Expo 70 – The Hope, Brighton
Transporting sounds from the LA drone whiz - shame about the visuals, though
Words Ben Graham
An overloaded plug socket, and six inches of gaffa tape hanging on a bare black wall. There’s not much to look at on this rainy Tuesday night, with autumn coming down hard, and the audience at a four-act bill of experimental underground guitar music just about creeping into double figures. A succession of men with beards and little dress sense take to the low stage, avoiding eye contact or meaningful communication. The Long Potter spins cymbals on his upended guitar like a sonic Spanish waiter; John Bohannon, aka Ancient Oceans, comes on like a post-rock Peter Green, all haunting reverb and swooping, neo-classical descends. At least Dow Briggs, in his guise as the Hills Have Riffs, says hello — he also sings, a dark-voiced troubadour whose electro-acoustic ragas resemble those of Six Organs Of Admittance or Entrance’s Guy Blakeslee.
Expo 70 is LA-based Justin Wright, who since 2003 has released a slew of CD-r LPs with titles like Beguiled Entropy, Hovering Resonance, Abnormal Vergence and, my favourite, Inaudible Bicoastal Trajectory. Tonight he’s sat cross-legged and facing away from us, staring into his flight case full of effects pedals and wringing the neck of his electric guitar until it bleeds white noise; long, droning lines of perfectly pitched feedback tones, rising and falling, oscillating slowly, somewhere between Terry Riley and Spacemen 3. Subtle electronics add the feel of Pink Floyd’s early soundtrack pieces, from that neglected, fertile period between Syd’s departure and Dark Side of the Moon stadium ubiquity.
It’s impressive and potentially transporting, but crying out for some visual accompaniment — back projections, a smoke machine, a trippy lightshow — anything but those bare walls, that gaffa tape, the inappropriate promotional banner for a well-known brand of rum that’s draped across the back of the stage. Ironically, Expo 70’s albums are all exquisitely designed and packaged- by Wright himself, conveying a rich visual aesthetic that perfectly complements the music. They suggest images of other worlds, another time — exactly what I’m left wishing for tonight.