I had a great day yesterday.
In the early evening, I made my way to BAM for a screening of Olivier Assayas’ L’Eau Froide (Cold Water), one of my favorite films of the 1990’s. The idea that this movie is still unavailable on DVD here in the USA is mortifying (I’m looking at you, Criterion Blu-Ray) and the scratchy, old English-subtitled print that continues to make the rounds in the Anglophone world is in dire need of an upgrade; with Assayas’ Carlos set to make a splash in the USA in the coming months, it seems a shame that films like L’Eau Froide, Paris s’éveille, Une Nouvelle Vie, Désordre or L’enfant de l’hiver aren’t available to American film lovers. Assayas is one of the greats of this generation, up there with Arnaud Desplechin in my eyes, and a filmmaker whose body of work is vastly underrepresented in the marketplace here in the USA. All of these films aren’t “great”, but even the “great” films like Irma Vep or Late August, Early September, or the criminally under-appreciated Les destinées sentimentales aren’t available in pristine Blu-Ray (although the re-release of Irma Vep a couple of years ago is an improvement). While I am dying to see Carlos, I am more hopeful that the film will inspire a retrospective here or there so America can get another look at Assayas’ career (the last time was at MoMA if I am not mistaken, many years ago) and hopefully light a fire to make his films available on video.
After watching the film, which features one of my favorite scenes in all of cinema, a drug-fueled teen party on an abandoned country estate, I headed to a show by the band A Place To Bury Strangers at a place called Death By Audio, which proved to be a drug-fueled twenty-something party in a very intimate space. Aside from being a small, filthy performance space hidden behind an unmarked door in Williamsburg (and one with cheap beer and which permits smoking– all of which combines to make it a terrific venue in my eyes), Death By Audio is also the name of the company run by guitarist Oliver Ackermann, who builds custom guitar effect pedals that seem designed to tear human ears into a million little pieces. One of them is even called Total Sonic Annihilation (no joke.) Ackermann is one of those geniuses that can not only re-invent his instrument, but can play the living shit out of it as well. His band, A Place To Bury Strangers, is a group that, when you hear them on a recording, seems to feature three or four guitarists, each with an arsenal of sonic contortions that can be deployed with a stomp on an effects box. So, when you see them live, and a wall of sound hits you that is even more enormous than you could have ever imagined, your jaw tends to hit the floor when you realize it’s just Oliver Ackermann and his lone guitar that is destroying everything in sight.
Last night’s show was more than special; an intimate performance in what is essentially Ackermann’s home office, A Place To Bury Strangers gave one of those one-in-a-million performances that can shape a music lover’s life. The band played with incredible intensity, pushing the audience into a crowd surfing (yes, crowd surfing) frenzy only to turn on the fog machine and strobe for their finale, Ocean, which was the musical equivalent of how I imagine death might arrive; transcendent, pulsating, ears washed out, flickering lights. Here was a band that could demolish areans with their sound, only they were playing in their own living room. For a noise junkie like me it was, as someone else said, the equivalent of catching The Beatles at the Cavern Club. Impossible to believe but there it was, happening; no more than 150 people, packed together in a room, watching an incredible band just killing it. I won’t forget this show as long as I live and I won’t, if I can help it, miss another chance to see whatever it is that Oliver Ackermann decides to do next. Amazing night.
EDIT: A reader posted a link to a YouTube video from the show itself. I have embedded it here. Thank you (!!!) and a tip of the hat to Music on Video:
Update: September 8, 2010… More from the show, from YouTube user Dave Cromwell:
Most YouTube videos hardly do this band justice (nothing can capture the volume of… well…volume), but a couple of interesting clips of previous performances for the, erm, interested:
A Place To Bury Strangers: To Fix The Gash In Your Head
A Place To Bury Strangers: Keep Slipping Away