Short Cuts 7: Elvis Costello, Carla Bozulich, Oliver Welter

A final round-up of shows towards the end of last year which I never got around to writing full reviews of at the time.

Elvis Costello, Vienna Konzerthaus, 31 October 2011

Here was an oddity – an out-of-the-(almost)-blue solo concert by Elvis Costello in what is, after the Staatsoper and the Musikverein, the poshest venue in Vienna, and the only one of the three that hosts regular non-classical gigs. Costello is a singer-songwriter I’ve never quite got to grips with. Maybe I thought that seeing him in solo mode would expose some kind of truth at the heart of his songs, but it never really happened. I’m no authority on his music and I only recognized about half the songs; the one I’ve always loved the most, “Oliver’s Army”, was frustratingly notable by its absence. The anguished “Shipbuilding”, “I Want You” (still one of the most frighteningly psychotic love songs ever written) and the inspired medley of “New Amsterdam/You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away” were all massively impressive, but there were also too many songs overstuffed with words and lacking in winning tunes.

Carla Bozulich/Evangelista, London Café Oto, 13 November 2011

A brief visit to London in November enabled me to check out hipster venue Café Oto for the first time. This gig by Carla Bozulich and her band differed little from the last time I saw them in Warsaw two years ago, right down to the walkabout among the audience during the big showstopping number “Baby That’s The Creeps”, which inevitably resulted in her crashing into a table or two near the front. Still, there’s something viscerally compelling about Bozulich. I think it has to do with slowness, the eerie calm and unhurriedness she projects which occasionally erupts into seething energy and rage.

Oliver Welter, Vienna Chelsea, 12 December 2011

My last concert of 2011 was another solo affair, but I found much more to admire and enjoy in Oliver Welter’s plaintive laments than I did in Elvis Costello’s wordy digressions. I’m still waiting patiently for a new Naked Lunch album and gigs, which will hopefully materialize later this year, but in the meantime this did nicely. A sprinkling of unusual cover versions – “River Deep Mountain High”, Hot Chocolate’s “Emma” – stood of a piece with Welter’s own songs, haunted reveries anatomizing love and loss in stark, emotionally unsparing detail.

Carla Bozulich/Evangelista, Warsaw Powiększenie, 21 October 2009

A pleasure to find that my first visit to Warsaw coincided with a show by the highly innovative and talented Carla Bozulich. The Powiększenie is the place where folks like Brötzmann play when they hit town; indeed Sonore had just been there, and Ken Vandermark will return there soon with Paal Nilssen-Love. The upstairs bar was very cool but the performance space downstairs was kind of inhospitable, too long and narrow and on this night, bizarrely, seated. I grabbed a seat in the front row, which meant I had the pleasure of being in close proximity to Bozulich when she took a walk around the first few rows during the stunning “Baby That’s The Creeps”. In fact, she fell into my lap and pulled at my shirt, one of the many heartstopping moments that evening. Bozulich’s sound was driven by her extraordinary vocals, her aggressive approach to the guitar and by her group’s atmospheric cello and organ (the drums, I felt, were too lumpen and intrusive). I could have done without the occasional tedious dadaist tactics (bits of metal held up to the strings, a toy voice distortion box), but other than those, this was a hugely satisfying concert.

Carla Bozulich: Evangelista

On her third album, Carla Bozulich offers a compelling new twist on the Constellation label’s well-established m.o. of livid paranoia: a siren voice. Branching out from the stylings of her work with the Geraldine Fibbers and her two previous solo albums, Bozulich moves daringly into territory previously mapped by labelmates Godspeed You! Black Emperor and A Silver Mt. Zion. It’s no surprise, then, to find members of that collective adding their distinctive patina of broken optimism and hinted-at menace to the record. Nowhere is the Constellation effect more pronounced than on the disorienting, nine-minute “Evangelista I,” which sets the Patti Smith-like intensity of Bozulich’s voice against a filmic backdrop of buzz-saw strings, distant crackle, and eerie knocking and creaking sounds. It’s a searingly vivid Expressionist drama whose impact is sustained beautifully over the remaining eight songs.

“How To Survive Being Hit By Lightning” sees Bozulich’s bewitching voice buried low and murky in the mix, emerging with feline grace from liquid drops of guitar and stealthy, undulant noise. On the excellent cover of Low’s “Pissing,” Bozulich’s understated choral vocal is gradually enveloped in screaming guitar and a throbbing, insistent pulse. “Evangelista II,” meanwhile, is an unsettling finale – a restrained concoction in which the tender, erotic closeness of the lyric is lethally undermined by the plumes of feedback emanating from Efrim Menuck’s guitar.

Evangelista is a genuinely collaborative effort in which the one weak point of recent work by A Silver Mt. Zion—Menuck’s reedy, tremulous vocals—is decisively addressed through the seductive elegance of Bozulich’s voice. With her latest album, Bozulich has found a group of musicians able to illustrate with vivid acuity her troubled, affecting songs.