The Noise of Art


In 1983, the Art of Noise were an arch abstraction, the consummate studio project, the band without musicians: Their only photo showed a hand holding a wrench. The Art of Noise at Irving Plaza last Tuesday night included the Oscar-winning composer of The Full Monty‘s score (Anne Dudley), the codirector of the “Every Breath You Take” video (Lol Creme), the former lead singer of Yes (Trevor Horn), and a ponytailed aerobicizer named Amanda Boyd, who doubled as a quasi-operatic soprano for choruses swiped from Debussy. The hand (brandishing a sledgehammer this time) belonged to Paul Morley, the benign Malcolm McLaren figure who cofounded the group; he’s returned after 14 years to become the most hilarious frontman they’ve had since Max Headroom. They’re not anonymous any more. They’re just bizarre.

The image this Noise presented was of a conceptual-art project that had somehow stumbled over some dance hits while its nose was buried in a Barthes text. They dispensed with their early classics by crosscutting their own recordings for a minute or two; “Peter Gunn” (with Creme gamely impersonating Duane Eddy and Boyd keening the melody) was the sole holdover from the long-running incarnation that shared only keyboardist Dudley with this one. Mostly, their new album’s drum’n’bass lite riffs became the background for Morley to jest allusively about Baudelaire and Debussy, wave the hammer, and boogie with Boyd. (The bass came from Horn, who got loud cheers for showing up; the drums were controlled by two young knob-twisters.) Their deliriously inventive samples have given way to keyboard goo and too-normal rhythms, but they’ve figured out how to perform without reproducing their records. Which sometimes means doing just the opposite: “This is the way we used to play ‘Beat Box,’ ” Morley joked as the tape rolled. “No hands. Just machines.” —Douglas Wolk

The Sound of Silents

If the modest obligation of a silent-film accompanist is to serve the movie, Tom Verlaine succeeded admirably during his Arts at St. Ann’s appearance on Friday, where he performed music composed for seven great short films mainly from the 1920s. Indeed, anyone expecting to hear the scorched-earth Fender narratives Verlaine unleashed in Television, or even the abbreviated tone tales of his solo career, would have been disappointed by these low-key duets with longtime guitar pal Jimmy Ripp.

Which isn’t to say Verlaine can’t establish or reflect a mood. The two guitarists worked within a limited yet often elegant grammar of drones, loops, echoes, and delays. Their music for Man Ray’s Étoile de mer shimmered as Verlaine plucked isolated notes against Ripp’s rapidly brushed strings, then later grew menacing during the animated expressionism of Dr. James Sibley Watson and Melville Webber’s Fall of the House of Usher. All seven films (from the well-known Rohauer collection) suggested a dream cinema that Verlaine and Ripp complemented with undulating oneiric music.

The duo most closely approached guitar wank during Carl Theodore Dreyer’s They Caught the Ferry, a 1943 short produced by the Danish government to scare drivers straight. In Dreyer’s wickedly amusing allegory, a motorbiking couple drag-races Death down a bucolic country road. Verlaine changed pace with some Duane Eddy twang and tremolo surf guitar before returning to minimalist mode for Ballet mécanique. Fernand Léger’s film, a classic survey of mechanical and fleshy symbols set in repetitive motion, ends with a woman smelling flowers. As he played, you could
almost hear Verlaine’s hectically modern musical
career itself coming to rest. —Richard Gehr

Your Roots Are Showing

The sheer lack of excitement on the rock scene is dispiriting, akin to the era when Little Richard got religion, Presley joined the army, and Chuck Berry found himself behind bars. Last Tuesday night, former Led Zeppelin dark magus Jimmy Page and his near-mythic acolytes the Black Crowes launched their joint mini-tour at Roseland as a surreptitious attack on these doldrums. The Crowes inspired a Rabelaisian crowd, replete with swaying hips and flowing ale, by offering a program focusing on Zeppelin material and featuring the forceful, proto-metallic leads of their temporary lead guitarist Page, who came off as just another guy in the band. Crowes guitarist Rich Robinson’s uncharacteristically wide smile signaled the spectacle’s success. His onstage demeanor, as much as singer Chris Robinson’s ass, was the barometer of how well the band manifested their intent to have fun and play music for music’s sake. While initially Chris better animated his own compositions— the full-tilt boogie “No Speak No Slave,” the astral country epic “Wiser Time”— the specter of Robert Plant never refuted Robinson’s ecstatic blues wailing. Zeppelin standards like “Heartbreaker” surfaced, yet the interplay with Page flourished as well on “Ten Years Gone” and the Yardbirds’ “Shapes of Things,” which quoted the Jeff Beck Group version.

Fine playing wasn’t limited to this triumvirate: The rhythm section shored up Jimmie Rodgers’s “Sloppy Drunk” and Elmore James’s saucy “Shake Your Moneymaker” with torrents of beats and heavy fatback. Ed Harsch’s eerie organ intro on “Your Time Is Gonna Come” received an ovation from Page and nigh damn well stole the show.

Goin’ back to the roots here sounded like rebirth. —Kandia Crazy Horse

This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on October 19, 1999

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