Thursday’s presentation of Arto Lindsay with Beauty Pill was, among other things, a monument to the marriage of experimentation and conventionality. Both acts combined the strange with the familiar, the uncomfortable with the expected, to great effect. It was a night of wonderful juxtaposition.
Beauty Pill started off the show with a bang. The Washington D. C. quartet have been active since 2001, though their discography is sadly limited to two EPs and two full lengths. 2015’s *Describes Things As They Are* provided the bulk of the songs played, its more sample-heavy and adventurous style dictating the performance. Vocalist Jean Cook and guitarist Drew Doucette both added electronic flavors to the band’s standard palette, using MIDI controlled samples and pedal effects to create surprisingly dense sound collages. As I said to Cook after the set, the effective inclusion of this sort of technology in a live performance is very difficult; the occasional recorded snippet or odd feedback manipulation for novelty’s sake is relatively simple, but actually integrating and conversing with these elements musically is much less so. But there’s no doubt that Beauty Pill did this incredibly well; it never seemed like the effects weren’t important parts of the songs. With the thudding, rhythmic grooves of bassist Basla Andolsun and drummer Chad Molter, everything seemed to be in its place.
While Beauty Pill was one of the best opening acts I’ve seen in recent memory, my excitement for what was coming next was only heightened. Full disclosure: I am a massive fan of Arto Lindsay, and I hold the staunch belief that pretty much all of his work, from DNA to Ambitious Lovers to his eponymously released records, is nothing short of amazing.
It seems that any time an article is written about Lindsay these days, DNA, the influential no wave band formed by Lindsay and Ikue Mori in 1977, is brought up at one point or another. Any information about his more recent work is often prefaced by a brief overview of his work with the band, or even an introduction based on his membership. This seems odd, as DNA’s activity only spans five years, a mere blip amidst Lindsay’s lengthy career. And though the importance of their work to the experimental music climate can’t be overstated, Lindsay’s solo material is just as adventurous, arguably even more so. Having never aligned himself or DNA with the angrily nihilistic mentality often associated with the no wave movement, it seems that Lindsay is simply continuing what he started all those years ago.
But all those pseudo-academic musings leave my mind completely as Lindsay (after cheerfully complimenting my DNA sweatshirt) and his band – bassist Melvin Gibbs, keyboardist Paul Wilson, drummer Mike King, and a percussionist whose name I didn’t catch – take the stage. The unique amalgam of Brazilian samba, tropicalia, art pop, and funk soon fills the room, punctuated by Lindsay’s absolutely vicious guitar work. For those who have never seen him play, it is simultaneously breathtaking and horrifying to behold. “Play” doesn’t even seem like the right word; it’s more like he’s attacking the instrument, beating out an incredibly wide range of frequencies and harsh skronking that surprisingly complement the lush instrumentals of his band very well. My jaw just about hit the floor when Lindsay’s band members departed the stage, leaving him to perform a brief song by himself. There are really no words to describe it; the textures he created with only his guitar were simply otherworldly, layering angular loops and distorted noise blasts to back his soulful vocals. As Lindsay himself puts it, “scary Arto” and “sexy Arto” were both in full display. It was the crown jewel of an amazing night. Thanks Arto.