Friday, November 14, 2008

Drifting and Tilting - The Songs of Scott Walker at the Barbican

The Barbican Centre, surrounded by towering office blocks and sprawling 60s concrete residential blocks, endless confusing walkways, says "Do Something Different". It's their current motto, and it certainly was...

Scott Walker's last two albums "Tilt" and "The Drift" are not what you'd call an easy listen, his distinctive voice reciting fairly creepy and enigmatic lyrics to a backdrop of fractured, almost industrial sounding, occasionally very harsh and insistent soundscapes. We've got both albums but we don't play them too often, but as the old cliche goes, sometimes you need to experience it live for it to really get to you. For this new production he collaborated with a theatre director and presented a programme of songs from these albums only, using storylines and full choreography for each track, presenting the story and inspiration for each track, visualizing it. He didn't sing or appear but had a cast of great guest singers, his band and an orchestra. So the songs came to life and it was very powerful to hear it all live like this. Even on my seat in the top balcony with a weird partly restricted view high above the stage it looked and sounded amazing, very dark and trippy, like one of those weird dream scenes in Lynch movies.

This is a video and audio of "Jesse". The song was performed by one of my all time favourites, Gavin Friday (of the Virgin Prunes). I think he was meant to be Elvis speaking in his head to his stillborn twin brother Jesse, there was a figure sitting behind him at the start of the song who later disappeared behind a backdrop with his shadow projected big onto the backdrop... later on he kept wailing one line, "I am the only one left alive" over and over again, separated from his dead twin brother by the screen... Gavin's performance reminded me a bit of the more far out/avantgarde Virgin Prunes material, stuff like New Kind of Beauty or Heresy... very eerie, and a great performance! He's been cast in a number of similar shows in London recently, he always seems to fit in well with the spirit of those shows (The Hal Willner curated Disney Songbook show, and the "Rogue Gallery" pirate songs...)

The rest of the show, well, Jarvis Cocker and Damon Albarn, the biggest names on the bill, while decent, easily gave the least interesting performances... there were some opera singers who really got into the spirit of Walker's songs though, one track particularly stood out and was incredibly powerful, with an opera singer lying on the floor (I think with his feet bound) with another one hovering over him with a camera projecting what was filmed onto a screen behind, a pig's carcass dangled from the ceiling and someone was punching it, every time creating a rhythm, while a hangwire dangled over the scene...

Very trippy and powerful, and probably not for everyone, but I thought the show was extraordinary, gave me a deeper understanding of these far out, enigmatic albums... Hope it gets filmed or recorded, or maybe tours a bit, more people should have a chance to see it!

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