D.C.'s Metropolitan Arts and Music Association has begun to fill an important void in the local music scene by bringing some of the more artistically challenging bands to town.A good example was the appearance of New York City's Contortions at D.C. space last night. The band, which has gained a critical reputation as one of the most demanding and exciting aggregations to emerge from the New Wave, is led by composer-saxophonist James Chance.
Chance has built Contortion's sound on a funky bottom of black dance rhythms and added harmonically and rhythmically unpredictable layers of dissonant organ and guitar work and his own screeching sax excursions. The atonal experimentation of Albert Ayler is an obvious inspiration.
Although the bottom held well enough to keep the audience dancing, Chance's shouted punk vocals were the weakest ingredient in the band's musical mix. Unfortunately the Contortion's bizarre assault never gained the volume, density or intrigue needed to push the listener past conventional boundaries to the kind of dynamic experiment the band promised.
D.C.'s Chumps, the opening act, were fashionably horrible and would be considered offensive by anyone with ears unreconstructed by modern punk esthetics. Three saxes barely acknowledged each other, much less the rest of the band. Only the occasional vocals of guitarist Mike Miller, which recalled the angry yelping of the Seed's Sky Saxon, were aggressively effective.