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.

On A Thousand Islands In The Sea

Thurston Moore is going to release three 7″ singles in November and each one will have the same B-side, a cover of New Order’s Leave Me Alone. I’ve said before that I’m not a massive fan of covers of New Order songs. Lonelady’s recent cover of Cries And Whispers and Galaxie 500’s slow burning take on Ceremony are two of the few exceptions. Thurston’s cover will join those ranks, a rather lovely and chilled out take on the song, starting out quite Byrsdy and ending with a restrained squall of acoustic guitars and feedback. Thurston recorded in his version in Salford, Sumner and Hook’s hometown, dipping his scuffed Converse into the River Irwell and coming up trumps.

New Order recorded the original at Britannia Row in Islington in 1983 and it closed their Power, Corruption And Lies album, a quantum leap forward from 1981’s Movement. Hooky’s divine bassline and Bernard’s acidic guitar spiralling around each other for ages before Bernard starts singing his plea for solitude. People often cite Age Of Consent and Your Silent Face as the singles that Factory should have released from Power, Corruption And Lies if Factory and New Order had been in the business of something as mundane as releasing songs as singles that had already appeared on albums. Leave Me Alone is right up there with those two songs, a gem surrounded by jewels.

Leave Me Alone