Colin Stetson @ Polish Combatants Hall – Feb. 15, 2014. Photo: Tom Beedham
By Tom Beedham
Colin Stetson is well accustomed to tests of sheer endurance. The epic, elephantine sounds he conjures out of his alto and bass saxophones are demanding of not just a seemingly bottomless lung capacity; his avant-garde approach to saxophone sound—he straps a mic to his jugular to amplify a cross-section of his circular breathing (an eerie, atmospheric sound normally so subtle it goes unheard), while additional contact microphones are fitted to his instruments’ bodies to build the percussive sounds of the valve fluctuations into his compositions—further requires a frenetic fingering technique and an aptitude for multi-tasking. It is not a task for those lacking in physical nor mental stamina.
On Feb. 15, concertgoers at the Polish Combatants Hall were able to witness Stetson perform works from the two Polaris-shortlisted instalments of his New History Warfare trilogy, but with a further twist.
If blood rushing to his head and strategic hyperventilation wasn’t enough, the Wavelength fest upped the ante for Stetson in a way, coupling his literally breathtaking concert performances with another test of fortitude, blasting the overwhelmingly dizzying swirls of colour provided by General Chaos (a.k.a. Stephen Lindsey)—the fest’s go-to light projectionist for 14 years—so that they were cast all over his person and the surrounding stage for the entirety of his set. For any normal person, you’d think that would be a recipe for some kind of hypersensitive implosion, but Stetson was unfazed.
The musician churned out astonishing renditions of tracks like “Judges,” “To See More Light” and “Part Of Me Apart From You” that spread an infectious breathlessness, keeping the entirety of the hall’s audience at a stand still.
The audience hung on every note—making interruptive peeps only to cheer on the markedly technical moments of numbers like his set opening extended version of “Among the Sef”—until each song was closed, responding with uproariously jubilant furor when Stetson broke after each song to switch back and forth between sax rigs.
During those breaks, Stetson was offhand and casual with the audience, cracking wise about how about how it was nice to be back in the “so apologetic” Toronto. And while he didn’t acknowledge the General Chaos surrounding him, he was markedly thrown off when he noticed the live modular synth projection Hard Science had been shooting onto the adjacent wall, live streaming Stetson’s every move as though visualized by a colourfully scrambled cable channel.
“In what year did it become okay to put sax on a wall?!”
Colin Stetson setlist
“Among The Sef”
“A Dream Of Water”
“High Above A Grey Green Sea”
“Who The Waves Are Roaring For”
“To See More Light” (alto)
“Part Of Me Apart From You”
Originally published by Aesthetic Magazine.