Philip Glass: Akhnaten, London English National Opera, 18 March 2016

My long, slow initiation into the world of opera continues, all of it so far through the music of Philip Glass. Following the overwhelming experience of Einstein on the Beach in London in 2012, and the intermittently fascinating but relatively minor The Lost in Linz a year later, last month I made a return trip to London for my first ever visit to the English National Opera. The occasion, of course, was the last night of the ENO’s new production of Akhnaten, the third part of Glass’s major trilogy of operas about historical figures. (At this rate I should be able to tick off the second part of the trilogy, Satyagraha, somewhere around 2020.)

Although the interior of the Coliseum was every bit as lavish as I had expected, it proved to be no match for the visually sumptuous staging of this opera. Phelim McDermott’s production swirled with inventive beauty, from the singers’ resplendent costumes to the rich set designs (which may have owed something to Robert Wilson’s groundbreaking Einstein staging), while the hypnotic work of the jugglers provided a stunning visual counterpoint to the rippling tides of Glass’s music. The chorus, meanwhile, presented a vaguely steampunk image that contrasted vividly with the Egyptian splendour elsewhere onstage. Having received with glum resignation the news that the chorus were planning to go on strike for the first act on the very night I had booked to see this thing, it was a huge relief to learn that the action was later suspended. Without them, the impact of the piece would have been greatly reduced.

The part of Akhnaten was sung with great expressiveness by Anthony Roth Costanzo. In keeping with the historical tendency to depict the ruler as androgynous, the character’s sexuality was indeterminate: his full (male) nudity during the coronation scene was undermined by later scenes in which, diaphonously clad, he appeared to be exhibiting female sexual characteristics. Adding to the indeterminacy was Costanzo’s countertenor voice, actually lower in pitch than that of his female co-leads playing the roles of Akhnaten’s wife and mother. The countertenor appears to be something of a rarity in the operatic repertoire, but Costanzo’s reedy yet powerful voice was greatly impressive to this neophyte.

Equally impressive was Glass’s score, as blissful and romantic as any Glass I’ve heard. With no violins in the orchestra, but plenty of woodwind and brass, the soundworld steered clear of stridency and found deep lyrical softness in Glass’s ravishing melodies. The funeral scene in Act I, meanwhile, was powered by a tumultuous percussive throb that pitched the opera into moments of high, stirring drama.

Whereas Einstein on the Beach seemed to stretch out time itself, leading to an epic five-hour sweep that drew the viewer/listener ever closer towards the infinite, Akhnaten seemed to pack an extraordinary amount of incident and detail into its three acts. As a result the three-hour running time flew by; indeed, I frequently wished it had been longer. Sung mostly in Egyptian, the opera tells the tragic story of the pharaoh who abolishes the old polytheistic religion, introduces a new monotheistic one and is finally overthrown and killed by his own people. Thanks to the useful programme notes, the language barrier did not pose any particular problems. In any event, the narrative thread of the opera was never less than gripping, thanks to the otherworldly dream logic with which it proceeded towards its inevitable conclusion. And it was thrilling to see Glass himself join the cast onstage for a hugely deserved standing ovation at the end of this magnificent production.

Tindersticks, Vienna Konzerthaus, 9 March 2016

My first Tindersticks concert in four years, and it was a delight to spend another evening in the presence of a group who have meant so much to me over the years. I must have seen them dozens of times by now, in both their pre- and post-split incarnations, and their concerts have always been emotionally draining affairs laced with romance, heartbreak and regret. This was certainly the case tonight, as the group responded beautifully to the splendour of the Konzerthaus with a set drawn heavily from their new album The Waiting Room.

Like its three post-split predecessors, The Waiting Room is no match for the six exquisite records the group made when Dickon Hinchcliffe’s haunting string arrangements loomed large over everything they did (for some more thoughts on the split, see my review of the 2012 Radiokulturhaus concert). But the record has more than enough heart-stoppingly tender moments to make it a worthy addition to the Tindersticks canon. And “Hey Lucinda”, an old song recorded before the tragic death of its co-vocalist Lhasa de Sela, immediately takes its rightful place alongside “Travelling Light”, “Buried Bones” and “Sometimes It Hurts” as one of the classic Tindersticks duets.

Like that of his spiritual forebear Leonard Cohen, Stuart Staples’ voice seems to be getting deeper and richer with age. (He no longer lights up a cigarette onstage, although I’m unclear if that’s due to health and safety regulations or simply because he’s given up.) When he sings it holds you rapt, his eyes flickering as his gorgeous velvety croon threads its way through his broken, sorrowful words. There are few words spoken between songs, but the occasional smile breaks across his face as he takes in the audience’s fervent response or shares a warm moment with the rest of the group.

With Terry Edwards’ brass arrangements absent this time round, the instrumentation for the concert was more stripped-down than usual – a reflection of the mostly subdued nature of the new album. Neil Fraser’s guitar assumed greater prominence as a result, his clever and restrained use of effects adding rich colour to songs like “Medicine” and “A Night So Still”. David Boulter’s radiant keyboard and organ parts further fleshed out the chamber music sound, while drummer Earl Harvin was a revelation. His stickwork effortlessly fluent and vigorous, Harvin added a note of real menace and foreboding to the shadowy momentum of “We Are Dreamers”.

It’s very tempting, for a long-time fan like me, to grouch about the near-total absence of older songs from the setlist, with only “She’s Gone” and “Sleepy Song” from the epochal second album showing up, nothing from the first, nothing from Curtains or Simple Pleasure, and so on. But one can hardly blame Staples for focusing on songs recorded by the current incarnation of the group. Besides, I was ready to forgive him anything from the moment the band launched into “Sometimes It Hurts” as the first encore. In its recorded version with Lhasa de Sela, this has gradually become not only my favourite Tindersticks song, but also probably my favourite song of all time, so to hear it tonight was an intensely moving moment for me – one of many precious gifts from this most remarkable, most passionate of bands.

Lubomyr Melnyk & Fennesz, Vienna Radiokulturhaus, 31 January 2016

Another of my sadly rare visits to one of my favourite venues in Vienna, the Radiokulturhaus. The comfort, intimate size and excellent acoustics of this space all combine to make attending concerts there a pleasure, while the programming is also adventurous enough to make it a fairly safe bet that you’re going to see someone interesting. Such was certainly the case here, as guitar and laptop wizard Fennesz trod the boards ahead of Ukrainian pianist and composer Lubomyr Melnyk. The concert was sold out, no doubt mostly on the basis of Melnyk’s burgeoning reputation as the fastest pianist in the world (19½ notes per second, fact fans), but also in part because it was part of a festival promoted by a sugary soft drinks manufacturer whose logo was displayed prominently on the stage.

The majority of the capacity audience were certainly there to see Melnyk play what I believe was only his second concert in Vienna, but as far as I was concerned Fennesz was the principal draw. The last time I tried to catch him was on my birthday last July at Karlskirche; I was touched that he’d arranged such a generous present for me, but when I went to get tickets the length of the queue, snaking right the way around Karlsplatz, made me abandon the idea fairly quickly. No such disappointment this time, as Fennesz played a riveting, albeit much too short (only 30 minutes) set that was rich in dynamic shifts and quicksilver atmospheres. Those who contend that Fennesz’s concerts all sound the same probably aren’t paying close enough attention, since on this occasion the maestro’s silvery guitar riffs assumed a stature far mightier than I had heard before, while the beats or traces of beats that hovered with gossamer elegance around the stage were an intriguing move away from art-house formalism and towards a more bass-driven environment.

All too soon Fennesz was gone, giving way to an unannounced performance by Latvian singer Mionia. I took this unwelcome intervention as an opportunity to get some fresh air outside, and retook my seat in time for Melnyk’s recital. But there was to be no getting away from Mionia, who joined the pianist later on as vocalist for the sentimental song “I Love You”.

As for Melnyk himself, I was pretty underwhelmed for the most part. His heavily touted language of “continuous music” never transcends the remarkable virtuosity with which it is delivered, and remains fatally unemotive and uninvolving. Consisting largely of note clusters played with mind-numbing repetition that coalesce into clouds of treacly harmony, it lacks both the emotional heft and the conceptual rigour of Philip Glass or Michael Nyman, both of whom it occasionally brings to mind.

Melnyk is an engaging, yet somewhat rambling speaker. His lengthy introductions to each piece bring valuable context and insight to his work, but unfortunately tend to outstay their welcome. Much the same could be said for the work itself, whose durational quality has the potential to make considerable psychological impact on the listener, but which ends up dissipating into what sounds very much like New Age mysticism. There was nothing particularly mystical, though, about the way Melnyk hastened to the foyer after the concert to flog his extensive catalogue of self-produced CDs.

Concerts of the year

As usual, I find myself way behind with writing for this blog at the end of the year. I hope I’ll be able to go back and fill in some of the gaps in the list below, but who knows. Anyway, here is a list of the best concerts I attended in 2015:

  1. King Crimson, Paris L’Olympia
  2. Glen Hansard, Vienna Konzerthaus
  3. Sun Kil Moon, Vienna Arena
  4. Mono, Sarajevo Kaktus
  5. Al Stewart, London Royal Albert Hall
  6. Neil Cowley Trio, Vienna Porgy & Bess
  7. Einstürzende Neubauten, Munich Haus der Kunst
  8. Jaga Jazzist, Vienna Porgy & Bess
  9. Peter Brötzmann & Steve Noble, Vienna Blue Tomato
  10. Schlippenbach Trio, Vienna Martinschlössl

Bill Orcutt & Eric Arn, Vienna Fluc, 24 October 2015

You’re never quite sure with the Fluc whether the gig you want is upstairs in the Fluc proper or downstairs in the Wanne. Going through the correct set of doors assumed particular importance on this occasion, since while one venue was showcasing an evening of avant guitar tunesmithery, the other was set to host a men-only strict leather fetish night. I wouldn’t have much fancied wandering into the wrong room by mistake, but fortunately the queue of fearsome-looking black-clad moustachioed types snaking halfway back to Praterstern tipped the wink that it was up the stairs for me.

In a way, this evening could be seen as an appendix to the Editions Mego 20th anniversary celebrations that took place in Vienna and several other cities earlier this year. Not only was headliner and Mego signing Bill Orcutt, now on his third release for the label, making his Vienna début, but label boss Peter Rehberg could also be seen spinning the discs up at the back. Completing the line-up was local hero and psych overlord Eric Arn, on a busman’s holiday from his day job fronting Primordial Undermind. In keeping with the theme of the evening, Arn left his electric axe at home and treated us instead to a short but compelling set of acoustic guitar inventions. Their ghostly traces and spiralling repetitions evoked pure and ineffable sadness, while for an unexpected cover of Rain Tree Crow’s “Every Colour You Are” Arn added cool, affectless vocals that effectively offset the trancelike quality of his playing.

Having sat and listened appreciatively to Arn’s set, Bill Orcutt cut a deceptively nonchalant figure as he shambled onto the Fluc’s low stage. It’s worth mentioning, for those who may be new to him, that Orcutt plays a standard acoustic guitar from which the A and D strings have been removed. The results are mesmerising, as the guitarist savagely deconstructs traditional approaches to the guitar with his fierce, livid playing. What emerges is some kind of eerie, shattered take on the blues, with Orcutt making occasional wordless vocal utterances while shooting angry sparks from his devastated guitar.

Orcutt had lost his capo at some point along the road, so he was forced to improvise with a small piece of card which he was able to jam between the strings and the fretboard. Such a minor distraction was no problem for the guitarist, who continued to play with a staggering level of intensity. I was very much hoping that he would play his version of “The Star-Spangled Banner”, which has captivated me since I first heard it (there’s a wonderful film of it on YouTube, in which the camera never leaves the body of the instrument). And indeed he did play it in a medley with “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”, the two songs together describing a fractured and perilous vision of modern America. It’s a vision, moreover, that bleeds through all of Orcutt’s music, steeped as it is in turbulence and rage.

Jaga Jazzist, Vienna Porgy & Bess, 10 November 2015

Fabulous evening of out-there prog/jazz/electronica action from this phenomenally talented Norwegian octet. It’s been ten long years since I last saw Jaga Jazzist at the Pavilion Theatre in Brighton, an intimate upstairs venue that will forever hold a special place in my heart by dint of the fact that I saw my first Swans concert there (the Children of God tour in 1987). Back in 2005, though, I knew precious little about jazz of any stripe, and it was only thanks to my friend J. coming down to Brighton to see this group that I ended up at the Pavilion at all. Come to think of it, it must also have been around that time that I saw the late, much missed Esbjorn Svensson and his trio at the Dome next door, another important step in my discovery of jazz. But I digress.

I’ve long been a sucker for large ensembles, from that other Nordic big band Fire! Orchestra (whom I’ve sadly yet to catch live) to Peter Brötzmann’s epic, and now retired, Chicago Tentet. The physical presence of a large number of people on stage inspires awe and wonderment, underlines the significance of collective activity, and not least produces a massive wall of sound that has the power to flatten anything in its way. In the case of Jaga Jazzist, the vivid tones of the guitars, keyboards, vibraphone, brass and reeds combine to form a dreamlike soundworld that cascades around the infectious grooves proposed by the bass and drums.

Speaking of drums, it’s drummer Martin Horntveth who readily assumes the role of face and voice of Jaga Jazzist. Sitting off to the side of the stage, his impressive beard lending him the air of a friendly backwoodsman, Horntveth introduces the songs and acts as the convivial cheerleader of the evening. His multi-instrumentalist brother Lars, the group’s main composer, occupies centre stage but stays out of the limelight. Switching between guitar, reeds and goodness knows what else, Lars is the architect of the pulsing melodies that define the immensely persuasive Jaga sound. Meanwhile, the tuba and trombone form an exultant partnership up at the back, their jazzy tone perfectly complementing the burbling tide of the synths.

The stage itself is beautifully lit, with rows of multi-coloured upright poles evoking some kind of playful, welcoming forest. It’s an impression amply reinforced by the spirited manner in which the group goes about its business. Lively and vivacious to the end, Jaga Jazzist warm the feet while appealing directly to the head and heart.

20151110_214106

Peter Brötzmann/Jason Adasiewicz/Steve Noble, Warsaw Pardon To Tu, 19-20 November 2014; Peter Brötzmann/Steve Noble, Vienna Blue Tomato, 1 October 2015

I never got around to reviewing Peter Brötzmann’s two-night residency with vibraphonist Jason Adasiewicz and drummer Steve Noble at the Pardon To Tu club in Warsaw last November, an event that happily for me coincided with a work visit to the Polish capital. Now is as good a time as any to revisit that occasion, since the saxophonist also turned up the other week at the Blue Tomato in Vienna, with Noble this time but without Adasiewicz.

Pardon To Tu was an excellent venue, staffed by friendly people and with a relaxed yet enthusiastic audience. The club was crammed to capacity on both nights, while the walls were decorated floor to ceiling with strikingly effective black, white and red posters giving the history of previous events at the venue. Moving along the corridor that adjoined the main room, I was able to take in those posters and marvel at all the wonderful artists that the club has hosted in its illustrious past. The backdrop of the stage, meanwhile, was covered with the names of hundreds of luminaries from the worlds of creative and experimental music (Peter Hammill being the only notable omission I could spot). The only downside to the place was the unwelcome presence of a dog, which the owners allowed to run uncontrolled around the place.

Ever since Brötzmann put the Chicago Tentet on ice, he’s been trying out new configurations and collaborators as a way of preventing the music from lapsing into predictability and routine, and this new trio is certainly an example of that. The Warsaw residency was the first time I had seen either Noble or Adasiewicz play, and both of them proved to be more than worthy foils for the sax legend. With Brötzmann kicking off strongly on alto, Adasiewicz was a gleeful presence on the vibraphone, the unusual timbre of the instrument forming warm clouds of invention that contrasted vividly with the saxophonist’s razor-sharp improvised lines. As for Noble, he was a formidably focused and inventive drummer, as was demonstrated in a thunderous duo passage with Brötzmann.

Both nights of the residency consisted of one long, 90-minute set, with pauses between the songs but no intermissions. This approach paid repeated dividends in terms of the trio’s intense and concentrated approach to free improvisation. Switching to clarinet, Brötzmann played a long jazzy solo that was as tender and beautiful as anything I’ve heard him play and cast the room into utter silence. Heading for the home stretch, Adasiewicz’s harsh metallic interventions prompted Noble into ever more pulsating activity while the saxophonist ripped the insides of his tenor to shreds.

Back at the Blue Tomato earlier this month, Brötzmann squared up to Noble for a truly engrossing evening of reeds and drums dialogue. I remain of the opinion, expressed last year in this review, that this duo form represents improvised music at its most elemental and dangerous. And anyone who heard the German rent the air of the Tomato’s hallowed back room that night with the warlike cry of his tenor and tarogato would surely think twice before disagreeing. Noble, meanwhile, picked up some irresistible rhythmic grooves in among the wow and clatter, the unerring dream logic of his percussion work harking back to his early days with Rip Rig & Panic.

It occurred to me while listening to this concert that, whereas the other four great reedsmen of our time (Braxton, Gustafsson, Parker and Vandermark) are all apt to launch into sections of circular breathing at one time or another, Brötzmann has always steered clear of the technique. Listening to the colossal intakes of breath that punctuate his playing, it’s not hard to understand why. Eschewing the heady spin and swirl that comes with the territory of extended soloing, Brötzmann’s playing remains firmly grounded in the earth, hewn from rock, soil and blood.

King Crimson, Paris L’Olympia, 21 September 2015

The last time King Crimson played in Paris was in July 2003, as part of their last European tour before reconvening this year with a new line-up. Since Robert Fripp at the time had an inexplicable aversion to playing in his home country (one which he has now happily overcome), I decided to travel to Paris for the concert. (I’ve always enjoyed going to Paris for shows, having gone there to see Swans in both 1992 and 1995.) Sadly, however, my mother died the week before the show, so I was unable to make it in the end, although I went to Paris anyway a few weeks later.

Twelve years later, and with my father now on his deathbed, it was finally time to make the journey to Paris to see King Crimson, although this time coming from the east rather than the west. Having been a fan for many years of the 1969-71 and 1973-74 incarnations of the group, but having little or no time for the various line-ups featuring Adrian Belew, it’s an unalloyed pleasure for me that the Belew period has effectively been written out of Crimson history with this tour. I still smile at Belew’s answer to the question of how he felt about not being invited to join the new Crimson: “Well, you know, I feel great about it.” Yeah, right Ade.

On the other hand, the return of Mel Collins to the fold is a welcome return to the earlier, classic Crimson sound and repertoire. In general I take with a grain of salt Fripp’s contention that “the music is new, whenever it was written.” The guitarist would no doubt disagree vehemently, but from where I was sitting in the twelfth row of L’Olympia, King Crimson sounded very much like a group keen to revisit past glories, the throwing in of a few half-baked new songs notwithstanding. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that, indeed it’s what made this concert so spectacular. After many years of legal and financial hassle, personality clashes and whatnot, it was pure joy to see Fripp step out of the shadows and play the music that made Crimson great in the first place.

There’s a lot of talk about Crimson being so complex, so forbidding, but I can’t see it when the music hits you as directly and viscerally as this stuff does. The massive impact is largely down to the presence of a fearsome three-drummer front line that extends right across the front of the stage. Pat Mastelotto, Bill Rieflin and Gavin Harrison together form a vicious Cerberean beast, their densely interlocking vortices of sound leading the music into many unexpected and fruitful directions. Bringing sunlit warmth and beauty to these sacred texts of progressive rock, Collins is a darting and forceful presence on reeds, while Jakko Jakszyk is a fine singer and second guitarist.

As for Fripp himself, it’s his astonishing guitar work that propels Crimson into the realms of the stratospheric. His expressive, radiant melodies, and his richly emotive use of delay and sustain, surge and retreat around the vast sonic powerhouse cast by the front line. The crushing riff that drives “Red” threatens to stave your skull in, while the flickering, lambent motif that threads its way through “Starless” is, for my money, one of the most exquisite creations in all of popular music.

It was a shame, though, that Fripp didn’t speak once to the audience during the concert. As is well known from his (now sadly dormant) online diary, the man has a waspish sense of humour which, as numerous 70s live recordings attest, he would at one time use to good effect in sardonic comments to the audience between songs. The humorous side of Crimson is often overlooked in critical writing on the group, and it’s something that was largely absent from this concert (apart from a brief recorded announcement at the beginning).

The only other complaint I have about the show relates to one or two unforgivable omissions from the setlist. At 17 songs long, Monday’s concert was two shorter than Sunday night’s Paris début, and a whopping three shy of Tuesday night’s conclusion to the Paris residency. I wouldn’t have minded if it had been the iffy new material which was dropped, but I actually missed out on two certified Crimson classics, “Sailor’s Tale” and “In the Court of the Crimson King”. Of course, both songs could easily have been slotted into the evening if the frankly tedious “Soundscapes” curtain-raiser had been curtailed. “In the Court” at least I had assumed would be a non-negotiable element of the setlist, but apparently not. Indeed, it seems to have been played at every 2015 show except the one I attended, which blows. The omission of “Sailor’s Tale”, another song played at almost every other concert on this tour, was equally annoying, its pivotal position within the Crimson repertoire having been well described by Sid Smith as follows:

The guitar sounded like a steroid-enhanced banjo and utterly unlike anything else which Fripp had done before in Crimson. It’s the sound of the rock guitar solo rulebook being torn up… the leap from the symphonic and jazz stylings of the earlier albums into a spikier, metallic world.

Sources close to the group tell me that another Crimson European tour is planned for 2016, which will presumably venture a little further eastwards than did this jaunt (which only visited the UK, France and the Netherlands). On the strength of tonight’s performance, I would strongly advise interested parties to make strenuous efforts to catch this next tour, since the chance may not come again. This incarnation of King Crimson is savage, unrelenting, miraculous.

Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, Vienna Arena, 25 July 2015

The last time Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy played in Vienna was back in 2008, on a blazing hot summer’s evening at the WUK. The heat inside the Arena for Will Oldham’s return visit in July was equally oppressive, but on this occasion Oldham and his immaculate band seemed more interested in keeping a lid on the atmosphere than in raising the onstage temperature by more than a degree or two. This was a jaunty, amiable canter through the Oldham back catalogue (with a sprinkling of cover versions) that did a great job of showcasing his immense talents as a songwriter, but did so at the expense of the disquiet that lurks at the heart of Oldham’s best work.

I freely admit to being no great authority on Oldham’s work, having only climbed on board with 1999’s breakthrough I See A Darkness LP and been a follower up to and including 2006’s troubling The Letting Go. Having doubled back and devoured the earlier, devastating Palace Brothers/Music records, I pretty much jumped off the bus with 2008’s Lie Down in the Light, a perky set that left me bemused rather than (as I probably should have been) cheered by Oldham’s apparent eagerness to move from darkness into light. A run of inconsequential later releases (2011’s sombre Wolfroy Goes to Town excepted) merely reinforced the impression that here was an artist who had fatally lost his way.

This impression was not in any way dispelled by July’s concert, in which a large and appreciative Arena audience saw Oldham deliver a set that drew heavily on those recent records and was, as a result, distinctly underwhelming. With the rickety Appalachian sound pushed to the forefront, Oldham’s blend of country and folk was relaxed to the point of nonchalance. As song after song drifted past on a bed of twangy guitar, pleasantly shuffling rhythms and frankly unnecessary saxophone, it was hard to avoid the conclusion that this stuff was being dispatched in an unforgivably casual manner. Nowhere was the problem more evident than in the treatment of “I See A Darkness” itself, which was entirely drained of its sepulchral elegance and reinvented as a dire, bouncy singalong.

Oldham remains a gifted lyricist, uniquely able to evoke love, loss and doubt in words of haunting and skeletal beauty. His voice, meanwhile, has a reedy, quavering quality that I find very appealing. But he has a weirdly declamatory way of singing that undermines the broken dignity of his texts and makes them sound like so much bluster. When you add the inadvisably middle-of-the-road arrangements, the outcome was a gig as baffling as it was frustrating.

Peter Rehberg & Fennesz, Vienna Grelle Forelle, 19 December 2014; Peter Rehberg/Stephen O’Malley/Bruce Gilbert, Vienna Grelle Forelle, 26 June 2015

I never got around to reviewing the last concert I attended in 2014, which consisted not only of Peter Rehberg’s first solo appearance in more than five years, but also the world premiere of Fennberg, a.k.a. Rehberg and Fennesz, as well. (I was, sadly, not in Vienna at the time Fenn O’Berg, a.k.a. Rehberg, Fennesz and Jim O’Rourke, played at Porgy & Bess in 2001, part of which was recorded for posterity as “A Viennese Tragedy” on the trio’s second album The Return of Fenn O’Berg. Legend has it that the track was so named because the audience on that occasion was so pitifully small.) Now is as good a time as any to rectify that omission, since last week Rehberg appeared again at the same venue, this time at the second of two concerts to mark the 20th birthday of the (Editions) Mego label. I didn’t bother with the first of these, but the prospect of seeing Rehberg on the same bill as Stephen O’Malley of Sunn O))) and ex-Wire man Bruce Gilbert was too good to pass up.

First, though, back to that cold evening in December. With solo sets from Rehberg and Fennesz followed by a duo performance, the concert was a gripping illustration of the continuing power and importance of Viennese electronica. Bathed in incongruous flashing lights and buckets of dry ice, Rehberg generated moments of unearthly, twilit beauty among the gravel-hard glitches and massive, pulverizing drones. The soundscape constantly shifted and evolved, seeming almost to resolve itself into warped song structures – an impression doubly reinforced when Fennesz took the stage for his own solo set. Wearing a smart suit and scarf despite the heat inside the venue, the guitarist seemed on the point of sending the audience floating off into the Donaukanal with his shimmering silver riffs and fragmentary, blissed-out tunes.

After a short interval these two legends of the Vienna experimental scene came together for the first time ever as a duo, an event that was as moving as it was historic. Fennesz left his guitar on its stand and joined Rehberg on laptop and devices, creating a music that easily resisted the monolithic and revelled instead in its own deranged beauty. A brief, lulling sample of Tears for Fears’ “Advice for the Young at Heart” added a reflective note that contrasted with the prevailing mood of brittle agitation shaped by the duo. I very much hope that this first Fennberg appearance will not also be the last; it’s a collaboration that’s far too precious to let go.

Six months later Rehberg rounded off the second (Editions) Mego 20th anniversary concert, this time with accompanying visuals by artist and frequent Mego cover designer Tina Frank. It was another excellent performance, with Rehberg’s hovering drones and frequencies finding dreamlike parallels in the flickering, coalescing images on the screen. If there’s TV in the cold reaches of outer space, this is surely what it looks and sounds like.

The evening had been billed as starting at 7.30pm, so having made the effort to be sur place at that time it was quite irritating to find a schedule posted at the door saying that the first act would not be on until 8.00pm. In the event, I needn’t have bothered. I was distinctly underwhelmed by Stephen O’Malley’s opening slot, which consisted of 45 minutes’ worth of muddy guitar riffage and effects pedal action that reverberated and recapitulated without development. I yield to none in my admiration for the mighty Sunn O))) and for KTL, O’Malley’s project with Rehberg. But this was, I’m sorry to say, very boring indeed. Bruce Gilbert’s intervening set did little to lighten my mood, so it was a relief when Rehberg and Frank came on to rescue the evening.

To finish up, a word or two on the venue. December’s concert was my first visit to Grelle Forelle, and as I was to find out, the place had set a number of psychogeographical traps for the unwary. I somehow managed to navigate my way across a thunderous highway to the approximate area where I thought the venue was, but it took a good half hour’s trudging up and down Spittelauer Lände before I was finally able to locate it. It was only when retracing my steps back to Spittelau station on the way home that I noticed the venue’s stylized fish-shaped logo painted now and again on the pavement as a directional aid, somewhat akin to the famous yellow line that runs from Barbican underground station to the Barbican Centre in London. Clearly I should have followed those logos to find the venue, although how I was supposed to know that given that I had never seen the logo before was not adequately explained. Last Friday I was a little more confident of being able to find my way, but I was still on the lookout for the little fish designs on the pavement to help me. And guess what, most of them had disappeared, leaving me floundering just as much as on the previous occasion.

What’s more, Grelle Forelle seems to be a nightclub that puts on occasional concerts, rather than a live music venue per se. This quickly became apparent from the way the venue pulled the tiresome trick of getting the live music audience in ridiculously early and then clearing them out in double-quick time in order to prepare the room for the main business of the evening, the club night. The alternative option, of putting the live music on at a civilized hour and then not having the club night at all, is something that seems not to have occurred to the management at Grelle Forelle. Which is a shame, since the venue’s acoustics, the location and (not least) the bar are all excellent. Still, there is something insulting about being politely but firmly escorted off the premises at the end of a concert and told to relocate to the outside terrace. On a warm evening in June this was not much of a hardship, but on a cold night in December it certainly was. All things considered, both these concerts should have been held at the Rhiz, which could easily have accommodated the number of people attending them.