Paul Lebrecque/Primordial Undermind, Vienna Subterrarium, 4 April 2008

My second concert in as many nights was about as underground as gigs in Vienna get, literally as well as metaphorically. Subterrarium is a cellar accessible only via an unmarked wooden door. Cold, damp and somewhat lacking in the comfort department, the place more than compensates for these deficiencies through the warmth of the welcome it extends and the commitment and dedication of those who perform there. Having played host last December to the reportedly excellent acid folk group Spires That In The Sunset Rise, Friday night saw an appearance by Paul Lebrecque of inspired free folk aggregation Sunburned Hand of the Man, in collaboration with Vienna’s own space rock heroes Primordial Undermind (see last month’s column).

This curtailed evening began with a brief solo spot by Lebrecque. Alternately plucking and bowing his banjo, he was a picture of concentration, lost in rapt contemplation of his instrument. Overtones and half-formed melodies radiated outward from Lebrecque’s playing, forming a strange yet compelling blend of old-time Harry Smith folk and almost raga-like atmospheres.

Almost immediately, Lebrecque picked up his electric guitar and was joined onstage by the PU crew. Together, the six of them started up a loose, flowing improvisation that began quietly and unfolded beautifully. I was unimpressed by PU frontman Eric Arn’s initial fiddling with his acoustic guitar (there’s only one guitarist in the world who should be allowed to hold anything other than a plectrum or slide to a set of guitar strings, and that’s Keith Rowe), but once he quit the tricksiness and actually started to play the thing properly, his contributions were rich and varied. Elsewhere, the combination of slipping slide guitar, tumbling bass, thunderous cello and drums, and spacey electronic effects coalesced into a wild and engrossing whole.

All too soon, it was over. The guerrilla nature of the performance space turned round and bit the group on the backside, as first the drummer was told to keep it down and then the entire group was forced to stop playing at 10pm, due to the disturbance they were causing to the residents upstairs. A great shame, as to these ears they sounded like they were just getting underway. I unfortunately missed the last “proper” Primordial Undermind gig at B72 in March, so have yet to hear them play a full electric set. I suspect it will be worth the wait, but their next gig is also at Subterrarium in June, so I may have to wait a while longer.

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