Concerts of 2012

Here’s some kind of list of the most memorable concerts I attended this year. (By the way, you won’t find a list of albums of the year here. I hardly ever listen to recorded music any more; increasingly, music to me means live music.)

It’s been an excellent year for my kind of music in Vienna, and shows by The Walkabouts, Tindersticks, Shearwater, The Cherry Thing and Bruce Springsteen might all have made the top ten on a different day. I was also gutted to miss, for one reason or another (work, illness, domestic commitments) many shows which I was looking forward to, including those by Brötzmann/Lonberg-Holm/Nilssen-Love, Death in June, Broken Heart Collector, Bulbul/Tumido, The Thing, Kern & Quehenberger, Sonore, Nadja, Josephine Foster, Double Tandem, Kurzmann/Zerang/Gustafsson, Glen Hansard and A Silver Mt Zion, not to mention the entire Konfrontationen festival.

A few of the concerts listed here have links to the reviews I wrote at the time, but most of them do not. This is partly because I haven’t had time to write those reviews, but mostly because it’s getting harder and harder to keep this blog going, to the point where I’m considering giving it up altogether. Very few people read these pages, and of those who do, only a few bother to leave comments. Those people, and they know who they are, have my eternal gratitude; but it’s rather disheartening not to be making more of an impression on the wider world.

In chronological order, then:

1. Philip Glass: Einstein on the Beach, Barbican Centre, London
2. Codeine, Szene Wien, Vienna
3. Peter Brötzmann’s Full Blast, Chelsea, Vienna
4. Anthony Braxton, Jazzatelier, Ulrichsberg
5. Peter Hammill, Porgy & Bess, Vienna
6. The Thing, Blue Tomato, Vienna
7. Marilyn Crispell/Eddie Prévost/Harrison Smith, Blue Tomato, Vienna
8. Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet, Martinschlössl, Vienna
9. Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Arena, Vienna
10. Swans, Arena, Vienna

Codeine, Vienna Szene Wien, 30 May 2012

Of all the groups to reform in recent years, Codeine must have been one of the least likely to do so. When I first saw the announcement, I simply assumed that it must have been another band using their name. But, of course, there can only be one Codeine. The story goes that the original line-up of vocalist and bassist Stephen Immerwahr, guitarist John Engle and drummer Chris Brokaw were persuaded to reunite for some live shows by the Numero Group label, to mark the unlikely release of a colossal Codeine box set. There are no further shows planned, and no new material, which is probably just as well.

I never saw Codeine during their original incarnation in the early 90s, but I quickly fell under the spell of their two LPs, Frigid Stars and The White Birch. As a Swans fan, I detected something of Swans’ unremittingly gloomy muse and fondness for sledgehammer percussion in Codeine, although Codeine were sparser and more interested in exploring space and texture than Swans ever were. What I liked most about the records was the grinding sense of bleakness that pervaded every aspect of Codeine, from their anaesthetized name to the austerity of the White Birch cover, from Brokaw’s (and, later, Doug Scharin’s) dispassionate thud to Immerwahr’s cracked pleadings. This was music that knew it had nowhere to go, and was in absolutely no hurry to get there.

Codeine played live in Vienna three times during the 90s, and Immerwahr told the Szene audience how much they had enjoyed their previous visits. (In a further quirk, the cover of the Barely Real EP is a photo of the Upper Belvedere.) Eighteen years since the last of those, Codeine played a spellbinding set that dwelt heavily on the frozen isolation evoked by their past. Immerwahr intoned spare, haunting texts in a hesitant voice laced with caution, mixed low down to blend in lugubrious harmony with Engle’s stark strumming. Brokaw’s percussion, meanwhile, dictated the funereal pace at which the concert unfolded.

Brokaw, Engle and Immerwahr seem like genuinely nice guys, not above chatting at length to fans at the merch table both before and after the gig (this was the first time I’ve ever seen all the members of a headlining group work their own merch table, by the way) and with many a smile and a nod to each other onstage. There was the faint trace of a smile on Immerwahr’s face, too, as he introduced the evening’s final song, the tender and strangely moving “Broken-Hearted Wine”. Acknowledging that many of the foregoing songs had dealt in unutterable pain and sadness (I’m paraphrasing), he hoped that this last one would send us home with some good cheer in our hearts. Since the song in question went “you can come on over, cry on my shoulder and drink broken-hearted wine”, it could only offer a moderate amount of comfort. But by that time Codeine had given so much that it hardly seemed to matter at all.