Michael Chapman unassumingly takes to the stage, plugs in his guitar and begins In the Valley; a song that involves intricate finger picking that produces a generous sound which seems far deeper than a solitary guitar. As Chapman is playing the introduction, he is making subtle adjustments to the tuning, when he is content he adds the lyrics, which are spoken and sparse but fit perfectly over the instrument; to create a complex dark beautiful folk track which are times reminds me of The End by The Doors. Chapman has the ability to command your full attention with his elaborate and sophisticated expertise on the guitar, whilst his vocals paint melancholy yet scenic images in the way that Cash mastered towards the end of his life. As the set continues, it makes me ashamed that I have not come across Michael Chapman’s music before especially with the breathtaking magnificence of Memphis in Winter; since the gig, I have rectified this by purchasing a couple of his albums. As he leaves the stage, a number of the audience stand in appreciation of this folk legend who has released over thirty albums in his fifty years in the business.
After a short interval, Thurston Moore wanders on stage, arranges his lyrics and picks up his twelve string guitar. When he has composed himself he gives the verbal cue to the lighting and sound technicians that the performance may begin. After deservedly praising Chapman, Moore starts the set with a spoken word piece announcing “She’s crazy, and so am I” a lyric from Patti Smith Math Scratch. When Moore sings, the impact of his body of work with Sonic Youth wash over you; his voice reminds you that he is an alternative rock legend who has remained artistically true to himself and his music for the better part of thirty five years. His guitar playing doesn’t have the finesse of Chapman but then these artists are uniting from two different genres, Never Day sees Moore use a repetitively simple riff to enhance the track whilst the development lies in his use of lyrics and vocal melody. The set comprises songs from his solo work ranging including Mina Loy which sees Moore masterfully utilise a discordant element with unusual chord progressions to construct boundary breaking music without falling into the realms of self-indulgence. Between tracks, he chats amiably with the attentive audience about a variety of topics ranging from his road trip in Chapman’s car where he is avidly collecting vinyl and books to being mistaken for Beck.
Moore swaps his twelve string for Michael Chapman’s six string and embarks on Orchard Street, that sees Thurston at his most impassioned when reaching the frenetic finale of the song and this aggression flows in to the final song of the set, Psychic Hearts that has more affinity with his work with Sonic Youth.
At the end of the set, Moore asks Chapman to join him on stage, and at this point I was imagining some great reworking of an obscure blues number; no such luck. Chapman picks up an electric guitar and begins some erratic chords whilst Moore takes a screwdriver to his guitar to experiment with noise and feedback. The two of them are engrossed in their work, but unfortunately it leaves me unmoved. Yet, there are others in the crowd fully embracing the art of noise that is being created in front of them as the appreciative head tilts and shouts of support flow through the venue. I shouldn’t have been surprised that there would have been an investigational and distorted piece of work at some point but I am conventional in many ways, I like to feel that music is leading somewhere and I did lose my focus because it is beyond my frame of reference. Without that finale, the musical display was immense and my exploration of Michael Chapman has only just begun, so I thank Thurston Moore for enlightening me and both of them for producing an evening of diverse and interesting acoustic music.
Review by Toni Woodward
Photos by John Bentley