November 13th, 2016 | Live reviews

Rhys Chatham, Priests – November 10, 2016 – REDCAT

Rhys Chatham—who’s worked as everything from LaMonte Young’s piano tuner to teen talent booker at The Kitchen in New York City to colleague of artist Robert Longo—calls France home these days, and this is his first live action in Los Angeles since 1984. He performs excerpts tonight from A Pythagorean Dream, his solo LP released this past June on Foom Records in London. He tunes his Telecaster to the Pythagorean style of tuning, which involves something called a “wolf interval” that’s actually much less dire than it sounds. He gives a brief preamble about the instruments he’s playing tonight—a trumpet in B-flat, a flute in C, an alto flute in G; a bass flute in an octave below a C flute. Feeding the trumpet through a bank of electronic devices, he transforms the breath that normally propels the instrument into something like an undulating sea of bees working its way through the arid skies of an unexplored desert land. It all coalesces into a vibrant drone-work issuing forth from a horn of plenty, levitating up to the small niches in the ceilings where, for all we know, our reality ends and another reality—accessible only via the fringes of art—begins.

Imagine a thousand chairs squeaking across a cathedral floor. Now imagine those chairs sprouting wings and becoming a flock of seabirds, rising to the height of that cathedral and you get an idea of the vision and care with which Chatham presents his music. Presently, notes and tones build upon themselves until they build a throne of drones, resurrecting an empire of sound that opens as gently as a lotus blossom. Mystical and mesmerizing, triumphal and terrifying, it’s also a deeply hopeful kind of sound—a meditation on how one small movement can make a colossal impact even though it began life as a seemingly imperceptible impulse. For all that epic sound, he’s just sitting there with his fedora and spectacles—just strumming. Not fiercely. Not brutally. Rhys Chatham is that rare artist who knows the power of his art and his instruments. He understands how to most completely express that power through efficiently and gracefully. “This one was for Leonard Cohen,” he beams at the end of his set, exiting to a storm of applause before the final note fades.

D.C. natives Priests find themselves in an odd arrangement here tonight. Rock bands finding their way into art spaces with older avant-gardists tends to be a weird arrangement: the argument goes that the audience has an open mind, so they’ll probably stick around to experience a band they wouldn’t ordinarily hear. Birds of a feather and all that. On the bright side, however, these bands get really great lighting and they actually get paid. The drummer will sound the best they will ever sound in their professional life—and Priests are truly, truly lucky to have the drummer that they have, the talented and talented Daniele Daniele. Priests sing songs about personal space and conservatives. The lead singer blushes a lot and, despite all the sweet new drums and pretty robin’s egg-blue guitar cables, aspects of imperfection go a long way here. The bass starts distorting toward the end and the bands tries hard to deflect. It is, however, one of the most interesting things to happen to their songs all night.

—David Cotner