Carlson‘s guitar has already started when,
“Can you tell me, is there a band playing here tonight?”
I look down at the little glass pavement tiles that glow blueish green from the basement of the Soup Kitchen, then back at the presumably German guy and reply with a deliberation appropriate for his potential linguistic or cultural shortcomings.
“Dylan Carlson, of a band called EARTH. He was Kurt Cobain’s best friend, and bought him the shotgun he killed himself with.”
“Ah! For a long time I have been a big fan of the grunge music.”
“Well, you can see the man who killed it.”
“Alszo..” his friend says, seemingly unimpressed “…do you know where is The ‘Common’ bar?”
I draw a mental blank, despite having been there on a couple of occasions a decade ago, misplacing its name among the dozens of similar locations that have sprung up in the area in the interim. We trade some inordinately polite goodbyes, the type reserved for distantly originating visitors to this City, before summarily remembering exactly where Common is after they’ve headed off far enough away for the realisation to be uncommunicable.
Down in the dark, Carlson sits pouring over the top of a Telecaster, the remarkable follicular juxtaposition of his grey/white chops sprouting out from beneath a still pitch black thatch providing footnotes for the simultaneously youthful and wizened figure he cuts.
“I don’t mind you guys taking photos, but please, no flash. It gives me seizures.”
I continue searching for a shot in the dimly lit conditions, mechanically dialling through successive settings, f-stops and film speeds, hoping serendipity will pick him out. Before the smattering of claps for the second song have dissipated, Carlson, shiny child-like eyes peering out from under his sporadically tattooed brow, pointedly announces down into the top of the microphone in his slightly helium contracted rasp…
“Alright, second time I tell you politely, third time…I can be a bit of a dick.”
The crowd look nonplussed at one another in the absence of any memory of a camera flash. Carlson continues open-tuning his guitar, before rethinking his threat and any potential animosity it might have begun to culture and clarifies…
“…it’s not because I’m a dick, just because…it’s a legitimate condition.”
I conclude that my camera’s soft green focussing light that kicks-in in low lighting must be culpable, but the lighting guy’s atmospheric swirling projections on the PA stage left cuts out too. Regardless, I respectfully abandon my camera despite momentarily wondering if acting as an epilepsy accelerant might result in a better photo op and review, considering such seizures have reportedly prompted in this particular sufferer sightings of ‘Fairy folk’ .
“This song was released on a cassette only, in commemoration the 400th Anniversary of the Pendle Witch Trials.”
The cave in the bowels of Lancaster Castle/Prison is not too dissimilar a descent and right-turn-into as the Soup Kitchen itself, as I recall. Carlson and accompanying drummer launch into ‘Thee Betrothal of Alizon Device’, much as they have the preceding songs – Carlson twanging an open string as a foundation, then building swirling, repetitive, fretboard perambulations that constantly evolve into a squall of effects wisely applied at the right time, rendering the mutated basis of the song a frozen-numb and throbbing shadow of its former self, while Rogier Smal patters at the drums with his brushes, clinging sometimes tenuously to Dylan‘s semi improvised orbit, seeming not quite on the same page as Carlson, which is forgivable as few of us are.
“This is a version of ‘The Bees Made Honey in the Lion’s Skull'”
“…don’t applaud just yet.”
To attempt to describe Carlson‘s songs with the luxury of a copy for posterity is a deliciously self indulgent exercise in creative writing, but hearing alot of these solo songs for the first time live in such a setting is as decidedly temporal and hypnotic affair as hearing those we know. I take precious few notes and leave with only one articulable image – that of cattle in the shadow of a power plant.
The final song is the evening’s only floor filler (at least it would be if the floor weren’t already filled and anyone could muster more than an almost imperceptible sway or slowly pecking head), which a scrawl on an envelope (un)reliably informs me is ‘Green Smoke in the LZ (sic?)’ and has a riff that hot-wired a Buick in the 50s, circumnavigated our timeline and reconvened with us this evening.
Carlson thanks us and gets up to leave, a bumper sticker on the back of his Telecaster also inadvertently bidding us farewell.
In The Castle afterwards, the back room’s stage is littered with Rorschach test-style paintings named after venerable dead poets, abandoned after whatever transpired while Carlson was communing with the nether-territories. A table of Germans schwatzen in the corner of the otherwise empty room, and I’m reminded of my meeting at the evening’s start, and its inevitable inclusion in a review I was hoping would avoid the obvious and remain a Cobain Free Zone. I approach the stage for a souvenir and pick up the painting nearest me.