Short Cuts 6: Sunburned Hand of the Man, Earth, Sabbath Assembly

Plugging a few gaps in the blog with brief reviews of shows I never got around to mentioning at the time.

Sunburned Hand of the Man, Vienna Fluc Wanne, 26 March 2011

Sunburned Hand of the Man seem to be shrinking. The first time I saw them, in Brighton in 2004, there were at least seven of them. Upstairs at the Fluc in 2006, they were down to four. And this time, they played as a duo of John Moloney on drums and devices and Paul Labrecque on guitar. Maybe next time they tour there’ll be no-one at all onstage, just their trippy films to stare at. Which would be a great shame, since even with this attenuated line-up, Sunburned’s long, dizzying jams were a massive pleasure.

Earth/Sabbath Assembly, Vienna Arena, 1 May 2011

Dusty guitar drones and low-end wallop from Dylan Carlson and group. On first acquaintance there’s something starkly beautiful about these dry, agonizingly slow instrumental pieces. But as the evening wore on I found myself wishing for more light and shade both in pace and in setting. The grinding repetition and lack of variation in the tunes gradually became very oppressive indeed.

Much more enjoyable were the support band Sabbath Assembly, a bizarre cultish collective (including the blond college-boy percussionist from No-Neck Blues Band, and I know what he’s up to) who have taken it upon themselves to sing “hymns” written by the Process Church of The Final Judgement, a 60s/70s religious group that worshipped both God and Satan. I remain unconvinced by the message but the songs themselves were highly entertaining, the psychedelic excesses of the vocals matched by the whirling, swirling demeanour of the group.

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.

Sunburned Hand of the Man, Vienna Fluc, 10 September 2006

Rolled along to the Fluc last night to see Sunburned Hand of the Man.

This was my first visit to the Fluc. It’s unusual in that gigs there are always free. It wasn’t a particularly conducive venue, if I’m being honest. The location, right next to Praterstern station, seemed to attract rather a lot of flotsam; I saw a guy pepper spraying two others with whom he was having an altercation. And the large window behind the stage made watching the band somewhat surreal. On the other hand, the place was full of beautiful people, so who am I to complain.

As for Sunburned, they were great, as expected. The last time I saw them was at the Cinematheque in Brighton, on (so their website tells me) 1 June 2004. That gig was fabulous – barely advertised in advance, it had the air of a private party, an impression not dispelled by the nine-strong band getting resolutely into the groove and steadfastly refusing to get out of it. The onstage wrestling and other antics were all part of the band’s determination to play as though their lives depended on it.

Last night’s show wasn’t quite as impressive, inevitably so given that there were only four of them onstage this time. But still, they made a huge impact with their writhing, tribal percussion, paint-stripping guitar and great blats of noise. I chatted briefly to John Moloney afterwards – one of the nicest, friendliest people you could wish to meet. And the onstage quip about tonight’s band being called “Sunburned Hand of the Third Man”, made with the Riesenrad in full view through the window, was priceless.

There’s something wholly refreshing about Sunburned. They are a band utterly without pretension and artifice. They take the time to talk and listen, and they produce and sell a series of limited, intensely desirable LPs, CDs and CD-Rs that encapsulate their desire to create a relationship with their audience that is tangible and precious. They seem to tour incessantly – their gig schedule is punishing. So I hope they return someday.