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$™ Live Review N°2: Friendly Rich w/ Nihilist Spasm Band + Retired w/ {An} Eel @ Rivoli - °7/°4/19

Updated: Aug 22


As someone who's read about and listened to the Nihilist Spasm Band for a very long time, it is something truly special to finally witness them in their element. The only thing that could possibly make this more exciting is if Friendly Rich himself were to join them on stage... Well, we're in luck because this was a night of collaborative performance @ Rivoli featuring not only the aforementioned coupling, but the combo of punkjazz quartet Retired and vocal expressionist {AN} Eel as well! So, looks like we're in for something unique and weird...and noisy, to say the least.


The night opens with Retired feat. {AN} Eel. Now, I've been wanting to see the band since being introduced to their music by a friend and inviting them to join The Peanut Gallery in 2018. When I first heard their album Crimes Against Jazz (2016) I was instantly impacted by the group's deconstruction of jazz tradition. Straight away, from the genius caricatured cover art, to the sometimes seamy song titles ("3 Day Jazz Bender" earns a special place in my heart), the intent is clear and delivered with meandering precision. Heading onward the path tamped down by Ornette Coleman, all the way to the audio production, this thing sounds aged and feels like some lost gem from another era. Realized perfection!



Now, as much as I looove this album, jazz is meant to be appreciated in-person, and free jazz in particular is always best in a live context. Joined by experimental performer {AN} Eel whose interpretive vox and movements ebb and flow, his presence lends an element of further uncertainty to an inherently unpredictable ordeal. With sweeping hand motions to begin the set, I got the sense of a kind of personal ritual, putting himself in a loose state of being, channeling inner self, entering a sort of trance state. As the music propels the expression forward, the vocalizations become more intense and deranged. The man seems mad, at times, which is exactly the kind of accompaniment fitting for such intense and irregular music.



Alongside these thought provoking extraterrestrial jazz-scat-rantings, we are subjected to the delightful feeling of alienation brought on by barbed, swirling textures building and breaking down in real time. Of note, wiry guitar serves as punctuation to broken sentence fragments. During the mid-point of the set the group "pass the baton" as each member takes turns leading the improv. This creates some interesting results and dynamic interplay between the musicians. Culminating with {AN} Eel's frenzied jabbering as the group sputters in conjunction. For the last piece we are treated to a long-form drone putting the audience into a state of suspended animation. A lovely way to close the set and prepare the room for our feature act of the evening.



Friendly Rich (who also happens to be the PG's newest recruit!) in cooperation with the one and only Nihilist Spasm Band provide us with something very few would have the courage (or gall) to present to an audience, even within the world of avant garde. With their eclectic collection of strange DIY instruments, and everyday items like cooking pots and balloons, the band make noise like they were the ones who invented it. In fact, you might say they actually did invent noise; being the pioneers of "non-music", NSB has been driving audiences out venues and into the street since they began performing together 54 years ago!



The Nihilist Spasm Band is absolutely legendary and was a prime source of inspiration for the now well established Japanese noise scene, among others. Having contributed in so many ways to the pantheon of avant garde "music" over the last half-century, the fact that they are still broadening minds and deafening ears stands as testament to the still cutting-edge pursuits of the group. On the rhythmic end, sounding like a dysfunctional jugband, the stage is set for a series of audio assaults coming from a variety of sources, both acoustic and electronic.


Leading the proceedings, the seemingly stern, authoritative presence of Bill Exley immediately informs as to the levels of irony from which their concept has been derived. The group commands a reverence from an audience who, aware or not, are about to be inevitably offended no matter their level of avant-endurance. This is in large part due to the completely overwhelming and irrepressible guitar work of Murray Favro: With a tone that will splinter the wood beneath the paint it has previously peeled, it may be reasonably assumed as the purpose for which earplugs were developed (...and probably worth mentioning, I didn't bring any). A more abrasive sound I cannot imagine.


In between the shrieking guitar, occasional squeals of purposeful feedback, and a backdrop of erratic electro-acoustic clutter, one is also subject to various spoken word sections by both NSB and Friendly Rich delivering an often deadpan recital of absurd and poignant lyrics. And it seems only fitting that, on American Independence Day, we are treated to the classic Spasm Band anthem of "No Canada".


Friendly Rich also contributes sonically throughout with his manipulation of an assortment of unusual items and handcrafted instruments such as balloons (RIP), a styrofoam cooler (RIP), stuffed "oinking" pigs (RIP), and about eight recorders (wind instruments) attached via hoses through a series of PVC pipes connected to a bellows (fireplace air-blower thing) and played by foot. (Now, during the set, Rich stated that this last invention produces the ugliest sound ever heard...and I might agree were it not for the patented Murray Favro guitar tone still penetrating my skull cavity in retrospect.)


As much performance art as anything else, Friendly Rich and the Nihilist Spasm Band produce something like nothing you've ever encountered. I say so only because I feel entitled by my persevering attendance -- The Nihilist Spasm Band is the most awful thing I've heard in all my life, a claim I make with the utmost respect and a supreme admiration for these forebears to an extreme "genre" of which they are still on the vanguard. On behalf of horrible noise creators everywhere, I thank you!