Perambulating the Bounds

Sunday, October 16, 2005

W-S Burn

W-S Burn played in Nashville Friday. They’re based in Knoxville, and play lo-fi, seemingly off-hand music that is deceptively tight. The group is Pixie Beddard, Steve Gigante, Pixie Beddard, and Marcelle Good, Steve on acoustic guitar, Pixie singing and playing a lamp rigged up with bells, Marcelle playing fiddle and a kid’s xylophone. A lot of the music is incredibly simple, a single guitar line played over and over, a few fiddle lines, and Pixie singing, but it is patient and finely tuned. The players react to each other very intuitively. One part might seem out there on its own in a spot, but then one or both of the others will come in effortlessly in a harmonized way, as if they were just waiting for the other line to get there. Actually, that’s probably what’s going on.

Pixie has this floor lamp with a big old shade that she’s hung with bells and wind chimes. She can turn the lamp shade and everything will start tinkling, or rock it back and forth, or just ring one or the other chime. It seems sort of haphazard, except it always fits. It’s also a way in which the group is very visually engaging. There was a step ladder in the performance space, and Pixie started out sitting on the top rung, leaning over onto her knees, sort of singing into her folded up body. Later she climbed down and sat on one of the lower steps. She’s got curly red hair, striking looking, and she moves very fluidly. Even before their set, when they were watching John Allingham play some solo stuff, she was sitting on the floor, and she rolled over in this perfectly smooth motion to sit next to Steve. Movement was also part of the playing for Steve and Marcelle. They dropped foot stomps as percussive accents, and Marcelle would extend a leg out in front of her like a extension of the sound.

Most of the songs were slow and subdued, and many are quite pretty in conventional ways. One more energetic one was a complex hocket of intersecting guitar strumming, fiddle notes, guitar body taps, and foot stomps. I heard some field recordings today on the radio that reminded me of it, a construction made up of rough pieces assembled with a great balance between loose and tight. Breath and cohesion.

I’ve got one of their recordings on, and it is definitely lo-fi. Some cuts have lots of background or machine noise. In the show, bumps from moving the ladder or the freight trains two blocks away just seemed to flow right into the mix, even on the quiet, thoughtful songs. The lo-fi recording puts it into the territory of Jolie Holland (especially that first album Catalpa), as do some of her vocal qualities, although she’s does a little more extreme things with her voice at times. Like Holland, for some listeners the lo-fi quality may mask fundamentally competent musicianship. But its there. And all around, not just Pixie. Marcelle’s violin playing was just right, on the money without seeming cold and excessively technical. There was more messiness in Steve’s guitar playing at times, but he always came back to ground in ways that gave you a lot of confidence in the music, that it reflected intent and structure. For both Marcelle and Steve the music demanded restraint at times, to play its simple lines steadily.

I don’t see much reason these guys couldn’t be pretty popular, sort of like Devandra Banhart, start out playing places like 310 Chestnut and then progress up the venue food chain, up to a point. Maybe they’ll decide they don’t want that.

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