Tonight, Lichens — aka Robert Aiki Aubrey Lowe — is supported by three acts with a similar, yet distinct, sound.
The delicious, ear-crushing keyboard-driven drones of Tom Hall’s AXXONN — this evening with the added punch of Violent Soho’s Luke Henery providing guest bass. The distorted, feedback-ridden screams and unadulterated menace of Die On Planes. And the fractured, jazz-like percussion and knob-twisting of the Andrews, McManus & Stern Trio.
Each is excellent. Each draws one’s attention with magnetic force. But, tonight, none hold a candle to the aural bonfire that is Lichens.
The great shame is this show is witnessed by no more than 30 or 40 people — including Lichens’ fellow performers. The flipside is that for us, the listeners seated on the sticky carpet of the Step Inn, the experience becomes extraordinarily intimate: a personal performance for a privileged few.
Lichens seats himself on an upturned instrument hardcase without fanfare. He spends long minutes crafting brooding loops of deep-toned synths. It’s only the beginning as, leaving the keyboard to perpetuate its droning, he plucks a silvery, retro-styled microphone from a stand before him and begins to sing.
“Sing” is far too prosaic to adequately convey the otherworldly beauty of this wordless keening. And, as Lichens shifts between high-pitched crooning and deep, guttural moans — seemingly driven by nothing besides whim, intuition or inspiration — it eventually becomes impossible to discern voice from the groaning electronic undertow.
The two sounds warp and weft, each mutating into the other. The ebb and flow is hypnotic, and Lichens quivers in rapture: caught up in his own heavy-lidded trance state with his eyes half-rolled back in his head and his free hand clutching the air spasmodically.
It would be easy to dismiss it as a hokey spectacle: the avant-garde equivalent of hippies listening to whalesong. Nevertheless, there’s a primal beauty to this construction — and that seems too artificial a word to describe something that morphs so organically through its all-too-brief existence — that inspires wide-eyed wonder, the type of unquestioning wonder you thought you’d lost forever when you discovered Santa Claus wasn’t real.
Even when Lichens brings the performance to its conclusion, people sit spellbound for long moments. It’s as if they’re unwilling to shake themselves from the transcendence of the moment. Finally, Lichens stands, and, with a shy half-bow and a wave, disappears from the stage. And then the applause begins.