Tenebrous and Duke GarwoodEdit this event
Some people, in their professional lives, would be content with producing the definitive visual record of one of the 20th century’s most iconic bands. Most would put their feet up if they could say that, in the process, they had defined the aesthetic of a generation. Well done to the ambitious amongst us who might go on to publish magazines of insight, passion and beauty. It’s surely pushing it a bit to then casually pop up on stage, rather than popping flashes in its direction, at the coolest venues around the world.
Steve Gullick’s photos of Nirvana are the ones you see when you close your eyes: rough-edged, deceptively intimate, the Kurt, Krist and Dave of our collective unconscious. A gallery of Gullick’s work from the 1990s comprises a cultural history of the decade. Careless Talk Costs Lives, which he produced with Everett True five years ago, even now inspires the kind of cult devotion that NME would sell Conor McNicholas’ gran for. While he’s still busy snapping artists from Cat Power to John & Jehn and putting out Careless Talk follow-up Loose Lips Sink Ships, for a few years Gullick has also played and recorded with musical friends, neighbours and all manner of indie aristocracy. Tonight he’s at Rough Trade for the opening of an exhibition of his photography and to headline a brief show with Tenebrous. It’s an unwitting reminder that that we’d be lucky to achieve, by the end of a long, full life, half of what he’s managed in just over a decade.
Ed Harcourt kicks off the show with ‘Every Night’, a gorgeous, dark lullaby. His timeless, pure voice reverberates with feedback and sheer force, probing the fine spiderweb that links love, loss, disappointment and regret. It’s good to be reminded that even with just a guitar for company, the professionally quiet indie boy can reach a mighty volume and isn’t afraid of the whammy bar. A new song, ‘Black Feathers’, written when Ed was “in a bad mood”, is graciously dedicated to Steve. Aww. He closes with ‘I’ve Become Misguided’, looping vocals and guitar – and then a tiny bell and a battered trombone that may have been pulled from a tip – over and over, into a clattering cacophony befitting a vengeful god.
The spell cast by sometime Archie Bronson member Duke Garwood is like a net, tangling itself into the deepest and most secret crevices of the mind. Though he’s backed by a drummer, his stretched-out, twisted tempos refute anything as restrictive as a time signature. Plucked melodies, spawned in some long-distant blues past, slide into a chord that stretches for seconds into silence, or contours itself upwards and onwards in new directions. Sometimes with a deep, gruff croon, sometimes a croak, sometimes a growl or a howl, he repeats mysterious phrases, mantra-like, until they reach abstraction, like some Nietzschean character on a long, lonely quest for unlikely salvation.
Tenebrous take the stage at last. A scream erupts from Gullick’s throat. Two guitars and seemingly every skin, surface, bolt and screw of Pete Spiby’s drum set pound relentlessly. The volume builds, peaking in a ragged, barbed-wired Berlin wall of sound, then dwindling into an abyss of silence. And that’s just the first song. The set is a grinding post-apocalyptic vision, darker than the darkest corner of the Jesus and Mary Chain’s dark visions. There’s an incredible texture to the sound, Tony Ash’s guitar jangling like chains, then bubbling like tar. Gullick’s vocals, half crooned, half spoken, are bittersweet, despairing and tender. The audience, tongue in cheek, shout requests between songs, paying tribute. With a hint of a smile, the band demurs and carries on. They’re worthy of the eponymous Latin derivative – not just dark, but a force of darkness. “Tenebrous liar, tenebrous liar,” Gullick chants hoarsely. I wonder what it’s like to look at a hundred admiring faces and see only shadows.
By happy coincidence, metres away are Tenebrous friends Hush the Many, about to release their single ‘Revolve’. There’s a mad dash across Brick Lane and into a palpitating crowd, heavy-breathing in anticipation. They burst on and into the lilting opener of ‘The Man’. Each of the five strings (two guitars, bass, viola, cello) builds and fades in turn and in tandem; waves of sound heave through the air. It’s lush but sinister, like a jungle you’re unlikely to get out of alive. At moments they recall Love’s darkest days, buoyed by a heady tincture of psychedelia and mental illness. Alex’s voice is low, but with a Joni Mitchell keenness that slices through on ‘The Knife’ – softly, sweetly, menacingly. She finishes each word off with a bite. Nima’s attacking the guitar in a wild fury – he’s lost fingernails before – yet delivering every line with measured firmness, deliberately anticipating the beat or dancing around it, his voice a contrapuntal cadence against the percussion. They finish with the exquisite ‘Storyend’, struggling with a sound system that can’t handle the quiet. It doesn’t last long, though. The swollen crowd, with people perched halfway up walls and on bars, stuck to one another with hot sweat and lager, erupts before they’ve played the last note.
Tenebrous photographed by Andrew Aleksiejczuk
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