Monday, July 02, 2007

More cowbell

Pluvialis and I went down to the Royal Festival Hall last night to see Cornelius, with support by Matmos.

Pluvialis' brother bought the tickets, a box high to the left of the stage. He couldn't make it, because he was stranded in Glasgow after the nuts with the flaming jeep got the airport shut down. Which was completely surreal and oddly congruent, because there was something unearthly about the whole evening. London still awes me, and the afternoon light glanced off the paving at South Bank like powdered chalk, overexposing everything like filmmakers signal flashback. Gormley figures stood high in the rooftops and I thought of the angels in March.

We ate posh salads in boxes and a supernaturally excellent chocolate brownie, collapsed in the middle and shaped like a UFO, cracked around the edges and making me hum the Close Encounters five-tone. We sat in a box like a sleigh, the more so for its red leatherette furnishings -- opposite, the royal box, quilted and crested and looking fitter for Saint Nick than HRM. A crowd with a bizarrely high geek-chic quotient milled about below. Hundreds of crisp white Ted Baker shirts and pairs of tiny oblong spectacles in boiled confectionary colours and chicks in flat maryjanes with witty patterns on them.

Of course, their echelons of geekitude had nothing on Matmos, who sounded like all these people wish the language of their thought sounded, if it were funnier, smarter and angrier, and able to take itself both a hell of a lot more seriously and a hell of a lot less. Flowerpots and xylophones and maraca-type things the size of table tennis balls. Six keyboards and five laptops and guitars with cello bows resting against them. Opera libretto, read aloud. A rack of black things with lights and slides and buttons, and an extraordinary pocket-sized screen that looked for all the world like it was doing a tiny radar sweep in red LED. Another rack of black things, and another, trailing yards of liquorice-strap cabling. A whiplash collection of hi-and-lo-tech, everything humming with mysterious purpose. One dude in an emerald green smoking jacket who grooved while he stroked the MacBook touchpads, and another one who stayed deadly, deadly still, except when cha-cha-chaing with the tiny maracas held delicately in his hands, precisely upright at his keyboard like a meerkat riffing while he looks out for a hawk. They had a video backdrop with imagery of a kind of studied amateurishness that made me feel like I was in Gene Wilder's sugar boat. Well, really it was Willy Wonka's boat, I suppose, but only Wilder could have made it that bloody terrifying. It was brilliant. Beautiful, and hilarious, and brave, and brilliant.

We got back from the interval to watch a bunch of roadies from Tokyo looking like Issey Miyake meets the Beastie Boys circa 1986, and basically being so cool their Converse were leaving little frosted patterns on the stage. I realise I'm getting hung up on the coolness factor here. But it was completely transcendent -- it was utterly through the looking glass, alternate reality, inside-the-anime transportation experience. I felt like the Lawnmower Man, accidentally tapped into the cool.

Cornelius were dressed in grey banker's shirts with white, white cuffs and collars and white trainers, and the lead singer added a bowler. They were dry ice to the roadies' frost. The visual realisation was absolutely awesome, like nothing I've ever seen before -- neither making the live music redundant, nor being a screen-saverish backdrop, but picking up the in-the-flesh band, the in-the-flesh crowd, and putting them in the cathode ray tube -- Hey! I'm Inside the TV! Paint and stop-motion and computer animation, anime and Loony Tunes, pop-culture pastiche pastiched with itself, with a startling awareness both of how to be alienating and dislocating and inclusive and locating, like a muppet sofa with fangs. It was creepy and hilarious and gorgeous and full of in-jokes and out-jokes, which is the sort of humour that you know has context but you don't know what it is, dressed effortlessly and unapologetically with loveliness which brought you so close and so far, like elastic at its furthest extent, like the print of a shoe you own yourself seen on a wet pavement in the morning, and you feel a strangely near friendliness for the person who passed by in your shoes.

And sugar cubes build steps for teaspoons.


Scrivener said...

After reading this fantasmastical post, I gotta say that I find it very difficult to believe any of what you saw on the stage could possibly have been as cool as you are.

Xtin said...

Aw, shucks Scriv! But seriously. The coolness was hanging in the air like smoke which was making mere dorks such as myself high. Matmos is from your part of the world.(Well, ish). HIGHLY recommended. If ever they come near, get thee hence to see them. Prithee.

Sorry, too much Terry Pratchett lately.