Helen Money (a.k.a. Alison Chesley of Chicago) gets some amazing sounds out of her cello. Performing Monday night (Nov. 30) at the Empty Bottle, she sometimes played her instrument in the traditional way, bowing the strings and playing fluid series of notes that would fit right into a classical concerto. But at other times, she ran her cello’s sounds through guitar pedals and other effects, creating feedback-heavy tones of the sort normally associated with the electric guitar. She plucked her strings or tapped them with her bow for percussive effects. She used looping pedals and backing tracks to build layers of harmony, creating a ruckus worthy of a heavy metal band on some songs. There were even a few touches of Jimi Hendrix in her performance.
Money has played cello with bands including Verbow, Bob Mould, Mono, Russian Circles and Disturbed, so it’s no surprise that she rocks more than your typical cellist when she performs solo. Her free gig at the Empty Bottle was a CD release party celebrating her new recording, In Tune. I like the CD but I enjoyed hearing Money’s compositions live even more — they sounded so strong and powerful. There’s been a fair amount of music lately that bridges the world of classical and indie-rock, and Helen Money is a fine example of an experimental hybrid.
The only downside of this performance, which received hearty applause, was the usual chatter from the Empty Bottle’s bar, which disrupted the quieter passages of Money’s music. Classical music concertgoers would be absolutely appalled to hear anything remotely as loud in a concert hall. I know you can’t expect the same sort of quiet reverence at the Empty Bottle, but it’s too bad the room wasn’t as quiet as the Velvet Lounge got recently when Claire Chase gave an avant-garde flute concert. Certain rooms are better suited for this sort of performance and unfortunately, the Bottle (despite its excellent and imaginative booking) doesn’t always provide the best ambience.
The first act of the night was Fielded (a.k.a. Lindsay Powell) who sang by herself on the stage, running her voice through lots of echoing loops and adding some keyboards here and there for an atmospheric wall of sound.
Next up was Anatomy of Law, a Chicago band including former members of Animal Law. Barely pausing in between songs (or maybe playing very long tunes), Anatomy sounded at first like Joy Division, with dark, pulsing mood music. The second half of the set got noisier and more aggressive, climaxing with the two percussionists pounding a primitive beat with a clatter of sheet metal. (Sorry, no photos of Anatomy of Law — the lighting was simply too dark to get any decent images.)