The Well, Leeds 14/12/10
When one enters the room at a show featuring Neurosis man-mountain Scott Kelly, one tends not to expect to encounter a heavily-bearded and bespectacled gentleman knocking seven bells out of a light-up electronic Santa Claus over an accompaniment of his own looped singing, yet that is exactly what met my eyes and ears as I entered the sparsely-populated The Well for this intimate show on a dreary Tuesday night.
I was somewhat taken aback, yet soon found myself enthralled by the inventive sound and flailing stage-presence of this hirsute Chicago, Illinois native transplanted to Leeds and known as ‘Juffage’. Stumbling around onstage like a slurring, drunken gospel singer, for the early part of the set Jeff, to use his given name, was backed by nothing more than a series of vocal loops. After hurling a pint glass in the general direction of our own Shaman Lee, he soon settled down, physically at least.
Peeling off a series of staccato notes from a guitar, Juffage then picked up a bass and began to play it with one hand, whilst simultaneously playing a minimalist rhythm on a small drumkit situated next to him with the other hand. Oh, and also singing. After blowing my mind by doing this for a few minutes, the bass was swapped for the guitar again, and the bass and drum lines began to spill out of a looping pedal as guitar and vocals were added in real-time, before leaping back onto the drums to give us a brisk drum solo…also whilst singing. It was quite a spectacle, I can tell ya.
The rest of Juffage’s all-too-brief set ran along similar lines – instruments played, fed into looper and then messed around with – until he finally wandered offstage in his stripe-socked feet, carrying a boom-box playing modulated white noise and singing acapella, deposited the boom-box in the middle of the hall and just walked on outta there.
Imagine a one-man indie version of Battles, or an ADHD-afflicted, more organic Thrones and you’d still be pretty wide-off the mark, but near as dammit to the weird, compelling and thrilling world of Juffage. Fans of the afore-mentioned artistes and one-man mavericks such as Mugison should pay attention and check out Juffage, like, PRONTO.
Next up, and having the unenviable task of following….THAT…was purveyor of dark outlaw country, Bob Wayne. Looking like an escaped member of Buzzov-en or Antiseen, Bob had an easy-going good ol’ boy charm that belied his bearded, tattooed shit-kicker image. Seated on a chair onstage, and accompanied by his own guitar-playing, he regaled us with songs about being a drug-runner, the devil’s son, truck-drivers and being saved from a North Dakota ghost-town by the ghost of Johnny Cash.
Ironically, the ghost of Johnny Cash was exactly what Bob Wayne brought to mind, possessing a fine baritone croon and a way of sing-talking just like the man in black himself….although I’m not entirely sure that Johnny would have sung a song about aliens coming back to claim what’s rightfully theirs, having been inspired by a visit to Stonehenge. Nuthin’ fancy or ground-breaking here, just good dark country with a rockabilly vibe that seemed to go over well with a slightly fuller-than-earlier room and didn’t outstay it’s welcome.
Stephen Brodsky, erstwhile frontman of Cave-In and troubadour extraordinaire, took the stage after Bob Wayne. Clearly at ease without the backing of a band, Brodsky regaled us with his exquisitely wrought and ever-so-slightly off-kilter songs, played upon an acoustic guitar but with an odd swelling synth/choral effect ghosting the notes, just on the edge of hearing, adding an ethereal shimmer. His fine songwriting sensibilities and distinctive mellifluous voice, so familiar to me as a long-term fan of his Cave-In material, mean that he is perfectly suited to this kind of endeavour.
Following his gentle, lilting opening number Brodsky played an excellent rendition of Willie Nelson’s shortest song, ‘The Ghost’ and a beautiful new song, inspired by his reading of Kerouac’s ‘Wake Up’, entitled ‘Muddy Jar’. Brodsky thanked the audience for being so attentive, explaining that crowds so often begin to chatter over ‘quiet’ music, in his unfortunate experience. Much as I’d like to believe the quietness was down to the rapt attention of the audience, I fear that the sparsity of the crowd was to blame for the lack of chatting, shuffling and bleeping and glaring mobile phones. Not that I’M complaining, mind.
Brodsky pulled out a real blast from the past with his next number, a cover of ‘Sometimes’ by Emo-core band Still Life, from their 1994 debut single – back when ‘Emo’ meant something a million miles away from the tepid fashionable bullshit that parades under that umbrella these days – a song which I haven’t heard in quite some time. Brodsky’s version still retained the urgency of early Emo and allowed him to use his loop effect to play over himself at one point.
Following this we were treated to a relatively straightforward version of Cave-In’s ‘Come Into Your Own’, from the ‘Tides Of Tomorrow’ EP, and a simply sublime cover of ‘Your Sweet Love’ by the immortal Lee Hazlewood that was as beautifully doleful as anything by Michael Gira. The final two numbers of Brodsky’s set were a cover of one of Scott Kelly’s own songs, which Stephen had taken upon himself to learn as he had grown so fond of it over the course of their touring together, and a version of one of my favourite Cave-In tracks, ‘New Moon’, the final track of the ‘Jupiter’ album. Unfortunately, I was unfamiliar with the Scott Kelly song, so cannot name it. I can say, however, based on Scott’s own performance of the song in his own set, that Brodsky more than did it justice, and ending on ‘New Moon’ was an inspired choice.
Finally came Scott Kelly, seated on stage, his bearish form grasping an acoustic guitar and still as imposing a figure as he is with a Les Paul in his hand, howling into a microphone with Neurosis or, more recently, with Shrinebuilder. His spare, stark songs carry a sense of intimate brooding melancholy, a soul-weary tiredness borne out by his rough, rasping voice.
Among the songs that Kelly played tonight were a brace of songs from his most recent solo record ‘The Wake’, an as-yet unrecorded Shrinebuilder song and a brand-new work-in-progress with a long gestation period.
All of Kelly’s songs are cut from a similar cloth, but still manage to enthral by their sheer intensity and purity of form. Sparing chords and notes are carved apart by the lingering spaces in-between them, often left to teeter on the very brink of nothingness, only held together by the focus of that weary voice and the strength of Kelly’s iron will.
His own version of the song covered earlier by Stephen Brodsky differed only in its intense delivery, and another new song getting a preview tonight showed a similar intensity despite Kelly enlightening us by telling us that it was a song for ‘caregivers, parents and family’….but then, of course, he IS a family man, and one would expect his intensity to spill over into ALL areas of his life. The one chink in Kelly’s armour occurred when he decided to play a song that he had not played live before, egged on by Bob Wayne, claiming that he was worried he was going to ‘fuck it up’. He needn’t have worried, he didn’t. We never thought he would, even for a second.
Kelly’s final two songs were both covers of songs by artists that mean a lot to him on a personal level, ‘Tecumseh Valley’ by Townes Van Zandt and ‘Lord Of Light’ by Hawkwind. Kelly described his stumbling over the work of Van Zandt in revelatory terms, and one can certainly hear his influence upon Kelly’s solo material. His version of ‘Tecumseh Valley’ was full of heartbreak and had a ‘dustbowl’ Americana feel to it that really succeeded in evoking the area and period in which the song is set. As for ‘Lord of Light’, it was strange to hear a Hawkwind song rendered on a acoustic guitar, but Kelly’s evident love of and enthusiasm for the band really shone through and made it a triumph.
As a bill, the four artists were different enough to keep the entire evening entertaining, but not so different as to alienate sections of the audience. Aside from Juffage, who may well be from Mars.
Scribed by: Paul Robertson
Photos by: Lee Edwards