I feel like I slacked off a bit last week when I missed most of the Wire Festival, a.k.a., “Adventures in Modern Music,” an annual showcase of some of the strangest music around, which the British magazine Wire curates and the Empty Bottle hosts. I’m sure I missed a lot of provocative music during the first four nights of the festival. I did catch the final night on Sunday (Sept. 13). The club seemed less than half full, but it was an excellent night of the sort of challenging music that Wire Fest is known for.
First up was Woods, a really cool band from New York with one of this year’s noteworthy records, Songs of Shame, whom I saw at SXSW. The core of this band’s songs are catchy rock tunes sung in a high falsetto, which remind me a bit of Canned Heat or Neil Young or something from that early ’70s era — but twisted through an experimental, improvisational, psychedelic vibe. Woods also played some extended instrumental jams, building their sound around drones and tape loops. Actual cassette tapes are part of the Woods’ sonic arsenal. Cool stuff.
The next band was the Subarachnoid Space. Never heard of ’em. They put on a pretty impressive set of heavy instrumental rock — heavy metal and art rock without any singing. The music was loud, but it was also fairly diverse within the limits of heavy instrumental rock. The third act of the night, Zola Jesus, was Chicago singer/composer Nika Danilova and two keyboardists, playing chilly techno pop, but with slightly stranger vocal melodies than the usual techno pop.
The headliners were Phantom Orchard, a collaboration between two highly respected experimental musicians, drummer Ikue Mori (who was working a laptop instead of drumming at this concert) and harpist Zeena Parkins. Their music included quiet, delicate tapestries of harp notes dancing over bubbly electronic textures. But Phantom Orchard also cranked up the volume and discordance for some sharp, piercing compositions as well.