Alan Licht is one of those extremely prolific avant-garde musicians who keeps re-emerging in different musical contexts. Since the beginning of his career, Licht has explored large tracts of musical territory with endless collaborators and a consistently refined yet elusive style, one that resists description – ephemeral might be the best word for it. Whether he’s atonally plucking a subdued guitar with Loren Connors on Two Nights, or diverging into drone remixes of disco anthems on Plays Well, all of his output is confident and fascinating. Given this diverse discography, I was quite curious to see what Licht would play when I arrived at La Vitrola on June 3rd for his Suoni Per Il Popolo show.
The evening began with two strong performances from two very different guitarists. The first was local solo guitarist Vicky Mettler, who I’d never seen before. Mettler got the crowd’s attention with her loud, distorted acoustic guitar; any other sound in the audience was barely audible amidst the heavy tones she produced. Playing an assortment of atonal chords, Mettler sung and wailed alongside the creeping tones of her instrument, harmonizing in a foreboding and ominous way – a promising start for the night.
The second opener was an Icelandic guitarist by the name of Kristin Haraldsdottir. Her music, in direct contrast with Mettler’s, was hushed and lingering; Haraldsdottir let her instrument breathe in between notes, the guitar exhaling over empty air or a backing track of oceans, rivers, and various other hydrologic manifestations. Unfortunately, some of the effect was lost due to (in Licht’s words) a particularly noisy ‘polka-disco’ party underway downstairs. But despite the potential distractions, Haraldsdottir’s performance was captivating, and I hope she makes her way back to North America sometime soon.
By the time Licht went on, the room was quiet, the music from downstairs finally having subsided. Licht entered the stage quite unceremoniously, acoustic guitar in hand, and without skipping a beat he sat down on a chair centre-stage and began playing.
Licht’s guitar tone was clean and bright; you could hear each note reverberate as if it was a bell chime. He strummed his guitar, up and down, in a straightforward rhythm, and kept fingerpicking techniques to a minimum. There was no dissonance, no distortion – Licht was simply playing his guitar in the same way someone might play in their room at home, strumming chord after chord, thinking that maybe this progression would hypothetically sound good in a band someday.
Despite these rudimentary tools and straight ahead style, Licht did not fail to deeply impress. Throughout the show, he continuously convinced me that he knew exactly what he was doing, and that he was doing it well. Early on in the set Licht confided that, after reading Keith Richards’ biography, he was inspired to write a lot of these songs in open G. The tuning allowed him to hit all six strings of his guitar with every stroke of his hand, creating a real fullness and depth to the sound.
The songs themselves were like hurried meditations on hypothetical childhood memories, not nostalgic, but rather invoking in me the same sense of solipsistic optimism that I used to feel when I was a kid. Rather than leaving me with the chills, Licht’s gave me a warm feeling, like the one you get in your stomach when seeing a friend after many months apart. In a way, it felt as if Licht had turned La Vitrola into his own living room, and the audience members were his welcomed guests as we sat there and watched him play.
Licht didn’t linger on stage once he finished, instead hurrying over to the merch table, leaving his audience to find our way back to reality. The concert had been an exclusive peek into another world, Licht’s performances like bedroom renditions of the best rock songs never written. Eventually, I begrudgingly got on my feet to leave, feeling as though I was arriving home from a vacation, the sound of Licht’s guitar still repeating over and over in my head.
– Review by Rudy Quinn