Dylan Carlson – Live at Sneaky Pete’s, Edinburgh, 11th October 2012

 It took me a while, I confess, to properly appreciate Wounded Knee‘s live show.  Drew Wright has been playing in Edinburgh under that name for a good while now, but the first few times I saw him he performed a slightly less accessible set based around layers of looped vocals.

It wasn’t bad at all, but it wasn’t easy either, so I have to confess my attention drifted a little, despite the recommendations from many of my friends. Last year I learned the error of my ways, finally, after a captivating album launch set for a Gerry Loves Records release.

Tonight was even more chatty and accessible, with Drew accompanied by a double-bassist, lending the performance something of the air of the lounge raconteur, meets bingo caller, meets intellectual folk historian.  Throw in a rather annoyed but amusing song about the potential closure of Leith Water World and you have a set of charm and humour.

Dylan Carlson, on the other hand, cut a slightly less jovial presence, although he was hardly standoffish.  This gig was to showcase music separate from his work with Earth* and to focus more on the Dr Carlson Albion and the Hackney Lass project, which is based around the magic and history of English folklore.

In the absence of the actual Hackney Lass – this lady – the first couple of songs were performed to a pre-recorded backing track.  Given Carlson himself did nothing but play the guitar, and irrespective of how good the songs themselves actually sounded, this came across as a sort of odd version of guitar karaoke, and I have my doubts about it.  The actual sound he made wasn’t bad of course, and I appreciate the dilemma of trying to put across a song without the people who actually helped you make it, but personally I don’t think I’d have persevered with those two songs.

Part of the reason for this was the excellence of what followed.  Carlson was joined by a vocalist and percussionist whose names escaped me, and they played a set of more traditional proggy psychedelic folk. And honestly, it was awesome.  The psychedelic elements were more of the trippy, menacing kind rather than the intricate noodling kind, with a heavy delay on Carlson’s guitar for much of the show giving his relatively minimal playing a more mesmeric, dizzy feel. The vocalist sang like an English folk approximation of Nico, blank and flat, yet with a hint of the red blooded and insane at the moments when she cut loose and belted it out.

There’s something about music this minimal that I absolutely love – you wait and wait on each strum, each syllable, each rumble of percussion – every single element takes on an importance you don’t tend to get from a full band performance, and that seems to draw you in in an hypnotic fashion.

They ended with a stunning version of Reynardine, a song I know from the incredible version on Fairport Convention’s stunning Liege & Lief. Having cruised YouTube since I got home I think I can say that with the exception of Sanny Denny and pals, this was the best version of this song going.  And it’s some song. And a great end to a fine, fine evening.

Fairport Convention – Reynardine
[audio:http://songbytoad.com/tunes/FairportConvention-Reynardine.mp3]

*In my head I kept referring to him as ‘Dylan Carlson of Earth’ and for some reason I kept doing it like Klytus from Flash Gordon. ‘Dylan Carlson.  Of Eeeeaaaaarth.’

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