Colin Stetson/Juffage @ Howard Assembly Rooms

Posted by vibrations on 15-03-16

Chaotic and unpolished. Two adjectives that would be mud to many an artist, but those who’ve caught Juffage’s live sets over the years will know that they are his bread and butter. In the moodily lit, wood-pannelled glory of the Howard Assembly Rooms, his music is both out of place and right at home in the same instant. With a set of largely new material and armed with just an electric guitar and a handful of effects it’s clear that the one-­man-­band days are, for the moment, behind him; but in this setting his innovative songwriting shines through. Old favourites, ‘My Weakness’ and ‘Stop Making Music’ are welcome earworms and the new material gathers punch as our Jeff powers through his set with geeky aplomb. He’s dropping a new album this year. Get ready.

‘Ready’ is not a thing you can get when it comes to Colin Stetson. On stage he walks, pops down his glass of wine, straps a contact mic around his neck, picks up his bass saxophone and unleashes the kind of noise that would have brought about the fall of the Roman Empire. It’s a low end boom mixed with fear and anguish. An absolute masterclass in both circular breathing and overtone manipulation. Grinding, squeezing, moaning notes weave a tapestry of brutal vibrations that leaves you both uncomfortable and transfixed. For a good 15 minutes he bellows out the most majestic noises you’ve ever heard. Then he stops and unleashes a thoroughly unassuming, pleasant, Midwestern ‘Hiya’.
He might sound like a lovely man, but he plays like a lumberjack who gets home from a hard day of chopping and eats raw steak in silence while his wife nervously watches from a safe distance. Even his second piece, on Alto Saxophone for a bit of contrast, has all Stetson’s intense hallmarks ­- percussive playing and pulsing harmonic drive ­- but instead flutters in the higher registers.
Some of this stuff is miraculous. Aided by copious reverb and contact mics just about anywhere they’ll fit, Stetson manages to put in drum beats and stomping flourishes. The pièce de resistance is the melodic screeches that come somewhere from the bowels of his throat (hence the mic around the neck). The natural limitations of the style mean it is quite repetitive so the hour we get is still just shy of enough. It’s a brutal show and he looks shattered so we’re happy to give him a well­-earned standing ovation before making our shaky ways home.
Tim Hearson

On the Vibrations stereo...