Spirit Counsel In Salford

I spent Sunday evening at The White Hotel in Salford. First things first, the venue is not and never has been a hotel. It is down a side street surrounded by derelict buildings, some empty lots, a few down at heel shops and takeaways and Strangeways Prison just across the road. If the building looks like a 1970s brick and corrugated iron converted garage, that’s because it is. The steel shuttered doors are still in place and at one point Thurston uses one to play his guitar. Beer is served from the pit that once would have been used to work on the underside of cars. It is not salubrious. It is dingy and smells of oil. It is, therefore, the perfect place for some noise. Thurston Moore has always tried to keep one foot in punk rock and rock ‘n’ roll with the other in the avant garde and free jazz and this show does both but with the foot in the avant garde more firmly planted. No vocals, no singing, just three guitars and drums, the final night of a European tour with his band including Debbie Goodge, ex- My Bloody Valentine, on bass. The gig consists of one song, played for an hour, a version of the first disc of last year’s three disc Spirit Counsel album. You might think finding spirit counsel in a converted garage in Lower Broughton could be tricky but Thurston and band do their best to lead us towards something transcendent.

Opening with a long ambient section, drummer Jem Doulton splashing the cymbals with beaters as the guitarists tune up (or detune up). Eventually the guitars start to hum and feedback gently and Thurston stands, head back and eyes closed. As the noise builds they wait, coming in together on Thurston’s nod of the head, then stick in that groove waiting for him to nod his head again, tension and release. Later on as the noise builds he shouts the changes over the music ‘1- 2- 3- 4’, the group piling in or dropping out bang on the 4. The hour long piece, Alice, Moki And Jayne, keeps circling back to a four note guitar part and although it looks improvisational it’s clearly all very well rehearsed. When the four note refrain has reached the end of its part the band crash into some heavy riff rock or growly three guitar rhythms. At one point a beautiful chorus like melody takes over, the group locked in and hypnotised. There are freeform parts and drumless parts- in one section Jem pummels the cymbals over wailing feedback, shards of cymbal noise ricocheting around. There’s a long feedback section, Thurston pushing his guitar against the steel shutter, over his head and then throwing his arms around the guitar. Freakout and meltdown. Repetition and flow. There are echoes of Sonic Youth, some of the chords and the playing the guitar with screwdrivers or pens on the neck of the guitar but it’s also absolutely not Sonic Youth.You could watch it and think that it takes itself a little too seriously, that this is the practice room stuff of much younger men and women, jamming for hours without ever really getting anywhere, rock musicians playing at being avant jazz. But it’s real and coherent, physical and powerful and as good a way to spend an hour in a garage on a Sunday night near Strangeways as you’re going to find at this stage in proceedings.