I remember back at the 2005 Festival International de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville, a friend and I checked out an early morning Thurston Moore press conference because if you’ve ever been to Victoriaville you know there is absolutely shit all to do, in the most desperate of senses. Thurston helped to curate one of the festival days you see, bringing in acts like Hair Police, Double Leopards, Dead Machines, No-Neck Blues Band and Wolf Eyes (as well as his own Dream Aktion Unit ensemble). Maybe you’ve heard this story already but I’ll tell it anyway: at the press conference, Thurston started talking about how Anthony Braxton (also present at the FIMAV) had caught a Wolf Eyes set in Sweden and promptly snapped up everything they had on their merch table, falling head over feet for the band. He also hinted at possibly moving to Sweden so he could see them more often, not realizing that they were from the good ol’ U.S. of A.. So the FIMAV served as the perfect conduit for the old jazz and the new noise to come together for some sweet sweet lovin’. Thurston totally whet our appetites suggesting a collaboration between the two might happen later in the day during Wolf Eyes’ set, but I think most of laughed it off.
Finally at the ripe hour of 3pm in the afternoon, we were all loaded into the Coliseum waiting for Hair Police to come on. I think Thurston did the introductions and told the crowd that Braxton would be joining Wolf Eyes, but I was too busy scooping up grotesque amounts of American Tapes CDRs to hear it. Hair Police did a particularly devastating set, better than anything I’ve heard from their records. Then Wolf Eyes came on and sure enough, Braxton was right there with them. Are you for real? I don’t doubt that more than a few jazzhead skulls were split wide open right then and there.
John Olson opened up the set with some highlight reel bantering that unfortunately is largely excluded from this disc. Then they (Braxton included!) eased their way into a slow, skittery, sub-sub-sub-level jam help along by Olson’s gong and tiny strangled saxophone yelps. Best part is before the jam is in post-opening mode but pre-freakout mode – Braxton’s soprano snaking its way around under the Wolf Eyes doom-and-gloom skree. Total inspiration-inducing moment. I don’t know if it was both parties being hesitant but in the later days of the first jam things are deliriously minimalist for awhile until Nate Young electronic waves and Mike Connelly’s mutilated guitar join forces with Braxton (ripping, at this point) to topple the fuckin’ Sphinx. Then everything except for Braxton’s sax drops out and there’s a brief pause before the band launches into “Stabbed in the Face” – holy fucking classic moment of my existence. They play an exceptionally rough rendition of the tune and Braxton does kinda get lost in the shuffle after awhile but at this point I’m usually slumped over in my chair with blood running down my lip so who cares.
Before the next song begins Olson asks the audience if we want to hear “Leper War” or “Black Vomit”. Someone chimes in to let Anthony pick, and he does – “Black Vomit”! Unreal. So they play a mother of a chopped-up, fist-pumping, metal stricken terror aktion version of that “Burned Mind” track and seven minutes later the magic has gone back to the bar and we’re left wondering what the fuck we just witnessed.
And now you too can experience the magic, right in the comfort of your own home! Hands up all those who thought they’d live to see a Wolf Eyes disc on Victo’s label…pssshhawwww, right. In fact this one is part of a trifecta of Victo 2005 Braxton gigs, including a duo with Fred Frith (also great) and the Anthony Braxton Sextet (which I wasn’t too big on). The bummer? The set’s only half an hour long.
by Outer Space Gamelan