With rock music becoming almost as conservative as the national political scene, it was a pleasure indeed to hear two bona fide eccentrics go at it at d.c. space last night. Guitarist Fred Firth and vocalist Phil Minton presented a musical display that was alternately harsh, clanging, delicate, witty and ultimately enjoyable, in a quirky sort of way.
The words "guitarist" and "vocalist" apply in their most elastic sense to Frith and Minton. Frith does not play his instrument so much as he assaults it, preparing it with metallic objects, and banging and sawing away with a variety of implements. Following his lead, Minton responded with a series of gurgles, whispers, moans, and poetic phrases that provided a curious counterpoint to the electronic effects.
The music (sound is perhaps a better word) consisted of dense layers of harmonic and percussive textures twisting about in dizzying parabolas of controlled frenzy. The dynamic level rose and fell abruptly with Frith hacking out jagged phrases while Minton performed vocal acrobatics. The result resembled a cross between the sounds of bedlam and a sheet metal plant.
Frith and Minton, like all self-respecting experimentalists, were over-indulgent and pretentious at times. But they were also thrilling and imaginative. All things considered, not a bad musical bargain.