fred frith plays NYC


nice, informed review of several performances in the area recently, by film reviewer glenn kenny, whom I share more opinions with on music than movies

The final set I heard was last night’s 10 p.m., for which Frith indeed broke out the handmades. He constructed them, Bruce told me, because he didn’t want to ruin his own guitars; he wanted instruments he could hit hard without worry. The handmades aren’t pretty, but they’re not caveman-crude either. They are notable for their limitations. By radically restricting the player’s options, they force him or her to resort to desperate measures. Like hitting.

Of course, as with his more sophisticated instruments, the effects play a crucial role. There has not been an enormous paradigm shift in Frith’s electric playing since Guitar Solos; it really is as much about the instrument’s interplay with electronics as it is with the player’s interplay with the instruments. And here too there’s a certain humility, but also confidence, at work. Frith doesn’t have all of his effects yoked together in a special box he can plug into an electrical outlet, nor does he have a sprawling all-in-one digital box specially designed for him or anything like that. His effects are, in a manner of speaking, a la carte; small boxes, powered by batteries, chained together via patchchords. And not all that many of them, either. For the homemades set, he performed in duo format, under the name Normal, with Sudhu Tewari, an electro-acoustic musician who also studied at Mills College. Tewari played what was termed”heavily assisted readymades.” The the naked eye, these consisted of what looked like a solid-state amplifier/receiver with the faceplate removed, and dozens of screws and metal clips inserted into the top grate. I understand how this might sound intimidating, but the set was in fact rollicking. The first thing the audience heard was a spoken word sample of an aperçu about “control” and much of the dynamic of the subsequent fifty minutes of improvisation saw Frith simulating an effort to set a sonic agenda and Tewari exuberantly sawing through it.

I had the distinct pleasure of seeing mr frith perform on two homemade guitars in philadelphia, back in ’79 or ’80, at a room in a church. he pulled yarn and whatnot that had been wound through the devices, and hypnotized the small audience of 30 or so for around 40 minutes.

one of my favorite concert memories ever.

i know of no musician who challenges himself so relentlessly, for over forty years.

you can get an idea of his character and er style from the review above.

a must-see, if you can — he teaches at Mills College in cali now, and doesn’t do this much anymore.

thanks for sharing, glenn.


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August 2013
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