Free Jazz/Punk Rock
Lester Bangs, Musician, April 1980
IN A New York City nightclub, a skinny little Caucasian whose waterfall hairstyle and set of snout and lips make him look like a sullen anteater takes the stage, backed up by a couple of guitarists, bass, horn section, drummer and bongos. Most of his back-up is black, and they know their stuff: it's pure James Brown funk, with just enough atonal accents to throw you off. The trombone player, in fact, looks familiar, and sounds amazing: you look a bit closer, and of course, that's Joseph Bowie, bother of Lester, both of them avant-garde jazzmen of repute. But then the anteater begins to sing, in a hoarse yowl that sounds more like someone being dragged naked through the broken glass and oily rubble of a back-alley than even the studied abrasiveness of most punk rock vocalizations. The songs are about contorting yourself, tying other people up and leaving them there, and how the singer doesn't want to be happy. After a while he picks up an alto sax, and out come some of the most hideous flurries of gurgling shrieks heard since the mid-Sixties glory days of ESP-Disk records. The singer/saxophonist's name is James Chance, and you have been watching the Contortions.
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