Around and About – Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid, Phoenix Arts Centre, Exeter 20/03/07

The video above is a short snippet of Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid from the first date on the Tongues promotional tour. Although it exhibits the typically shaky style of the youtube bootleg, I hope it does give a feeling of the intensity of the performance and the mental connection between the duo. The night actually turned out to be a very Hashmark orientated gathering so we thought we would offer three short reviews of the performance from three regular contributors.  

BC: Having never heard any of Four Tet’s music, I went to the show without any idea as to what I would witness. JR had told me it was vaguely electronic, vaguely free jazz, and vaguely improvisational. So far, it all seemed a little, I don’t know… vague. However, there was only one word for Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid’s performance: mesmerising. From the moment the pair entered the stage, the entire venue was aware of an incredibly tight link between these two people, who on the surface appeared incredibly different. For those of you who have never been to the Phoenix in Exeter, it’s a small venue, which obviously has its disadvantages, but one of the most fantastic things about it is the wonderful sense of intimacy between audience and musician. This was a vital aspect of Four Tet and Steve Reid’s act, as they simply drew the crowd wholly into their performance. Performance was the only word for what we witnessed – the pair were visually as hypnotising as their music was. They appeared in a trance, Hebden a drug-fuelled witch doctor and Reid some crazed animal; both were quite clearly lost within the deep complex sounds, and loving every moment of it. Many simply stared on open mouthed, in something between awe and confusion, but upon hearing Four Tet’s funky bass lines, many people just couldn’t help but dance. Reid was the legend we all expected him to be; playing drums professionally since the sixties, he has played with true Gods of the music world – stars such as Miles Davis, Sun Ra and James Brown. I’ve seen Steve Gadd play drums before, a man who’s played session music for just about everyone who could afford him (Eric Clapton, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Paul McCartney and B.B. King to name but a few) and I imagined seeing Reid play would be a similar experience. Gadd was calm, every beat calculated, and had that look that said “I’ve done this a million times before, it’s all too easy”. Whilst his drumming was utterly magnificent, the performance was almost disappointing. Steve Reid, on the other hand, was everything Gadd wasn’t and more. The performance brimmed with energy, improvisation and sheer effort, as Reid and Hebden struggled to keep each other on the edge of control in a gripping duel. There was a tension throughout the gig that suggested that at any moment all could collapse, and the pair would burst into embarrassed laughter – needless to say our fears were not realised. Reid was definitely being pushed though – there was no doubt about that. His eyes rising to the sky in an iconic fashion, spitting and drooling over his drum kit and lucky members of the front row, in places it was hard to tell whether he was madman or genius. Steve Reid truly stole the show.

JR: I have been a massive fan of Kieran Hebden’s music made under his Four Tet alias for a while, building up somewhat of a obsession with his skittered style and personable Technicolor addition to the Domino Records aesthetic. However, even though there was an extended version of a Twenty-Three from the Pause LP, and Everything Ecstatic focuses heavily on free-jazz drumming, the sound from this collaboration seemed a long way from something like the frenetic A Joy. I suppose in the live show environment it was unavoidable, but the emphasis seemed to be not on the texture of the sounds and composition but the tension between the older drummer and the young electronic artist. The short knowing smiles and the momentary locking of eyes, the absolute pleasure that was being found on that stage through music imprinted itself audience in the manner of hypnosis. Directly in front of the stage there seemed to be a collective rhythm moving through the crowd, but standing nearer to the side and very close to Steve Reid I was fixated by the amazing facial expressions of concentration and happiness from the man, which mirrored his infinitely inventive percussion and non stop fierce kick drum. Perhaps it was the sonics, perhaps because it was the opening night of the tour, but the jazz breaks seemed more forthcoming from Reid than Hebden, although drawing towards the end the sound changed almost entirely into something that reminded me of upbeat microhouse, and left me exhausted. 

DN: Like Chaz, before I received JR’s recommendation, I had never heard of Kieran Hebden or his music. But I was promised great things, and, buoyed by the news that he would be performing with a live drummer of exceptional skill (Reid), I approached the gig confident that expectations would be met. And they certainly were. I was later informed by JR that Kieran Hebden’s studio material is rather different to the sounds he was conjuring live (obviously due to the presence of Reid), but, at the time, during the performance, I could think of nothing better than the panoply of beats I was hearing. Describing the live experience is close to impossible, due to the manic nature of the gig and the slightly unusual dynamic that was present onstage. Seeing as Four Tet is technically Kieran Hebden and only Kieran Hebden, you would expect that Steve Reid would be playing a supporting role, adding power to the prominent electronica. But this wasn’t the case at all; instead, at times, it seemed as though Hebden was playing catch-up and was measuring his music around Reid’s – Reid was leading and driving the music to his tempo – it was powerful to watch. And the interplay between the two was a joy. Every so often, Hebden would sneak a glance at Reid (who was, especially towards the end, sweating profusely) and smile like a demon, obviously delighted at his colleague’s enthusiasm and almost-crazed exertions behind the kit. But perhaps I’ve only adopted this perspective because of our position amongst the audience; we were to the left (as shown by JR’s video footage), facing Hebden, and with a side-on, profile view of Reid, meaning we had the perfect view with which to witness Reid’s expressions and his fantastic skill. It was an intense experience from start to finish, and one that I fear may never be replicated. Sadly, I never felt the urge to dance; I know Chaz did, and I know the hyped teenagers to my left did, but the tension within the rhythms never expanded, ballooned, climaxed into anything with a palpable, danceable thump. But this isn’t a criticism – the pleasure of the music lay in the repetition, the surge and the flux, and the sustained attack on the audience from Steve Reid’s drum kit, and from Kieran Hebden’s laptop.

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1 Comment

Filed under Around and About, Hashmark Music, Hashmark Videos, Live Music, Music

One response to “Around and About – Kieran Hebden and Steve Reid, Phoenix Arts Centre, Exeter 20/03/07

  1. Jamie’s link (new music column) yields proof: 21st best act in the country.

    21. Four Tet / Kieran Hebdon. Tim: The Exchange Sessions are heavily played in my headphones.

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