The Thing at The Vortex, 29/11/10

The Thing

During the gap between the first and second pieces that The Thing played tonight, a buzzing with-energy Mats Gustafsson was welcoming us to this first date of the European tour. He called it the “Fuck This, Fuck That” tour, swinging his arm as he said the word “fuck”, his ring catching one of the metal pillars which keep the venue upright. DING. He stopped mid-sentence, and raised an eye-brow. Huh. He hit it again. DING. Interesting. Ten minutes later, while The Thing were in full flight, Paal Nilsen-Love started producing an array of strange sounds from his kit, scraping at cymbals, and banging on rims. Gustafsson thought for a second, before answering him by taking the horn out of his mouth and hitting the pillar again. DING. It raised a chuckle at the time, but I’m using it here in a serious fashion to illustrate just how good The Thing are: no matter how loud, or violent, or freewheeling it can seem at times, there is always a control, a sensitivity, a thoughtfulness. Three great musicians producing, reacting to and mastering a maelstrom of sound.

Mats Gustafsson

The third piece they played today (they were all new and all called “Fuck This, Fuck That” according to Mats Gustafsson; although sometimes they seemed to allude to strangely familiar riffs or jazz standard-like melodies) illustrated the sheer range of extended techniques, sonic possibilities and dynamics of the trio. After a charging collective introduction, Paal Nilssen-Love began to dominate, thumping his kit through the floor with the power of a John Bonham, but with the precision of a Tony Williams. A solo accumulated thunderous polyrhythyms, before he cut them out to leave just metallic percussion. Mats Gustafsson then started to play a descending three note baritone sax riff, repeating and repeating, varying in tone and volume, adding growls and gasps (notes finishing with an exclamation of “-puuuUUUH!”) as he rocked back and forth, establishing a framework for the others to knit into. The wailing arco drone from Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, and pulsing groove from Nilssen-Love gave this a deep spiritual jazz sound, before Haker-Flaten really began to buzz. Whether by accident or design, his bottom string was creating a mood-changing buzz, and he worked this into a solo, accentuating it further, almost playing two instruments at once – one low and rhythmic, one higher-pitched and percussive. The way he was setting about his bass, it looked like he was going to rip the strings off his instrument; Gustafsson just sat and listened, grinning, thinking, before luring the piece to a close with the same three note riff as before, but this time far softer, and on tenor.

During the five long pieces they played across the two sets there wasn’t a moment that was less than very listenable, and even very watchable, particularly with Gustafsson pacing and prowling around the right of the stage. As well as slapping pillars, he played solos composed entirely of breath (though not quite to the extent of his astonishing new Needs! LP), and produced sections of paint-stripping ferocious free-blowing which left him purple-faced and soaked in sweat. As unlikely as some of the sounds he was producing were, they always sounded so right. Fuck this, fuck that? Fuck me, this was so good.