Tom Carter Benefit: Chelsea Light Moving, Steve Gunn, White Out
Wednesday, September 12
Better than: Wishing this week’s Sonic Youth communiqué was a tour announcement.
It’s been almost a year since Kim Gordon and Thurston Moore called it quits. The split, of course, has stalled Sonic Youth—the band hasn’t played since November of last year and, despite the impending release of an archival live album, has no plans to tour—but it’s also freed up the individual members to hit harder with their own projects, which is exciting. Moore’s latest band, Chelsea Light Moving, rolled into Brooklyn on Wednesday to play a benefit for Charalambides guitarist Tom Carter, a show that doubled as its New York debut. Like Sonic Youth, the group is dark and loud and noisy and blunt. Unlike that dormant rock juggernaut, Chelsea Light Moving is here and now, hungry and alive.
Opening with the ominous “Groovy and Linda,” one of a handful of tracks that surfaced over the summer, the quartet—Samara Lubelski on bass and violin, Hush Arbors guitarist Keith Wood, Sunburned Hand of the Man drummer John Moloney, and Moore on guitar and vocals—barreled through a fifty-minute set of grunge, punk, and gloom, splitting the ears and minds of a packed-but-it-could’ve-been-worse 285 Kent. The aforementioned tune concluded with pummeling blast beats from the absolutely monstrous Moloney; the sharp, throbbing “Burroughs,” which at moments brought to mind the thick sludge of Black Sabbath, elicited a deafening, appealingly reckless solo from Moore, fingers flying and whammy bar whamming; a tribute to the month of July, “Frank O’Hara Hit” was all dissonant guitar harmonies and threatening riffs, albeit in a mellower vein than some of the other Chelsea Light Moving pieces; and “Empires of Time” pinballed between tempos and sections, Moloney driving the foursome to the brink of abandon but never allowing the train to derail. Chelsea Light Moving can be subtle, but it derives its power from force and transparency. Its aim is to bulldoze its listeners, but it never tries to hide that fact.
Kicking off the night was White Out, the duo of drummer Tom Surgal and multi-instrumentalist Lin Culbertson. Augmented on this night by No-Neck Blues Band guitarist Dave Shuford, White Out threw up walls of noise, Culbertson’s not-of-this-earth synth lines dancing and meshing with strange, affected eight-string stabs and Surgal’s comparatively earthy free-time beats. At first, little was recognizable; it was hard to tell which washes of sound were coming from Shuford’s axe and which were coming from Culbertson’s Korg. Then came a moment of clarity: Culbertson trades her keys for a flute, Shuford riffs understatedly, and Surgal rolls around his kit with mallets. The primal, shapeless music had taken the form of something quiet and beautiful. The set up to that point had been as squiggly and abstract as the graffiti on the walls, but this was different. This was simple.
Singer-guitarist Steve Gunn, who was joined by a bassist and drummer, played in between White Out and Chelsea Light Moving. Gunn’s music was mellow and folky, often evoking a hippie-blues feel or a Led Zeppelin III vibe, but his vocals were either buried in the mix or drowned out by talkative revelers, and his message wasn’t heard. Chelsea Light Moving had no problem getting across to the Wednesday night crowd; they had found their voice, and so had we.
Critical bias: Moore has one of the most gloriously garbage-y guitar sounds around.
Overheard: “White Out!,” yelled Surgal at Culbertson immediately after their set, reminding her to announce the band name.
Random notebook dump: The soundman played Bell Biv DeVoe’s “Poison” while Chelsea Light Moving was setting up, but quickly turned it off, clearly regretting the decision.