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Rattling Ribcages and Sensibilities: Ben Frost at Amsterdam

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, filmmaker and writer Justin Schell shares his perspective on Saturday’s concert by Ben Frost. Agree […]

To spark discussion, the Walker invites local artists and critics to write overnight reviews of our performances. The ongoing Re:View series shares a diverse array of independent voices and opinions; it doesn’t reflect the views or opinions of the Walker or its curators. Today, filmmaker and writer Justin Schell shares his perspective on Saturday’s concert by Ben Frost. Agree or disagree? Feel free to share your thoughts in comments!

I never thought I’d hear a live show as loud as Keiji Haino’s performance at the Walker back in 2006, but Ben Frost’s performance Saturday night at Amsterdam, a co-presentation of the Walker and the SPCO’s Liquid Music series, somehow made Haino’s four-amp guitar creations sound like elevator music.

Frost’s music was an amalgamation of punk, metal, noise, and minimalism, as hints of melody surrendered to squalls of sound that shook not only Amsterdam’s fixtures, but also audience members’ ribcages. The barefooted Frost was on his toes the entire night, each dramatic gesture on his guitar, laptop, or various other digital components unleashing music that was at times glitchy, other times sludgey, other times picking apart the idioms of electronic dance music and metal. You could envision any number of cinematic visuals for it: industrial wastelands, desolate winter nights, expansive glaciers, or a b-side for the Ludovico technique.

From left to right, Paul Corley, Ben Frost, and Greg Fox. Photo by Justin Schell

From left to right, Paul Corley, Ben Frost, and Greg Fox. Photo by Justin Schell

Percussionists Paul Corley and Greg Fox, who joined Frost on-stage, added their own torrents of hocketing, polyrhythmic sound, be it on a conventional drum set, congas, toms, or digital drums. As Frost’s music began to emerge from the speakers, Fox was limbering up, and soon it was clear why, as he became something akin to a speed metal drummer, sticks and double-bass drum pedals flying. At one point, both stood over the congas and toms and struck them with such force that my eyes were forced to blink along with every hit. It was visceral, aggressive, and overwhelmingly masculine music.

With music that positions itself at extremes, there will undoubtedly by extreme reactions. Some of the crustier members of the audience, many of whom lined either side of the seats, were dancing throughout the entire show. They were in the (perhaps happy) minority, though. Others looked unimpressed, to be generous. A number of folks left almost as soon as the first piece started; by the time I had finished writing “2 folks left” in my notebook, two more had left. One woman behind me had her head nearly in her lap, hands over her ears, trying to shield herself with the person in front of her. Yet another man, though, bobbed his head peacefully with his eyes closed and fingers in his ears as the music engulfed him.

Frost, however, is not without a sense of humor. The pre-show music, selected by Frost himself, was a loop of Eduard Khil’s “I Am Glad, ’cause I’m Finally Returning Back Home,” better known as the “Trololo” song. I got there around 7:30, and the show started shortly after 8, which meant this under-3-minute song looped for more at least 35 minutes. As the show concluded with a 15-minute piece whose last strains were the most minimal of percussive strokes by Fox and Corley, Khil’s song came on again to serenade people as they departed, its syrupy vocalise made all the more palatable for some as welcome relief, while for others a kitschy musical joke to be vanquished by deafening noise.