3 October, Sitting Room Session By Jess Soutar Barron
Seated now, sloughing off pre-gig banter, we begin: Steve Gunn reacquaints himself with his guitar. He riffs and skips over fret and string finding balance, pausing, considering, listening to some secret self, hidden within.
He says he’s been moving through space, fast. LAX, AKL, NAP.
“What grounds me, is playing to you,” he tells us. “I’m as frazzled as I look, but not as serious.”
He certainly is serious about the guitar. On first listen he’s a guitar geek. But then something shifts and the reality of what’s happening comes into sharp focus. This guitar is a living, breathing thing with its own vagus nerve. Gunn’s just holding on. Tuning pegs slip. Strings twang like tight vocal chords warming, loosening. Gunn lassos and attempts to tame but the thing breaks away, turns rogue.
This guitar has just flown fast through space. LAX. AKL. NAP. It’s not frazzled. It’s rearing to go
Gunn meanwhile is completely absorbed in the mechanics and the magic he’s holding tight to. There’s something so brooding and mournful about him that’s a complete disconnect to what his dexterous digits are doing. They are possessed, and obsessed with hyperactive fret work, incanting mad voodoo renderings of a dozen – a hundred – guitar ghosts: Early Jimmy Page, Early Neil Young, Eric, Johnny, BB, Glen Campbell. We’re left gasping, and grasping at genres. This is anarchic tantric fuck-you folk with echoes of rhythms from grandaddy’s porch.
Gunn is a guitarist’s guitarist. He creates a visceral experience that moves through personal ballad, to home-grown-grass-roots-down-home, to contemplative sound-journey, to souk street music. In places he plays the guitar like a swot conjugating French verbs. In others he’s truly spiritual.
The scaffold of Gunn’s constructs places lyrics like a set of sturdy vertebrae: reliable and stead-fast, pared back but solid, then wraps around that spine a knotty gnarled pulsing complex writhing nervous system – with so much going on it’s impossible to unpick or find a loose end or a new beginning.
Gunn manifests this big wall of sound but in places it’s hard to decide if it’s a triumphal arch or a barricade; we might not even need to be here. He’s entranced us. But more, he’s entranced himself with overwhelming gat diatribes that last 10, 15 minutes, segueing from one to the next. When one guitar isn’t enough, (even one that seems to conjure up six more inside itself…and a harp), he crouches down to throw out deliberate feedback.
There is no imposed 3-minute pop-song structure here. No easy-to-navigate chorus, verse, bridge schema. He has elevated his guitar to sitar, zither, singing bowl. This is less Rattle and Hum and more Om Mani Padme Om.
Music shouldn’t be easy. It should challenge, it should lubricate discourse, it should wrap us in nostalgic fantasy, it should propel us forward, fast, through space. And there should be places where 15 minutes to tease out one thought is right, and true and honest. So, let that place be here, tonight.
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