Ken Vandermark & Paal Nilssen-Love, Vienna Blue Tomato, 8 March 2014; Chris Corsano & Mette Rasmussen, Vienna Mo.ë, 3 April 2014

Is there any more powerful sound in music than that of the sax/drums duo? Personally, I doubt it. The combination of the expressive blast of the horn and the undulant forms thrown by the drumkit seems to represent free music at its most elemental and dangerous. More than any other configuration, the sax and drums line-up also embodies the idea of improvisation as dialogue that, for me at least, has always been central to improvised music. It’s at times like this that I reach for the writings of the Russian literary theorist Mikhail Bakhtin (1895-1975):

The utterance is filled with dialogic overtones, and they must be taken into account in order to fully understand the style of the utterance. After all, our thought itself – philosophical, scientific, artistic – is born and shaped in the process of interaction and struggle with others’ thought, and this cannot but be reflected in the forms that verbally express our thought as well.1

Over the years I’ve seen a few sax players and drummers squaring up to each other, most often in permutations of Peter Brötzmann, Ken Vandermark or Mats Gustafsson on the one hand and Paal Nilssen-Love or Didi Kern on the other. Of course, I missed Brötzmann’s gig with the British percussionist Steve Noble at the Blue Tomato this week – his first appearance there for over two years, and I missed his last one as well. But I was able to catch two superlative examples of the genre recently in Vienna.

First up, the long-established Vandermark/Nilssen-Love duo, again at the Blue Tomato. Vandermark is another musician whose gigs I keep missing. Can it really have been two years since I last saw him play, with his Resonance Ensemble at Porgy & Bess? This blog would appear to suggest so, but then again there have been many gigs I never got around to reviewing, so who knows. Anyway, Ken and Paal were electrifying on this occasion. Kicking off on tenor, Vandermark alternated zinging melodies with blasts of pure noise while Nilssen-Love wove intricate threads of percussive texture. During the two 45-minute sets, the pair demonstrated the kind of empathy and mutual awareness that can only come from years of playing together, listening to one another and responding to the other’s statements with declarative positions of one’s own. At one point, as Nilssen-Love took a stark, brittle solo, the reedsman reached for his clarinet before seemingly changing his mind and turning instead to the hefty baritone sax. Using the considerable wallop of this instrument to draw the Norwegian into ever more frenzied bursts of activity, Vandermark traced wave after wave of hook-laden melodic invention. Turning to the clarinet for a long, bracing passage of circular breathing, the American showed that his ability to scramble the conscious mind remains as sure and true as ever.

A month or so later it was time to check out the first appearance in Vienna by the brilliant US free drummer Chris Corsano, here in the company of Danish saxophonist Mette Rasmussen. It was a pleasure to watch this new duo play in the unusual and intimate environs of Mo.ë, a room which doubles as concert venue and exhibition space and as a result has a uniquely informal vibe to it. With the musicians setting up in the centre of the room and the audience able to wander around at will, the gig had the air of a friendly, spontaneous happening.

Mette Rasmussen has a remarkably fluid and expressive tone on the alto saxophone. Her playing at times evokes the rich, heavenward clarity of Albert Ayler, at others the throaty roar of Mats Gustafsson. Equally, though, she’s able to sidestep these influences and assert her own individual sound in piercingly high tones and controlled outbursts of free playing. Corsano, meanwhile, keeps up his end of the conversation in gripping manner, utilizing a wide range of extended techniques (bowing the edge of the drum, microscopic percussive incidents, blowing on some kind of customized reed instrument) but always returning to that infinite melting pulse. It’s an engrossing encounter from a duo that seems destined for great things.

Note

1. I was introduced to Bakhtin by my English tutor at Sussex, the late Frank Gloversmith, to whom I owe an enormous personal debt.

Gary Numan, Vienna WUK, 22 February 2014

Gary Numan was the first pop star I ever loved. At the tender age of 11, I watched his début Top of the Pops performance in 1979 and was immediately catapulted into a new world of mystery and glamour, one which would remain with me throughout my formative teenage years. I was a fanatical Numan fan in those days. Between 1979 and 1986 I bought everything he released, played those records over and over again, memorized all the lyrics, learned his discography off by heart, was a loyal member of his fan club, read and re-read interviews with him, copied his logo on every available surface, stuck posters of him on my bedroom wall, wrote projects about him at school and saw him live three times. At a time when most of the boys in my year at school (those that were interested in music, anyway, which was by no means all of them) were in thral to the New Wave of British Heavy Metal, I was the only one who liked Gary Numan. I loved his music as much for the piercing clarity of its synthesized melodies as for the emotional lyrics that seemed to speak directly to me. It’s Gary Numan who I have to thank for bringing music to the forefront of my interests, where it has remained ever since.

Following that legendary Top of the Pops appearance in 1979, I went out and bought the single “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” This song, with its towering wall of electronic sound and its devastating vocal performance, was music I had waited all my life to hear, and if push came to shove would still be in the running for my favourite song of all time. My copy, purchased (like most of my music back then) from the record department of WH Smith in Salisbury, came in one of those simple plain white paper sleeves with a hole helpfully cut somewhere in the middle so that you could read the label. BEGGARS BANQUET, it went. TUBEWAY ARMY. ARE “FRIENDS” ELECTRIC? Turn it over and it went BEGGARS BANQUET. TUBEWAY ARMY. WE ARE SO FRAGILE. Sadly I missed out on the limited edition picture disc and even the picture sleeve of this single, although I picked both of them up later.

I didn’t go a bundle on the follow-up, “Cars”, which seemed a bit trite and repetitive at the time (and still does, actually). It was the third single, “Complex”, that really sealed the deal for me. From its lengthy, electronically treated violin intro to its final choking plea of “please keep them away, don’t let them touch me/Please don’t let them lie, don’t let them see me”, this was a song that reached new heights of emotional sensitivity. And the pieces finally fell into place when I acquired copies of the albums Replicas and The Pleasure Principle, both of which revealed the breadth of Numan’s conceptual visions even as they brimmed over with great tunes and memorable lyrics. One song in particular deserves special mention. A grim, filmic evocation of a future society on the verge of collapse, “Down in the Park” was and remains a chilling masterpiece.

The reissued début, Tubeway Army, by the way, wasn’t half bad either. Picked up in the old HMV Shop in Southampton on one of my occasional visits there, its shouty guitar-fuelled energy was a fascinating early step on Numan’s road to stardom. Plus, it contained the queasy and haunting “Jo the Waiter”, a rare acoustic outing and one of my favourite Numan songs to this day.

The emergence of Telekon and its associated singles in 1980 was an event weighted with expectations for me. “We Are Glass” and “I Die: You Die” were hugely powerful and anthemic songs, but there was an air of ponderousness about much of the album that bothered me slightly. Still, I desperately wanted to go to the Southampton Gaumont to see Numan live, but my pleas fell on deaf ears (I would have to wait three years to get my wish). At this point, still only 22 years old and immensely troubled by the pressures of fame, Numan temporarily retired from live performance. He did three inspirational “farewell” shows at Wembley Arena and then radically rethought his approach.

In retrospect, it was the release of “She’s Got Claws” in August 1981 that signalled the beginning of the end for Gary and me. From its ridiculous title and cover image onwards, the song was terrible, a turgid slice of anaemic electro-funk that had nothing at all to do with the infectious synth pop I loved so much. What was Numan doing? Why had he made such a catastrophic change of direction? I had no idea, but I was mightily confused, a feeling that was only partly alleviated by the Dance album a month or so later. It was a brave but entirely uncommercial piece of work, and if I lamented its relative lack of catchy melodies (“Stories” and “You Are, You Are” being the honourable exceptions), I was intrigued and finally affected by the long and complex architecture of “Slowcar to China” and “Cry, The Clock Said”.

Gary’s new, funk-based direction began to take hold with the following year’s I, Assassin. The album definitely had its moments (“Music for Chameleons” and “We Take Mystery” were particular highlights), alongside some fairly indifferent material. The rot really set in, however, with 1983’s Warriors. The change in sound since 1979-80 was drastic and seemingly irreversible. The songs were generally too long, they lacked memorable tunes, the lyrics were increasingly insipid and the bass, drums and female backing vocals drowned out my beloved synthesizers and the cold steel of Numan’s voice. This unwelcome trend continued on the subsequent and progressively uninspired Berserker, The Fury and Strange Charm, the latter being the last Gary Numan album I ever bought. It was an ignominious end to my years as a Numanoid; but it was Gary who had left me, not the other way around.

It was during this period of artistic decline that I did finally manage to see Gary Numan live on the 1983, 1984 and 1985 tours, each time at the Southampton Gaumont (now the Mayflower). It pains me now to think of my late, much missed and mourned mother, waiting uncomplainingly in her car outside the Gaumont to bring me home to Salisbury after the 1983 show, the first concert I ever attended. The shows themselves were very special events for me, and there were enough thrilling old songs to hide the inadequacies of the newer material. I could never quite get over the fact that Numan was right there in the room with me, and this, together with the light show, the wall of sound and the cheering of the audience all around me, combined to make these hugely exciting and memorable events.

Last month, then, I found myself at the WUK for my first Gary Numan concert in, oh, twenty-nine years. In the meantime, of course, Numan’s career has undergone a remarkable turnaround, with the hopeless white funk thrown out in favour of a harder industrial-edged sound. His critical reputation thereby restored, and with folk like Trent Reznor now acknowledging his influence, Gary’s stock is at its highest since 1980. I’ve not been following this reinvention myself, preferring to cherish my memories of those incredible early years and secure in the knowledge that, however many people now come out in favour of Gary Numan, I can say I was there first.

The concert was, of course, greatly enjoyable. Numan is now a massively impressive frontman, throwing all manner of rock star moves and singing with remarkable confidence as his superb band energize the music with crunchy guitar and fizzing synth tones. Inevitably, recent songs dominated the set, with only “Metal”, “Films”, “Down in the Park” (a spine-tingling moment for me), “Cars”, “I Die: You Die” and “Are ‘Friends’ Electric?” present from the early days. I remain unconvinced by the newer material, which is low on melodic inventiveness and seems to place excessive reliance on heavy drumbeats for effect. But those six songs were enough to plant the happiest of smiles on my face and transport me magically back to my distant boyhood, to a time when I needed a hero and found one in Gary Numan.

Ulver, Vienna Szene, 10 February 2014

The last time I saw Ulver, almost exactly four years ago, they had only recently begun to exist as a fully functioning live group. That concert at the Arena had something of a rarefied atmosphere, with flickering candles adding to the heavy air of expectation that attended the performance. Since then, though, Ulver have gone the way of seemingly every other once distant and mysterious studio-based outfit, and have begun touring on a regular basis. As a result that sense of occasion was largely missing from their recent show at the Szene, although there was certainly enough taking place onstage to mitigate that absence.

They’re a strange-looking bunch, that’s for sure. Two serious techno types at the front, focused on their various dials and buttons; a dapper Roy Harper lookalike at the keyboard; an energetic guitarist; and a couple of drummers at the back, whom I hardly caught a glimpse of all evening due to my front centre position. But the music they make together is a compelling blend of noise rock, dark isolationism and playful, infectious grooves.

Indeed, it was that grooviness that made the strongest impression on me. The 2010 concert was great, but it was also a touch doomy and portentous, qualities that Ulver seem to have largely shaken off in the meantime in favour of a looser, more improvisatory approach. On this occasion Kristoffer Rygg’s sombre vocals were set off perfectly by insistent percussion, churning ambient textures and Daniel O’Sullivan’s strikingly expressive guitar work. With a succession of sinister back-projected images adding to the overall sense of unease, the music of Ulver is deliciously spare and unsettling: the sound of an unwelcome presence, somewhere close at hand.

ulver

Hermann Nitsch, Vienna Jesuitenkirche, 20 November 2013

At the age of 75, Hermann Nitsch shows no signs of slowing down. Last year saw a slew of activity for the man from Prinzendorf, including a six-hour action in Leipzig, his longest action for some years, which of course I missed. And he rounded off his 75th year with a couple of events in Vienna – a short teaching action at the Nitsch Foundation, followed the next day by an organ concert in one of Vienna’s most magnificent Baroque churches, the Jesuitenkirche.

Last time Nitsch played the organ in Vienna, at the Donaucitykirche in 2012, it was a rather anticlimactic affair – only half-an-hour long, and played on a very modest instrument indeed. This occasion was everything that one wasn’t – long, involving and massively impressive. With Nitsch himself out of sight at the organ, the evening seemed less like a recital and more like a live sound environment. Having nothing to look at but the splendour of their surroundings, audience members would have been hard pushed not to sense the religious intensity that underpins all of Nitsch’s work.

Over the course of two movements, the organist created a constantly shifting soundworld of deep, spectral rumbles and radiant, overlapping harmonies. More than once I was struck by the parallels with Nitsch’s live actions, emphasizing how his art is a Gesamtkunstwerk in which music, painting and performance all complement and reinforce each other. Like the actions, this music is entirely wordless and proceeds with a kind of monumental inevitability; it reaches for notions of aesthetic purity and totality; and it inspires, in this viewer/listener at least, something approaching awe and wonderment. As such it amply fulfils Nitsch’s belief, quoted before in these pages, that “art needs to have a sense of sacred solemnity”, a worthy criterion if ever there was one.

Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, Vienna Gasometer, 24 November 2013

Nick Cave is one of those artists I’ve always found it easier to admire than to love. He’s a gifted songwriter, a phenomenal lyricist and a mesmerizing live performer, but despite all these things I’ve never counted myself as a great fan. I think my reservations have something to do with the swampy, bluesy nature of much of his music, a style I’ve never really got along with, as well as the general air of louche ribaldry about the man. Having been a great admirer of Cave’s first novel, And the Ass Saw the Angel, I was hugely disappointed by the 2009 follow-up, The Death of Bunny Munro, which struck me as an infantile piece of work; and I felt the same about the Grinderman project which has occupied much of Cave’s time in the past few years.

Although I can certainly appreciate the unhinged power of Cave in full-on sulphurous preacher mode, I like him most when he’s being a Mature Artist, sitting at the piano and delivering a carefully considered and beautifully constructed ballad. There were plenty of those on The Good Son, the first Cave album I ever heard and one that remains a favourite; and even more of them on the pitch-perfect The Boatman’s Call, to this day Cave’s crowning achievement. Later records such as Nocturama and Dig, Lazarus, Dig, however, contained their fair share of clunkers alongside a few undoubted classics.

However uneven Cave’s recorded legacy might be, he can always be relied upon to put on an excellent live show, and I’ve usually made the effort to catch him when he’s played near me. I remember a fine concert at Tate Britain in London, billed as a solo show but actually featuring one or two of the Bad Seeds as well. I may also have seen a full Bad Seeds show or two in London, my memory fails me. (Like many residents of Brighton, I used to see him around town as well; once on the train up to London with his son, once – unsurprisingly – at a Dirty Three show.) Following my move to Vienna, there was another quasi-solo show in the magnificent setting of the Konzerthaus in 2006.

2006, you say? Gosh. Seven full years after I’d last seen Cave, he showed up in a sold-out Gasometer, this time bringing the Bad Seeds with him. And what a formidable group they are, giving flesh, bone and blood to the raging drama of Cave’s songs. Inevitably it’s the early material that takes the breath away, songs like “Tupelo”, “Red Right Hand” and “The Mercy Seat”: blistering, hellish psychodramas that bring Cave to places no other performer has ever visited, stalking the wide stage like a feral beast and declaiming his texts with savage fury. I was transfixed too by the piano section, with “Sad Waters” and “Into My Arms” demonstrating Cave’s unerring ability to articulate vast universes of longing and resignation in song.

In comparison the Push The Sky Away stuff sounded mannered and inert to me, although it’s an invidious comparison to make when this later material still stands head and shoulders above pretty much everything else being done in the name of rock music in 2013. But that’s the curse and the burden of an artist like Nick Cave, forever fated to have his present ventures judged alongside the legendary triumphs of his past.

Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats, Vienna Arena, 6 December 2013

Much to my surprise, these anonymous stoner/doom/hard rock merchants from Cambridge crept up behind me just as 2013 was drawing to a close. I didn’t really know what to expect, having heard little of their music in advance. But the aura of mystery surrounding them, not to mention their image, steeped as it is in Altamont, the Manson murders and late ’60s acid comedown, compelled me to attend. And I’m very glad I did, since Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats slapped me round the back of the head that night with one of the very best gigs of the year.

However contrived that image might be, there’s no denying that Uncle Acid evoke a primal and nightmarish atmosphere with their music. This comes in no small part from the monstrously heavy riffs that power their songs, with the lead and rhythm guitars intertwined like writhing snakes. The sludgey dominance of those riffs extends most of the songs to an ideal 5-10 minute length, where they make a formidable impression without grinding on so long as to outstay their welcome. But there’s a good deal of melodic inventiveness there too, steering the group well clear of the dire abyss that is heavy metal. Lyrically, pain, torture, blood and death are recurrent themes – excellent topics, all of them, sung in a distinctive Lennonesque tone that brings light and shade to the group’s grim obsessions.

There’s an unsettling exhilaration about Uncle Acid, a feeling that the negation they remorselessly conjure is something to be savoured, even celebrated. Compounding the sense of dread and unease, the back-projected videos playing out behind the group make frequent reference to that moment in time when the ’60s hippie dream was turning into a blood-drenched nightmare. I was disconcerted, to say the least, when I looked back at the one photo I took during the concert and saw that the slide being displayed at the time was the famous Life magazine cover of Charles Manson, a man who more than anyone else embodies that disintegration. But I probably shouldn’t have been too surprised, given the way Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats bring the sound of past horrors remorselessly into the present.

Uncle Acid & The Deadbeats live in Vienna

The Thing, Vienna Blue Tomato, 22 November 2013

As I wrote in my round-up of 2013, these pages are seriously backed up for one reason or another. So over the next few weeks I’m going to try and fill in some of the gaps in what was a very full and exciting conclusion to my year of concert-going, while at the same time documenting what is shaping up to be just as busy a kick-off to 2014.

And where better to start than with another storming performance by The Thing, cementing their unassailable position as the most powerful and creative force in free jazz. With Mats Gustafsson on searing form on saxes, Paal Nilssen-Love the sweeping master of his drumkit and Ingebrigt Håker Flaten laying down run after volatile run on electric bass (no double bass tonight!), the impact was as stunning as the band were loud. Kicking off on baritone before switching to tenor, Gustafsson led the trio through a long, searching improv that gradually resolved itself into the old Don Cherry tune “Golden Heart” (recorded by the band on The Cherry Thing). The song’s smoky abstraction spoke eloquently of The Thing’s position as admirers rather than iconoclasts, working in a tradition they both understand and respect. When the Swede finally turned to the mighty bass sax, his physical connection to the instrument was miraculous. A slow and mournful solo evolved into an electrifying “Call The Police”, a staple at Thing gigs these days but no less welcome for all that, its steamroller riff leading the trio into delirious zones of rhythmic ecstasy.

The set-up of this concert, though, left plenty to be desired. At the insistence of the promoters, Trost Records, the Blue Tomato was transformed into a standing venue. Since The Thing play jazz, the Tomato is a jazz club and jazz clubs have seats, this was a perverse decision, presumably borne of some hipster desire to take The Thing out of a ghetto (jazz) that they don’t actually need to be taken out of. It also had the effect of alienating the Tomato’s core audience of regulars, many of whom were conspicuous by their absence. At some point during the evening, the doors were flung open and no further admission fees were charged. The resulting influx of hipsters rarely (if ever) seen before or since at the Tomato, combined with the low height of the stage, meant that anyone further back than the first few rows could see nothing at all. The sound wasn’t a problem – The Thing have never had any difficulty making themselves heard, to put it mildly – but since a large part of The Thing’s appeal rests on the trio’s immense physical engagement, their impish onstage togetherness and even their matching Ruby’s BBQ T-shirts, it was unfortunate that, for many of the audience, that visual impact was largely lost. Still, this was a massively enjoyable concert by a group at the very height of its powers.

Steven Wilson, Vienna Gasometer, 2 November 2013

I’d been waiting a long time for this concert, and it really didn’t disappoint at all. I’d been aware of Steven Wilson’s project Porcupine Tree for some time, and attended their concert at the Arena in 2007, but I was never entirely convinced by their particular brand of progressive metal. The progressive part was fine, it was the metal part I had problems with. I’ve never been much of a headbanger, put it that way.

So when Wilson put Porcupine Tree on ice and struck out on his own with the Insurgentes LP in 2008, I quickly sat up and took notice. It was a superb album, ranging effortlessly in tone and atmosphere between neo-prog and avant rock and thereby fulfilling pretty much all of the criteria for what I want from rock music at the moment. More importantly, Wilson was finally shedding the vestiges of metal that had taken Porcupine Tree down some stylistic dead ends. 2011’s Grace for Drowning was a worthy follow-up, but it was this year’s magnificent The Raven that Refused to Sing (and Other Stories) that really sealed the deal for me. A collection of long songs with supernatural themes, the record immediately catapulted Wilson into the forefront of my musical consciousness, where he’s remained ever since.

When Wilson played at Gasometer last week, therefore, I wasted no time in getting there early and grabbing a front centre spot. I don’t normally put photos on this blog, but I quite like the one I took at this gig, so here it is:

Steven Wilson live in Vienna

The evening started, somewhat unnecessarily I thought, with a film of a busker slowly going about setting up his pitch. The film can’t have lasted more than 15 minutes, but it seemed a lot longer. When the busker finally got going, he was replaced by Wilson himself, kicking off the evening in fine style with a solo acoustic version of the Porcupine Tree song “Trains”.

If that was his way of signalling that Wilson in solo mode is not just Porcupine Tree with a different line-up, it was a point that was amply reinforced throughout this gripping concert. Leading his hugely talented band through the demanding territory of his solo music, Wilson proved himself to be a supremely skilled and engaging frontman. Although lead guitar duties were ceded to the unnecessarily hairy Guthrie Govan, Wilson made telling contributions himself on both acoustic and electric. His voice, meanwhile, is a beautifully versatile instrument, utterly lacking in histronics and equally at home with tender ballads and driving rock anthems. Tracing worlds of lost love, false hope and shattered dreams, Wilson’s songs take flight in a thrilling and unique blend of ghostly prog, out-there jazz and angular, discordant rock.

Shampoo Boy, Vienna Rhiz, 13 October 2013

A couple of years ago Peterlicker, an Austrian noise rock band with a silly name who were originally and briefly active in the late 1980s, reformed to make an album and play a few gigs. Peterlicker were notable, among other things, for having Peter Rehberg in their line-up. Reviewing their gig at the 2011 Waves Festival, I urged the group to “please try to stick around this time”, a forlorn hope as they split up again soon after. But fear not, as Rehberg and guitarist Christian Schachinger have regrouped to form another band, the equally daftly named Shampoo Boy, which also features Christina Nemec on bass. Having signed to Blackest Ever Black Records, the group played their début Vienna gig last weekend at the Rhiz.

Shampoo Boy may lack the tormented vocals that Franz Hergovich brought to Peterlicker, but Schachinger and Rehberg made up for his absence with a set heavy on explosive guitar and harsh analogue drones. It was a pleasure, indeed, to see Pita using an analogue synth, although it was of course hooked up to a laptop rather than anything so retrograde as a keyboard. His head bowed as he focused on his various dials, never once looking up at the audience, Rehberg issued a constant stream of uneasy atmospherics which lent some needed structure to Schachinger’s psychotic soloing. The guitarist hacked frenziedly away at his instrument, making extensive use of effects pedals to render his playing ever more venomous and thrilling. At one point he ill advisedly took a violin bow to his strings, which didn’t last long before it got wrecked. Standing coolly and unflappably between the other two, Nemec was an unassuming presence on bass, her contributions tentative and frequently inaudible.

All too soon it was over, the group having played for no more than 35 minutes. Coming in the wake of No Home’s gig the other week, which also clocked in at well under an hour, I’m beginning to wonder if playing abbreviated sets is some kind of avant thing these days. Compared to the world of free jazz, where two 45-minute sets are standard, or even that of rock, where gigs also normally go on for at least 90 minutes and often more, audiences at these events are entitled to feel short-changed. I hesitate to make this observation, for fear of sounding like some blimpish value-for-money merchant. But it wouldn’t hurt these avant types to stretch out their live repertoire somewhat, lest people start to think that playing short sets isn’t so much about being extreme as it is about running out of ideas.

Peter Brötzmann/Full Blast, Vienna Chelsea, 5 October 2012; Caspar Brötzmann/No Home & Primordial Undermind, Vienna Chelsea, 29 September 2013

I never got around to reviewing Peter Brötzmann‘s concert at the Chelsea last year, but now I have a good excuse to rectify the omission. In what was a rather nice alignment, the saxophonist played there last October with his longstanding Full Blast group of Marino Pliakas on electric bass and Michael Wertmüller on drums; and then, almost exactly a year later, Pliakas and Wertmüller showed up at the same venue with Brötzmann’s guitarist son Caspar as No Home. It’s a measure of the Swiss rhythm section’s skill and versatility that they sounded just as right for Caspar as they always have for Peter. Trading squally sax for sheets of guitar noise as their front end, the bassist and drummer provided a dense underpinning for the lead instruments’ wild and disorderly conduct.

Peter Brötzmann seems to have rather fallen off my radar of late. Once a regular visitor to Vienna, he’s only played here once this year, at Porgy & Bess in February, which of course I missed. Full Blast’s gig at the Chelsea was one of only two occasions on which I saw the man play in 2012, the other being a magnificent two-night stint with the now defunct Chicago Tentet at Martinschlössl, which I never got round to reviewing either. Props to the Trost label for putting on the gig, although I must admit to being not the world’s biggest fan of this label or of its sudden interest in Brötzmann, The Thing and free jazz. Trost have been going since 1992, but they only started releasing Brötzmann product in 2011 and Thing product this year, prompting the obvious question, why now? What’s more, they seem to have a strange aversion to jazz gigs. By situating Brötzmann in a grungey rock club rather than a jazz club, they seemed to be trying to take him out of a ghetto (jazz) that he doesn’t actually need to be taken out of. In doing so, they felt the need to appease Brötzmann’s core audience, who wouldn’t normally be seen dead at the Chelsea, by including the reassuring words “seated area available” on posters for the gig. And talking of seating, Trost are insisting that next month’s gig by The Thing at the Blue Tomato is a standing-only affair, another piece of iconoclasm that I personally could do without.

Anyway, Full Blast played that night with their customary gusto, the limitless throb of Pliakas’ bass and the vast tectonic rumble of Wertmüller’s drums successfully navigating the treacherous currents of Brötzmann’s overdriven blowing. Peter’s cry sounds increasingly like a call to arms, the urge to raise consciousness in the listener more pressing and desperate than ever, the revolutionary fervour that gripped Machine Gun undimmed by the passing of the years.

If No Home’s gig never quite reached the ecstatic heights that Full Blast’s had done, that was more down to differences in approach than to any lack of energy and commitment. Unlike his father, Caspar Brötzmann is no improvisor – every note and riff feels carefully considered and worked upon. What Caspar’s playing lacked in spontaneity, however, it made up for in doom-laden heaviness, as these labyrinthine constructions in sound swamped the room with bludgeoning force. Stalking the guitarist’s every move, Pliakas and Wertmüller anchored the set with brazen, attack-dog ferocity.

Having paid the price of early arrival by being made to endure several hopeless support bands in recent months, it was a total pleasure to see Primordial Undermind opening for No Home at the Chelsea on the final date of a Europe-wide jaunt. Forever operating in a state of creative flux, the Undermind have undergone a line-up change or two since I last saw them, and now feature Christoph Weikinger on guitar and Michael Prehofer on drums alongside core members Eric and Vanessa Arn on vox/guitar and devices respectively. On this particular evening the move to a twin-guitar attack paid repeated dividends, since this PU is appreciably heavier than previous incarnations of the group. Weikinger’s mighty riffs splintered mile-wide holes in sonic space, into which Eric Arn soared with repeated mantric soloing. On an unshakeable quest to burst the listener’s head open from the inside, Primordial Undermind’s all-out psych rock remains as forceful and compelling as ever.