Helen Rush/Samara Lubelski and Marcia Bassett
Sunday, April 17
Better than: Obsessing over the Sunday knot in your belly.
The Stone, if you’ve never been, is John Zorn’s ascetic performance space on Avenue C: no bar, no guest lists, just a narrow room with plastic seats. Come in, sit down, shut up when the music starts shut up, leave when it’s done. I can’t go there without thinking of the late lamented LES club Tonic, which had similarly wide-ranging and avant-garde bookings but added booze and social interaction (significant pluses to be sure).
Tonic also had particular Sunday-night bookings, regularly serving up low-key transcendence from the crossroads of mellow and far-out. It was a good place from which to ramp out of a weekend while distracting your mind from the coming workweek, and the shows felt relaxed and special because they were often sparsely attended. In the same way, this Sunday night at the Stone felt both private and as open as walking through a doorway. The 8 and 10 p.m. sets (part of two weeks curated by Thurston Moore–not in attendance), technically separate shows, were of a piece: Helen Rush, Samara Lubelski and Marcia Bassett are longtime fellow travelers in NYC’s psychedelic underground; Rush and Lubelski played in the formative ’90s outfit the Tower Recordings, who presaged a whole lot of the non-careerist psychedelic-folk music in the last decade-plus, while Bassett’s group Double Leopards, also born in the ’90s, ruled over the drone and noise quadrants of the out-rock cosmos.
Rush, a native of England, took the early slot. A shy and humble performer, she had been rarely heard for years until the recent formation (with Lubelski and another Tower alum, Pat “P.G. Six” Gubler) of Metal Mountains, which centers on her songs and inimitable voice. She hid inside a dark cocoon of tinsel hung from the ceiling; she sipped tea that she’d brought in a Thermos; she apologized repeatedly to the small crowd for reasons hard to discern. Then she began, loosing single-strand loops from a small keyboard; at moments they threatened to get away from her, and it seemed like she was trying to corral a roomful of cats. From within the loops and tinsel and shadows she sang two new songs, picking warm tones from an electric guitar. It’s hard to exaggerate the softness of her approach; there are no edges to it, only contours and gentle slopes. It is a dreamy and placid sound. She turned off the electronics. This was what I had wanted to hear for a long time: her voice, alone with an acoustic guitar. She sang a pair from Metal Mountains’ recent album, Golden Trees, then announced, “This is the first time I’ve ever played alone,” adding flippantly, “You’ll never see this again!” As if to prove it, she had Gubler join her on harp for two more Mountains songs, the picked strings dancing together and separately.
The late set found Lubelski, who has several spectral folk-pop albums of her own, carving ribbons of noise on her violin, with Bassett issuing drones and squalls from her guitar (and two E-bows). For about ten minutes they spun a coarse drone, nicking at nerves and serrating on ear bones, before letting the sound drop away. Then they embroidered the silence: Bassett laid a tiny cymbal on the frets and tapped out a precise but alien Morse code, tickling strings near the bridge with her right hand; Lubelski bowed a solitary thread of quiet noise and thickened it, then brought it back down. Improv between two people who know each other well can be a great and affecting thing, and tonight it banished pre-workweek anxiety for a small lot of us.
Critical Bias: The majority of the people in the room, myself included, were on a first-name basis with each other.
Overheard: Nothing–it’s the Stone! Shhh…
Random notebook dump: Damn but this city needs another club like Tonic.
Helen Rush set list:
Quiet in the Noise
The Golden Trees That Shade Us
Structures in the Sun