Live Review: James Chance And The Contortions at PS1

There is nothing that makes one feel better about growing old than seeing the Contortions play live.  I’m tempted to use the cliche that the Contortions have more energy than bands half their age, but that really wouldn’t do justice to the power they show onstage, which 1) proves the Contortions were the best white funk band ever, 2) proves James Chance will probably be able to do it forever, 3) showcases Jody Harris as a strikingly forceful guitar player, and 4) shows what a group effort the Contortions are.  There are no lead guitar lines; Harris plays smashing chords or short, funky melodies, while slide guitarist Pat Place hammers staccato blocks of sound or screeches up and down the fretboard.  Bassist Erik Sanko scrapes his bass notes wildly during “Jaded”; he’s the best bassist the Contortions have had since George Scott.  Don Christensen plays alternately wildly danceable disco or lopsided stop-start beats that still manage to be spastically funky.  Robert Aaron squeals on saxophone and forcefully plays the organ lines (though he can’t beat the incredible pacing and power of Adele Bertei). And of course James Chance’s tenor sax rips holes in one’s eardrums when he isn’t singing in his voice that hasn’t changed a bit since No New York, and is all the better for it.  Before the show, an organizer said that “The Contortions still have chapters left to write”.  Before the performance, most of the crowd seemed to think it hyperbole, but as one who saw the Contortions warm up earlier, practicing “Super Bad” and “I Don’t Want To Be Happy”, I knew that the organizer was telling the truth; the performance of James Chance and The Contortions at PS1 was the best indication of what the original recording of “Buy” sounded like.  And this is thirty years after the fact.  As Sonic Youth slowly settle into mediocrity without Jim O’Rourke, the Sex Pistols rerecord Anarchy in the UK for Guitar Hero, and Pere Ubu’s horrible album covers reflect their music more and more, James Chance and the Contortions stand out as one of the few bands that still lives up to their original promise.  It’s enough to make you feel affection for the human race.

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