragic and homicidal songs about love and death. If that doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs to you, well, you’re right. Galas’ dramatic style, dark subject matter and astonishing vocal range mark her out as a truly unique and mesmerising performer. Born in California, and raised in the Greek Orthodox church, Galas has tackled weighty subjects such as the AIDS epidemic (Plague Mass) and the victims of Turkish genocide (Defixiones: Will & Testament) in her work. Showing a lighter side, she collaborated with Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on an album of rock songs, The Sporting Life. Whether performing her own songs or those of others, Galas’ work reaches deep into the realms of the mythical and psychological, evoking Old Testament notions of wrath and revenge. Her great gift is to wrench these shades from the past and to reimagine them, through her remarkable voice and spectral presence, as symptoms of a wholly contemporary sickness.

Back in Vienna, Klangforum Wien mark the opening of the 2007 Wien Modern festival with a special concert at the Konzerthaus. Wien Modern is one of those events that Vienna does so well, radically undermining the city’s cosy Mozart-and-Strauss image with a programme of challenging modern classical music. Running since 1988, the annual festival acts as a showcase for innovation where the major works of the Second Viennese School and beyond rub shoulders with ear-splitting experimental electronic composition. A 24-member ensemble of soloists for contemporary music, Klangforum have an international reputation and are regulars at the festival. Since their formation in 1985 they have been performing in Vienna and around the world, their repertoire ranging from key works of the 20th century to young present-day composers, free jazz and improvisation. Their show at the Konzerthaus promises a mouth-watering selection of pieces by legendary figures of the classical avant-garde such as Schönberg, Cage, Xenakis and Stockhausen. The music will be accompanied by screenings of short films by experimental film-makers such as Stan Brakhage and Man Ray.