Glenn Branca: Lesson No. 3 (A Tribute to Steve Reich)
Issue Project Room; Brooklyn NY

So, Glenn Branca is debuting a piece in what used to be a Brooklyn can factory -- an old brick building complete with cool metal clad doors that are like two-feet thick. The temptation is to see this as an opportunity to catch a latter-day glimpse of New York's past life as the home of dirty art rock. But as it turns out, the Issue Project Room is as equally clean as it is cavernous, and the appearance of the audience, seated in metal folding chairs, conjured fears that established society has finally reached its creepy tentacles into the sacred halls of punk rock.

Luckily, Branca, perhaps sensing this fear himself, imposed his will on whatever stuffiness lingered in the air by prefacing his piece with a personal "fuck you" to the Village Voice, on account of them having the balls to accuse his Lesson No. 3 as nothing more than a suck-up move in the direction of Steve Reich (to whom the piece is dedicated).

And a "fuck you" well aimed it was, as Lesson No. 3 is anything but empty Reich worship. The first few minutes of the performance were, above all, funky. Not almost funky: there was an actual groove in there. And just in case anyone was resisting a groove, Branca, while conducting the four guitarists and drummer making up the ensemble, added visual verification, suggestively wagging his knees the way you do only when you're conducting music that's actually funky.

Once established, though, the groove was systematically abandoned over the course of the rest of the piece. Change came on relatively slowly, as the guitarist's interlocking figures opened up, moving from distinct rhythmic elements, through the gradual addition of harmonics, and into a collective roar that managed to be equal parts rhythm and drone. When the figures dissolved into tremolo, it was hardly noticeable. While it's primarily an entertaining listen, the piece would also function pretty well as a sonic diagram of entropic decay.

At least if you discount the drum work. Paranoid Critical Revolution's Libby Fab somehow had enough left in the tank after her band's set -- which, at its best, brought to mind lightning bolts and Lightning Bolt -- to maintain a tight, heavy backbeat, leading the slight acceleration and dynamic build that occurs throughout the piece.

Let's not turn this into a formal analysis though. Lesson No. 3 is a pretty weighty title for a piece from which pleasure largely involves the feelings of being gradually enveloped in sound and losing yourself in the overtones and rhythm. There's enough meaty intellectual content in Lesson No. 3 to encourage study, but the real lesson here has more to do with the body than the mind.

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