Ether column, January 2008

Who can resist a band with a name like Fuckhead? Not me, that’s for sure. And the fact that they are Austrian makes the prospect of an evening with them all the more appealing. Active since 1988, Fuckhead are a fusion of Industrial metal, intelligent dance music and Viennese Actionist performance art. The four-piece from Linz are notable for their confrontational live shows, which for a while earned them the distinction of being banned by the Austrian authorities. More often than not, a Fuckhead concert consists of the heavily tattooed (and all-male, sadly) group writhing on stage clad only in their underwear, or naked but for some strategically placed gaffer tape, eating sausages and simulating sex acts, with the entire spectacle soundtracked by punishing Metal textures. If that sounds like the sort of thing you would enjoy – and I can’t imagine why it wouldn’t be – then be sure to be at the Chelsea on 31 January.

For those wishing for a more considered start to their 2008 gig-going, there’s always Iron & Wine. Lurking behind the group alias is US singer-songwriter Sam Beam, who has released three albums of folky, countrified alt-rock and is currently on tour promoting the most recent of these, The Shepherd’s Dog. Beam is a quietly inspired musician whose craftsmanlike approach to songcraft has drawn comparisons with stellar names such as Nick Drake, Paul Simon and Neil Young. Moving away from the scratchy, lo-fi sound of his earliest recordings, the new album sees Beam surrounding himself with a large cast of supporting musicians and building up an arsenal of lush instrumentation as a result. But the songs retain an air of melancholy and southern Gothic atmospheres that makes them utterly beguiling.

Meanwhile, Porgy & Bess starts 2008 as it no doubt means to go on with a series of intriguing jazz and world music concerts. The pick of these could well be the visit of the Czech singer and violinist Iva Bittova, performing as a duo with American bassist and saxophonist George Mraz. Bittova is a virtuoso performer whose work blends elements of Anglo-American rock and eastern European folk. Frequently confounding audience expectations, she plays the violin with various found objects and deploys a variety of vocal utterances ranging from straight ahead singing to childlike babbling and full-throated ululations. In Bittova’s practised hands, however, this range of approaches never descends into mere gimmickry. Instead, it seems like a natural outgrowth of the melodies and rhythms inherent in her self-composed music.

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