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March 18, 2013 5:27 pm
The hot and humid, chock-a-block audience for the American guitarist Marc Ribot were warned in advance that this would be a quiet night – even the bar was closed during his set – and at times his shimmering fretwork was barely audible. But the stinging attack and lightning runs, sudden abstractions and plangent lines were also on show and his vivid recasting of Americana, jazz and more was crammed with suspense and surprise. Ribot’s long single set transfixed the audience – no mean feat as it followed a demanding first half of solo-free jazz bass from the technically accomplished but somewhat cold Guillaume Viltard.
A wired-up Ribot can distort power chords to a frenzy of white noise, but at this gig he sat hunched over his minimally amplified electric-acoustic guitar and delivered his armoury of sounds with a minimum of fuss. He’s an all-styles insider, a master of strum with an imperious line, whose darts into abstraction land in unexpected places.
He opened with a low-note twang – Johnny Cash sprang to mind – added a flutter of sounds, and bottleneck tension and then delivered a keening lament with the sting of a zither – Albert Ayler’s “Love Cry” was the inspiration. There was an abrupt change of key, a bout of scrubs and flutters; then spirituality returned and a near-silent shimmer introduced a final prolonged and terribly sad dirge.
With its genre-busting tone emphatically established, the performance unfolded through free-form clutter and Delta blues angst, soft country twang and jaunty gypsy jazz. Amid mournful Middle Eastern laments, folk-rock strums and a heart-breaking two-note motif, the riff of Buddy Miles’ “Them Changes” would pop up unexpectedly. Tangents ramified or ended abruptly; even when apparently settled, Ribot would discomfort and probe. “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes” had altered chords, “Honeysuckle Rose” went off at an angle, and both eventually disintegrated into noise.
It was a stream-of-consciousness journey through American music, and Ribot had the technique to sweep his audience along too. His capacity to surprise seemed limitless. It could have got tricksy, but a strong sense of mood and a dry sense of humour packed each piece with emotive power through to the encore, “There Will Never Be Another You”.
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