Basilica SoundScape 2017
Basilica Hudson; Hudson, NY

John Maus (top row), John Maus (middle row), John Maus (bottom row)

There’s a steady tide of subconscious pressure right now, alone or in public. Sometimes it gets distractingly bad. Mind over matter doesn’t matter. We are stuck being, with and without. Heard the ol’ “It is what it is” chestnut in response to someone noting the sprawl of dissociative cellphone gazing at Soundscape. We’re stuck in this. Connected but passively ruthlessly shrugingly alienated, and taking it for granted when we’re not.

Then there’s the way performance can rescue all of us from our grasping tentacle minds. Stealing our focus, the rich black churn of Yellow Eyes turned the waning sun-drenched seated space into a skull buffing torrential dirt chapel. Moor Mother had the effect of a primordially enraged public speaker howling out from under a phalanx of screaming tanks (wanted to hear better what she was saying, but her rage still came across compellingly). Yves Tumor sat masked and motionless under a dense, monochromatic skree canopy, perhaps protesting in his own way. John Maus and co. winged out their operatic/minimalist new wave jams with great aplomb, their set going by decidedly too fast. The band seemed an excellent fit for Maus, and their well-synced poise and attack together bodes well for his October 27 LP. Texting or grammin’ during these sets took an absurd amount of focus, almost as if staring down at a little screen and typing in the dark was a dumb thing to do.

Brutally mundane cell phone reality aside, there did seem to be a recurring air of distractedness and reluctance. Idle, bemused and oblivious chatter bounced around the large space during the quieter passages. People avoided eye contact. I did the same. Wanted a beer, didn’t want a beer. I wound up buying beers, convincing myself it helped the venue, when I pretty much just wanted to get my buzz on. Moor Mother (Camae Ayewa) shamed us for (among other, more obvious things) our spread out clustering, demanding we crush to the stage and ultimately imploring that we all hug each other. It was a suprising move, having had set up such a teeth rattlingly brutal onslaught by that point. It didn’t quite happen. But hugs or no, we all should hear what Camae is saying. Her words are as raw as raw can be, but it has to hurt if it’s to heal.

The sets were so masterfully zipped together that my main focus was getting a good spot (particularly for sets in the smaller, seated space) rather than getting a better look at the performer. Nonetheless there was a tendency to mill around it all. Basilica is nice like that, and we all want to see some acts more than others. But the noisier acts like Yellow Eyes, Moor Mother and Thou (a pulverizing Friday highlight) had the surprisingly relieving effect of walling out people’s roast routines/shouted conversation. Much of the sets were arresting and at times emotionally harrowing. The expansive, bracingly personal canine-based musings of Eileen Myles were well worth the investment, but coming from Moor Mother it was a rough transition, the air still fairly buckling with aftershock.

Transfixing sleek black as Blanck Mass and Zola Jesus were, closing the fest out proper, the 9:20-12ish block on Friday was like a wildly invigorating sort of dream-dimension spiritual revival. Thou were the limber sludgekicker welcome, Tunisian singer-songwriter Emel Mathlouth beamed down upon us from the opened sliding doorway in the rafters, her patient, live-looped songs doling out fathomless waves of awe, tenderness and grief. That tenderness continued with the intimate outer reaches of serpentwithfeet. Somehow simultaneously playful and grounded, his heart-stoppingly fragile, impossibly delicate scales brought drama to even the mundane details of everyday internet life in his confessional, “adult story time” lyrics. It was a simple and sacred display. I felt blessed to witness it. Then it came time to give in fully to the holy spirit and just move (ok, i was too beat/self-conscious to dance proper - but I felt as if I was pinging around like a pebble in a jumbo jet engine just the same) to the see-thru serpentine rhythms of EDM star, Jlin. For an hour plus it was strobes, smoke and well racheted roll and tug like an oiled up bikechain cat ‘o nine tails. It was unflaggingly transportive and left me dazed, both craving the two encores provided and feeling more than adequately sated. This was my second time seeing her throw down. With any luck it won’t be my last.

So 2017 is shaping up a shit year to say the least. And 2018 might bite harder. The unforeseen future is rushing up to discourage our most innocent, intrusive hope: that humans can make it work. It’s stupid, because the promise to be better is inherent. It is evident in those paying tribute to other humans going out on a limb and producing something of themselves. The respect for and patience with the vulnerable, boundlessly challenging tradition of performance shows more than preference. It’s more than civility too. It’s aspiring to symbiosis. To new ways of seeing, hearing and being while our restless skeletons subconsciously vie for fleeting grace. It’s heartening that Soundscape is still a going concern in this tradition, and it will be an essential calendar item for as long as they keep it up.

Most Read