Members of Sonic Youth, Arcade Fire play improvised set featuring reimagination of The Velvet Underground and Nico’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties”
With a lineup consisting of Sonic Youth founder/guitarist Lee Ranaldo and his new band The Dust (which includes fellow Sonic Youth member and drummer Steve Shelley), Arcade Fire and Bell Orchestre members Sarah Neufeld, Richard Reed Parry, and Colin Stetson (all of whom performed their own sets previously that day at Hillside Festival), listeners knew they were in for something special when they assembled under the tent at Island Stage for the closing performance of Hillside’s 30th anniversary July 28. But when, before the interim super group drove into its collaboration, Parry offered a disclaimer admitting, “We’re making this up as we go along,” fans were guaranteed a truly idiosyncratic presentation from some of the best classically and alternatively informed musicians in the world.
If a little highbrow, the workshop experiment’s marquee prestige was tested by its allegedly extemporaneous coming together; transporting its participants from the comparatively insular settings of their typical creative unwindings to a public environment, the bands and their special guests showcased their true grit (as if anyone was suspicious) with a handful of introspective drone numbers.
As Steve Shelley hammered out a meditative bed track and Neufeld and Stetson tapped into their frenetic-to-tranquil-shifting fiddle work and dirgeful sax drones (respectively), providing a source of friction for the rest of the group to massage, Ranaldo dug into his seemingly bottomless bag of tricks to display some of the experimental techniques featured minimally (if at all) on his newer solo material and at his earlier Main Stage performance with The Dust. He tested one of his Fender Jazzmasters’ physical endurance with some unrestrained neck bending, took the body with both hands and shook out some choppy feedback surfing, drew and peppered a fiddle bow and timpani mallets across the strings, and even applied iPhone playback to the pickups to render feedback.
Leaving the acoustic six-string he stuck to throughout his solo set earlier in the day, Parry, à la Bell Orchestre, manned a double bass for the entirety of the collaborative set, also putting the percussion skills he’s sourced for in Arcade Fire and Little Scream to use by drumming on the instrument’s sides. The Dust’s Tim Luntzel aided him in providing the low end.
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Laurel Sprengelmeyer (Little Scream) – a collaborator of Parry’s and his solo act’s keyboardist for the day – came onstage to perform Nico’s vocals on a slow burning, 11-minute reimagination of The Velvet Underground’s “All Tomorrow’s Parties.” (See video above.) Mostly instrumental, it was an easy set highlight that doubled as a nod to The National-curated All Tomorrow’s Parties performance Parry gave in December of last year. Sprengelmeyer also performed vocals for the ensemble’s interpretation of Mary Margaret O’Hara’s “When You Know Why You’re Happy,” which she and Parry recorded in 2012 for the first volume of Have Not Been the Same: The Can-Rock Renaissance 1985-1995’s companion compilation, Too Cool to Live, Too Smart to Die.
Halfway through the Hillside performance, Ranaldo and The Dust left the stage while Stefan Schneider (The Luyas) stepped up to take Shelley’s spot at the kit for what Neufeld announced as “a post-Bell Orchestre throw down.”
About ten minutes after having left the stage, Ranaldo and co. rejoined the group to transition into a reworking of the performer’s “Hammer Blows” that would close out the evening and with it, the 30th anniversary of Hillside. As a festival that’s built a reputation on providing the one-of-a-kind performer-coupling workshops it has hosted over the years, ending things with a little bit of the same magic seemed the only appropriate way to do things.
Arcade Fire’s version of Peter Gabriel’s “Games Without Frontiers” is set to appear on a compilation of material covering the singer’s work, And I’ll Scratch Yours, which will also feature a cover of “Solsbury Hill” by Velvet Underground frontman Lou Reed. The record is the answer to Scratch My Back, an album recorded by Gabriel as a collection of songs by other performers, including Arcade Fire’s “My Body Is A Cage” and Lou Reed’s “The Power Of The Heart.” And I’ll Scratch Yours is scheduled for release Sept. 23 via Real World.
Both Lee Ranaldo and The Dust and Arcade Fire have new albums of original material forthcoming. Lee Ranaldo and The Dust are set to release their first album under that official title sometime in September this year. So far untitled, the album will arrive via Matador Records. Also as yet untitled, Arcade Fire will release an LP Oct. 29 via Mercury Records.
Hillside reviews: Colin Stetson at Island Stage – July 28, 2013
Hillside reviews: Richard Reed Parry at Island Stage – July 28, 2013
Hillside reviews: Sarah Neufeld at Guelph Lake Island Stage – July 28, 2013