I never got around to reviewing Peter Brötzmann‘s concert at the Chelsea last year, but now I have a good excuse to rectify the omission. In what was a rather nice alignment, the saxophonist played there last October with his longstanding Full Blast group of Marino Pliakas on electric bass and Michael Wertmüller on drums; and then, almost exactly a year later, Pliakas and Wertmüller showed up at the same venue with Brötzmann’s guitarist son Caspar as No Home. It’s a measure of the Swiss rhythm section’s skill and versatility that they sounded just as right for Caspar as they always have for Peter. Trading squally sax for sheets of guitar noise as their front end, the bassist and drummer provided a dense underpinning for the lead instruments’ wild and disorderly conduct.
Peter Brötzmann seems to have rather fallen off my radar of late. Once a regular visitor to Vienna, he’s only played here once this year, at Porgy & Bess in February, which of course I missed. Full Blast’s gig at the Chelsea was one of only two occasions on which I saw the man play in 2012, the other being a magnificent two-night stint with the now defunct Chicago Tentet at Martinschlössl, which I never got round to reviewing either. Props to the Trost label for putting on the gig, although I must admit to being not the world’s biggest fan of this label or of its sudden interest in Brötzmann, The Thing and free jazz. Trost have been going since 1992, but they only started releasing Brötzmann product in 2011 and Thing product this year, prompting the obvious question, why now? What’s more, they seem to have a strange aversion to jazz gigs. By situating Brötzmann in a grungey rock club rather than a jazz club, they seemed to be trying to take him out of a ghetto (jazz) that he doesn’t actually need to be taken out of. In doing so, they felt the need to appease Brötzmann’s core audience, who wouldn’t normally be seen dead at the Chelsea, by including the reassuring words “seated area available” on posters for the gig. And talking of seating, Trost are insisting that next month’s gig by The Thing at the Blue Tomato is a standing-only affair, another piece of iconoclasm that I personally could do without.
Anyway, Full Blast played that night with their customary gusto, the limitless throb of Pliakas’ bass and the vast tectonic rumble of Wertmüller’s drums successfully navigating the treacherous currents of Brötzmann’s overdriven blowing. Peter’s cry sounds increasingly like a call to arms, the urge to raise consciousness in the listener more pressing and desperate than ever, the revolutionary fervour that gripped Machine Gun undimmed by the passing of the years.
If No Home’s gig never quite reached the ecstatic heights that Full Blast’s had done, that was more down to differences in approach than to any lack of energy and commitment. Unlike his father, Caspar Brötzmann is no improvisor – every note and riff feels carefully considered and worked upon. What Caspar’s playing lacked in spontaneity, however, it made up for in doom-laden heaviness, as these labyrinthine constructions in sound swamped the room with bludgeoning force. Stalking the guitarist’s every move, Pliakas and Wertmüller anchored the set with brazen, attack-dog ferocity.
Having paid the price of early arrival by being made to endure several hopeless support bands in recent months, it was a total pleasure to see Primordial Undermind opening for No Home at the Chelsea on the final date of a Europe-wide jaunt. Forever operating in a state of creative flux, the Undermind have undergone a line-up change or two since I last saw them, and now feature Christoph Weikinger on guitar and Michael Prehofer on drums alongside core members Eric and Vanessa Arn on vox/guitar and devices respectively. On this particular evening the move to a twin-guitar attack paid repeated dividends, since this PU is appreciably heavier than previous incarnations of the group. Weikinger’s mighty riffs splintered mile-wide holes in sonic space, into which Eric Arn soared with repeated mantric soloing. On an unshakeable quest to burst the listener’s head open from the inside, Primordial Undermind’s all-out psych rock remains as forceful and compelling as ever.