Rhys Chatham's A Crimson Grail for 200 Electric Guitars / Liquid Liquid
08-08-2009;

[08-08-2009]

Two distinct forms of minimalism filled the Lincoln Center's Damrosch Park Bandshell on Saturday night, as did an estimated 10,000 people eager to hear the evening’s momentous sounds.

First came the world premier of composer Rhys Chatham's A Crimson Grail for 200 Electric Guitars, a massive piece in three shimmering movements and its orchestration of 200 electric guitars, 16 basses, and one hi-hat. Rather than creating a blaring, dense wall of noise, Chatham's guitar orchestra was a shifting, sparkling ocean of tonality. Chords rose and fell, meshed and crystallized, and ultimately congealed into a vibrating, magical marriage of dissonance and harmony, multiplicity and unity. The 217 players (a few TMTers included) weren't a raging army of axe-wielders, but smaller and subtler parts of a larger collective instrument. From the bandshell stage, Chatham lead the impressive affair with the help of four section leaders perched atop platforms in the crowd. Trying to decipher just how he was guiding the piece was tempting, but closing one’s eyes and letting the vibrations take over provided much more satisfaction.

Taking the stage following the unique display was an unenviable task, but influential New York rhythm bandits Liquid Liquid were up to it. While Chatham took minimalism to a wonderful, sprawling max, Liquid Liquid looped the form back into itself to create short dance tunes with incredibly kinetic bang. Hypnotic bass lines, tight rhythms, and well-placed flourishes showed the foursome has lost nothing since its succinct early-'80s heyday. The setting, however, probably wasn’t comparable to a sweaty, dance-filled night at the Paradise Garage or other Downtown venues of the band’s beginnings. Police quickly dispersed those who gathered to dance at stage front, and most of the crowd remained glued to their seats before finally rising to boogie for a brief moment during the encore. When someone shouted, “They’re not letting us dance!” vocalist Salvatore Principato responded, “Sign of the times, man. It’s their world, we’re just guests.”

The rain, which foiled last summer’s planned Crimson Grail premiere (TMT Feature), thankfully held off this time around, allowing the night to pour forth in a much different and better way. From the 1264 strings that comprised Chatham’s piece to Liquid Liquid’s popping polyrhythms, the evening was a plentiful and potent dose of NYC-rooted sonic prowess.