Happy birthday, Rhys Chatham

Maybe eight years ago, I was working for a club with a 900 person capacity. Frequently they would ask me about some of the weirder things that they were considering booking and one time, that weird thing was Rhys Chatham. I, having first learned of Chatham’s guitar armies in 87ish, with the release of the Die Donnergotter LP, was pretty excited about the idea of getting to see Chatham live, and immediately launched into some effusive tirade about his work, convincing them of his reputation and merit, as a composer. During that tour there was some Sunn O))) connection and I figured between that and the coterie of musical oddballs, both local and regional (there were no other shows scheduled anywhere near us), we could amass the staggering sum of maybe 200 people. Now, when you’re a venue of 900+, your booking agent isn’t so psyched on 200, but they’ve still got a schedule to fill, so with this in mind, the date was set. Long story short, on the day of the show we’ve sold maybe 40 tickets, end up giving away as many as possible, and my legacy as the guy whose interest in a show was inversely proportional to ticket sales was cemented (around the same time, I also went to bat for LCD Soundsystem, who had maybe 200 people at their show, making it one of the club’s biggest losses, and 2 years later they would have sold out a week’s residency.) . Anyway, for those interested in Chatham, it was a great show of his heavy, repeating, slowly evolving minimalism, and I’ve still got a stack of tickets as a momento.

Here’s a rare clip of Chatham at Max’s Kansas City in 1979, blasting away his particular brand of  No Wave Minimalism.

Guitar Trio was Chatham’s first composition in the mold for which he became famous, and through the years he has been assisted by Glenn Branca (his most prominent rival for the title of King of The Guitar Army), Nina Canal of UT, Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon and Lee Ranaldo, Alan Licht, Robert Longo, Tony Conrad and original Circus Mort / Swans drummer and member of La Monte Young’s Forever Bad Blues Band, Jonathan Kane.

A Crimson Grail, performed by 100 guitarists and 8 bassists, in the Liverpool Cathedral.


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