Reviews

Erase Errata + Mary Timony

Robert Horning
Erase Errata + Mary Timony

Erase Errata + Mary Timony

City: Brooklyn, New York
Venue: Northsix
Date: 2003-04-23


Mary Timony
Photo credit: Annette Gallo

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The thinking behind pairing Mary Timony and Erase Errata on a bill must have had something to do with their both seeming to exist externally to how society views female performers. Neither makes flirting or seductive music; neither seeks to conflate the allure of their music with whatever sexual allure they must automatically accrue in our society as women on a stage. While neither trades on feminine sex appeal, both still might be considered from the point of view of feminist theory to be making a "musique féminine," a musical equivalent of "l'écriture féminine" posited by Julia Kristeva, Hélène Cixous and Luce Irigaray which employs the allegedly female tropes of circularity, open-endedness and indirect, non-rational expression. Outside of this context, Timony's keyboard-driven musical fantasias and Erase Errata's guttural, rhythmic assaults would appear to have nothing in common, but within it one sees their similar use of non-linear song structures, and their common urge to emphasize the semiotic aspects of music (i.e. the repetitive, the pre-lingual, the distended and dispersed). So did their performance make us acutely aware of our existence as subjects-in-process and of our need to create from the body rather than from a fallacious phallocentric position of transcendence? Well, maybe not, but even if our subjectivity was not entirely radicalized, we were at least offered a picture of what a post-phallocentric rock scene might look like. On her last tour with Le Tigre, Timony seemed loosened up by repeated exposures to their dynamic multi-media extravaganza, and she had even gone so far as to incorporate some choreographed dance sequences into her own act. But at this show, Timony seemed to have retreated back into an insular world to which the audience seemed superfluous. She performed in front of a laptop-projected backdrop of some pseudo-shadow puppetry subtitled in German and influenced deeply by Indian art. The backdrop was a fascinating work in its own right, but seemed to have little to do with Timony's set, which emphasized the more esoteric and inaccessible material from her solo albums, the lyrically dense and musically sprawling songs like "The Owl's Escape" or "Dr. Cat", which sound akin to Joni Mitchell's difficult late '70s mode. Accompanied only by a drum machine and some pre-recorded harmonium drones, she played all but one song on a keyboard that at times seemed overwhelmed by its technological limitations. She also prepared a special Leslie-fied microphone so she could perform spacey duets with herself. In the privacy of one's own home, one might safely drift into the rich, medievalized worlds Timony fashions, but at a crowded club full of people drinking and shouting, it becomes easier to tune her out than to pay her the kind of attention she demands. There's no way not to pay attention to Erase Errata. Looking like renegades from the Square Pegs set, they wore glow-in-the-dark clothes on a stage lit only with black lights. But if they were hard to see, they were impossible not to hear. All of their songs were fast, loud and relentless, with the squalls of guitar noise drowning out singer Jenny Hoysten's shouting. The band like to claim they make dance music, but their performance was more like a hardcore show, where the tempos never vary, and the energy never slackens. Their debt to the Gang of Four and the Au Pairs is obvious, but unlike the New York wave of post-punk revivalists, Erase Errata manage to synthesize their influences into something surprising rather than merely reverent. The rhythm section was especially tight and unflagging, galloping through tricky syncopated passages and stop-time breaks with impressive precision. This was especially so with their closer, "Tongue-tied", which was, unfortunately, the only song that seemed an improvement over the album version. While all their songs gained in speed and energy, most of them lost the sonic clarity necessary to allow for the intricate dynamics their recordings capture. Hoysten's horn playing was all but lost in the cacophony; those who couldn't see through the darkness probably didn't even know she was trying. The intensity of their performance was also undermined by the frivolity of their between-song banter, which was as obviously spontaneous as it was lame -- dippy comments about nuclear bombs, boozing and being at a loss for pot tended to compromise the explicitly serious purpose of their music, which seems at war with exactly the kind of slack thinking and conventionality such comments betray. When they brought out members of the opening bands (the very casual Casual Dots -- their set seemed like a laid-back practice -- and local Residents rip-offs Les Georges Leningrad, but not Mary Timony, who was relaxing in the Northsix foyer) onstage for their encore it was a chaotic gesture of congeniality that led to more technical snafus than musical pay-offs. Any momentum Erase Errata had gathered was squandered by the tortuous orchestration of bodies on the crowded stage. For the band, however, this move seemed to signify some kind of significant solidarity, though what they had united over wasn't very clear. Perhaps it was an effort to democratize the stage, to further undermine the typical way rock shows are organized, a model that has long marginalized female performers and glorified a masculinized structure of hierarchical order. For better or for worse, the show came full circle, and Erase Errata succeeded in subverting their headliner status.

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