Le Guess Who? fes­ti­val in Utrecht; Tem­ple Of The Dog in Seat­tle.

Quest­ing Dutch fes­ti­val cel­e­brates its first decade. By Ian Har­ri­son.

Mojo (UK) - - Contents -

Le Guess Who? Utrecht, Nether­lands

Dur­ing his Satur­day open­ing slot at Le Guess Who?, jazz folk im­pro­viser Ry­ley Walker has to con­tend with an out-of-tune gui­tar. He rec­ti­fies mat­ters with in­sou­ciance – won­der­ing if any­one re­ally is sell­ing strong LSD up on the bal­cony? – and be­fore a fierce and free ver­sion of his DIY-mind ex­pan­sion opus Prim­rose Green, as­sures us: “My shit is tuned.” Cel­e­brat­ing 10 years since it be­gan in the Dutch city of Utrecht, Le Guess Who? is all about the fine cal­i­bra­tion. A quest­ing, in­ter­na­tional four-days-and 200-plus sets for the re­cep­tive mu­si­cal gour­mand, it’s cen­tred around gleam­ing five-hall mu­sic com­plex the Tivoli Vre­den­burg and 12 other venues across town, and this year Wilco, Sav­ages, Ju­lia Holter and Su­uns each cu­rate a night’s pro­gramme. Wilco’s day one trol­ley dash of en­ter­tain­ments in­clude bone rat­tling US prim­i­tivism from 75 Dol­lar Bill, the wildly en­ter­tain­ing Malian blues rock of Bassekou Kouy­até & Ngoni Ba, and the devo­tional, Arthur Rus­sell-like voice po­ems of Alabama’s Lon­nie Hol­ley. The lat­ter rep­re­sents a prin­ci­ple re­cur­ring over the next four days – you don’t al­ways know what you want, but when it’s there you recog­nise it. And while Wilco’s show in the Grote Zaal is tinged by the still-fresh Trump vic­tory, their two-hour ca­reer-wide set is un­bowed. Mov­ing from coun­try into in­die-dance, noise rock and be­yond, lift-off for the week­end is achieved. Fri­day be­gins with the vale­dic­tory sound of Leonard Co­hen’s Hal­lelu­jah and Dance Me To The End Of Love played by lo­cal car­il­lon player Mal­go­sia Fiebig on the bells of Utrecht’s Dom Tower. There’s fur­ther in­stru­ment un­ortho­doxy when Bos­nian-Swiss ac­cor­dion­ist Mario Batkovic fills the an­cient Jenskerk with cold pulses, sa­tanic or­ches­tras and surg­ing pop dra­mas, earn­ing stand-up ap­plause. Across town, Es­to­nian vi­o­lin­ist Maarja Nuut and elec­tron­ics man Hen­drik Kalju­järv blend folk, loops and primeval for­est chill to en­tic­ingly mys­te­ri­ous ef­fect.

Back at the main hall, Sav­ages’ mer­ci­lessly drilled, all-con­sum­ing sta­dia-post-punk-in-wait­ing re­fo­cuses the mind, with pos­tur­ing singer Jehnny Beth declar­ing, “Don’t let the fuck­ers get you down,” while re­main­ing civil enough to take her boots off be­fore plung­ing into the crowd. There’s no such cour­tesy from Wran­gler, who set the late night con­trols for Sh­effield synth city 1979, all the while swig­ging from cans.

As is cus­tom­ary, Satur­day af­ter­noon be­comes Le Mini Who?, a 60-band beano tak­ing place in the city’s record shops, bars and cafes. There are en­tic­ing MBV/ Cocteaus wooze-fre­quen­cies from the splen­didly-named Deutsche Ashram and won­drous my-first-Iggy garage spume from Char­lie & The Les­bians, whose barech­ested front-fiend writhes and grov­els amongst the café au­di­ence dur­ing a spir­ited run-through of The Run­aways’ Cherry Bomb. Tonight’s cu­ra­tor, Ju­lia Holter, plays songs from all four LPs with a four-piece group. In an ab­sorb­ing 40 min­utes, The Fall­ing Age’s im­pres­sion­is­tic 14-min­utes is a spell­bind­ing high­light. Sax-aug­mented new song He­jinian, which talks of in­ner ears, whiskey and en­tropic states, has a ’70s Sparks feel and bodes well for her new record. For sheer spec­ta­cle, though, Brazil­ian ma­tri­arch Elza Soares wins the night, pro­vok­ing the masses with her Rain­dogs-in-Rio samba-fu­sion of avant rock, jazz and elec­tron­ics, de­liv­ered from a throne in a dress per­haps made out of met­al­loid hu­man vis­cera. The hy­per­rhyth­mic Ethio-punk col­lab­o­ra­tion by Dutch in­sti­tu­tion The Ex and Ad­dis Ababa’s Fendika, the yo­gic zithers of Laraaji, and The Comet Is Com­ing’s jazz-psych rav­ing com­plete an­other out­stand­ing day. Af­ter au­dio gorg­ing like this, it’s hard not to feel lachry­mose on Sun­day, though the Gre­go­rian chant from lo­cal gents Karo­lus Mag­nus, Josephine Fos­ter’s time trav­el­ling at­tic war­blings and the gleam­ing in­die pop of Am­ber Ar­cades all bring suc­cour, while the most po­tent proof of the fes­ti­val’s abil­ity to sur­prise comes with Patty Wa­ters’ per­for­mance on Sun­day evening. A cult-ac­claimed jazz voice who cut two al­bums for ESP-Disk in the mid-’60s, she’s backed by a free-minded trio fea­tur­ing orig­i­nal pi­anist and fel­low ESP-Disker Bur­ton Greene. While her voice is a drier in­stru­ment than the har­rowed scream that made her 1965 record­ing of Black Is The Color Of My True Love’s Hair a tri­umph of oth­er­worldly pur­ga­tion, her abil­ity to give fa­mil­iar­i­ties like Na­ture Boy and Wild Is The Wind read­ings of tragic elemental power is as­ton­ish­ing. Yet still there’s more: a swing­ing and joy­ous set from Tor­toise, high-ten­sile elec­tronic rock from Su­uns and the ef­fu­sive north In­dian drum and brass rav­ing of the Ju­nun pro­ject by The Ra­jasthan Ex­press, Shye Ben Tzur and Jonny Green­wood. Dazed, happy, we leave re­minded be­yond doubt that there are mu­sic fes­ti­vals, and then there is Le Guess Who?


You know who: (right) Jehnny Beth, boots still on, fronts drilled Sav­ages; (cen­tre row, from left) spell­bind­ing Ju­lia Holter; en­tic­ingly mys­te­ri­ous Maarja Nuut; Ry­ley Walker, his shit is tuned; (bot­tom row, from left) Wilco’s Jeff Tweedy, un­bowed; wild Bassekou Kouy­até; oth­er­worldly Patty Wa­ters; the sheer spec­ta­cle of Elza Soares.

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