Live Music + Gig Reviews

Savages & Bo Ningen – Words To The Blind @ Oval Space, London

19 November 2014

Savages + Bo Ningen If something is a good idea, it’s probably worth doing twice.

It was last year that Bo Ningen and Savages decided to see if simultaneous poetry, the Dadist idea of a poem read in different languages at the same time, would work as well if, instead of two voices you had two bands, and instead of being at the Cabaret Voltaire Switzerland, it was Shoreditch 2013.

Turns out it did. That performance, at the Red Gallery, was remarkable. The description had raised the possibility of being presented with something impenetrable and unlistenable, but instead what was delivered was incredibly vivid, fluid and with moments of real brilliance. So doing it again, a second simultaneous sonic poem, is hugely appealing.

Also, in addition to rolling out the U shaped carpet such that the bands could once more face off live, a recording of the initial performance of Words To The Blind has recently been released. Which does mean that this time around there’s slightly less of the fear factor. You kind of know what you’re going to be getting and you kind of know that it works and it isn’t just going to be eight people shouting at each other in three different languages in protest at the bourgeois.

So the stage is set. Initially it is shrouded by a screen (the performance is preceded by a couple of short films) and occasionally shadows come and go, the assumption growing that the bands will mass behind before it drops dramatically to allow the performance to begin. Which doesn’t quite happen. The barrier does drop dramatically and the crowd does surge forward, but there’s no one there to greet them.

It’s the one bit of tonight which could be a mistake. The rest is pretty much flawless. The opening segment is closest to the original Dadist setup, Savages lead singer Jehnny Beth stands on one side, clutching a book and whispering clipped French phrases. Opposite Taigen Kawabe stands with his arms crossed, pinging back retorts in Japanese. The effect is disorientating. Occasionally you’ll pick a word or two out from the mass – Beth’s hissed “rien!” seems louder and more vicious than anything else – but the exchange of words slowly just merge together to sink underneath the increasing noise arising from behind.

Which builds from single plucked notes and occasional offbeat squalls into discordant writhing and something louder and more forceful. Then the words give way to angelic coos, the riffs begin to grind and churn, spasmodically sparking into some darting riffs. There’s a sureness to the rhythms, the twin drums of Fay Milton and Monchan Monna are tribal, brutal and after a while, alone.

More often than not it seems to be Milton and Monna who are in charge, raising an arm to dictate when the next frenzy should start or stop. It seems to appeal to them as well; both have large grins plastered on their faces for large portions of tonight’s set. Although, to be fair, everyone looks like they’re having a great time.

Towards the end, it all comes together to form something more traditionally song shaped. Beth sings in that clipped delivery of hers, while the combined efforts of three guitarists and two bassists add weighty swirls. At this point it could be a Bo Ningen song as covered by Savages or a Savages song re-interpreted by Bo Ningen: beautiful, fierce, stark and yet still swept with a star-crossed psychedelia.

It’s a perfect conclusion to a show that manages to capture all the space and freedom that an improvised performance allows while limiting the chances for one of those awkward moments where everyone stands around looking accusingly at the one person who thought now was the moment to drop into septuple time.

The inspirations have not been restrictive. If anything, it has made Savages and Bo Ningen better. Regardless of the processes behind it, at a simple level Words To The Blind is very easy to categorise: two of the best bands in the country performing devoid of shackles to make perfectly orchestrated chaos. Even Hugo Ball would be happy with that.

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More on Savages
Savages – Adore Life
Savages @ Tufnell Park Dome, London
Savages & Bo Ningen – Words To The Blind @ Oval Space, London
Savages @ Forum, London
Savages – Silence Yourself