Such is the curse of the esoteric, Cargo is pretty sparsely populated upon entry into the perfectly irrational world of Nashville lo-fi godfather R Stevie Moore. The deactivated confetti cannon shan’t go spurting its load tonight although explosive onstage antics are seemingly sure to ensue, guitarist J.R. Thomason swigging liberally from Moore’s bottle of red as he fiddles about with bits and pieces of obstreperous machinery. Naturally, this necessarily wacko scene is set to the soundtrack of James Chance’s unapologetically demented Contort Yourself.
And it’s as its squiggly improv abates that Moore emerges in fairly unflattering jeggings and a lumberman’s plaid tog which fails miserably in concealing a tie the size of that worn by The Residents’ grotesque Randy in the grim nightmare that was Talking Light. His beard these days a cotton candy ultramarine, Captain Bluebeard struggles with a dictaphone a moment, most likely lining up his next in an unending litany of unrelentingly lo-fi D.I.Y. recordings. The merch desk meanwhile, in typically dilapidated fashion, is but a smattering of CD-Rs with Moore’s illegible scrawl permanently marking each and every last one. Thus if it is to be his latest oeuvre, it’ll doubtless make for the most legal of bootlegs – not least as maybe not even he’ll have a clue as to which label he’s currently signed to. Though will it make for one worth reliving?
In all honesty, the indefatigable maven of the indescribably eccentric doesn’t get off to the most auspicious of starts. “Robert Stevie Moore. Born: January 18. Check. I’m only hearing monitor. Check.” A bell tinkling in his right hand, he proceeds to wrangle with the recalcitrant dictaphone while shrieking a little à la Randy: “Mommy! Mommy! It’s the ice-cream truck!” By virtue of the unorthodox colouring of his beard, he’d be bubblegum to the tongue but as is such an unreservedly artificial flavour, this is plain bizarre.
Bewilderingly so, when set against the explicitly melodic Carolyn Will You Come: bristling with the sort of endearing sentimentality Wayne Coyne once engendered (of course with the aid of cataracts of ticker tape), not only does it border on hi-fi brilliance but so too is it a highly refined, bubblegum-pop chew. Sticky as it is gooey in view, it’s a reminder of all he could’ve been had he only applied his songwriting talents to a less restrictive aesthetic. Though he’s always been something of a take it or leave it type of chap, and idiosyncratic hallmarks of the irregular prove all-pervasive from the sketchbook etched about his feet, to the rubbery shoes to house ‘em. An old timer in skin though a young punk viber underneath, this opener finds itself at wonderfully wild odds with the propulsive grind of When You Gonna Find Me A Wife, which is in turn a pretty weird one given that the self-professed ‘veteran progressive popster’ has been happily married for 20-odd years now. “Is it what I want?/ Is it what I need?” he quizzes in a quixotically youthful tone atop rambunctious seduction, as he and his junior lackeys thrash away with the jejune frivolity of a toked-up and highly stoked high school startup. It’s hard, fast, and fucking disconcerting in that I wish I could behave quite so carefree, and I’m several decades wetter behind the ears.
All of which makes for a pretty rejuvenating jamboree, not least within this deplorably ostentatious context of Shoreditch on a Thursday. Though it’s not merely Moore who deserves to be picking up the plaudits on this particular tour, for the band he’s cobbled together are equally worthy of such effusive acclaim. There’s a Zappa dexterity to his left in Thomason and so too to his right, while rhythms spanning the syncopated to the stadium-crumbling come from behind. For such a slacker, they seem an incongruous fit but then he’s actually a surprisingly proficient bassist himself as he massages comely vibrations from a mutilated beast. An horrific dismembered doll’s head retuned to a D string machine head, anyone?
But “bands always have another song”, or so Stevie informs and tonight each one not only sounds that bit more rehearsed than anticipated, but also preferable to the previous as they hit full swing with Play Myself Some Music. “Play myself some music/ Pretend I did not lose you” he bewails and if there’s a sense that he is indeed playing for personal pleasure above all else, then never does he lose us in doing so. “But silence makes me cry” and as he gesticulates toward the forming of some unlikely sort of circle pit (Lord only knows what he sees through those oversized spectacles of his, though the likelihood of any such rowdiness around and about these parts is only faint at best) he paints himself as the eternal attention seeker. And beyond the extraneous jibber-jabber, or the unnecessary rolling about on the wine-lashed flooring it’s the music itself – so often overlooked in the case of Moore, such are his reputedly wilful foibles – which holds us rapt. So listen in longer than the “We’re just a young, local garage band trying to fit in with the curve” jibe, and you’ve the cutesy ’70s polychromatism of Irony. It’s that precise feel psych revivalist Ariel Pink so arduously strives to reproduce, though I guess the real irony is that it lacks all that scrupulously postured trickery and is instead a still liberating piece of plain wonderment – not least for a song first conceived in ’77.
And coming at the evening from the perspective of an era I never even so much as heard from, there’s a bizarre disconnect between the humility and incidental genius of Moore, and the feigned quirk of so many in attendance. The ones that make teeny paper hats and prop them precariously atop vandalised hairdos, or those others that so flamboyantly shoot Stevie to celluloid fragments. It goes a little bit Nathan Barley midway through – a kind of fruitcakes anonymous atmosphere – while onstage, the band are a couple thousand miles and as many weeks away, for they sound the house band to some ramshackle watering hole down the backside o’ nowhere. That’ll be some Utopian mirage of an establishment only encountered once you’ve licked your way around eleven hallucinogenic toads, plucked myriad pieces of penetrative grit from the soles of your feet, and then necked enough mescal to rehydrate an entire desert in futile hope of epidermal relief. Once you’ve then brutalised your liver and shredded your bladder, you stumble over to the acrid urinal out back, where Lo Fi Hi Fives is playing in reverential synchronicity with the swirling of AWOL piss about the bowl. For the R Stevie Moore live experience proffers a rare opportunity for his resolute acolytes to dip a toe or two into his unrelenting stream of subconscious, so when he and his band poodle offstage some eight songs in, it feels as though the torrent’s been goddamn dammed.
Chants and lustful groans of “Mo(o)re!” ring around – a double entendre, of course – before he again materialises, this time alone. He tinkers with the instruments strewn lifelessly about the place one by one in what could usually become a slow, and spectacularly painful process. A blistering, if rudimentary drum fill here; a wickedly haphazard synth lick there. “Mac Daddy say Flaming Lips! Mac Daddy say Daniel Johnston!” he spits ad lib, commemorating both the untimely passing of Chris Kelly and a couple ongoing influences all at once. “How the fuck did I get here? Call me an ambulance!” he continues, the one-man jam brought to a tumultuous halt by a glissando performed handsfree with his beard. Beneath a Kum & Go peak, he’s almost more facial hair than face but never is his heart and the emotions it so frivolously spurts left more exposed than now, as he performs what sounds an elementary Reckoner unaccompanied. Would he indeed be better off alone? Perhaps, and these few moments are certainly preferable to the “hard cock rock” of I Am The Best For You for which the band return.
As such, the set itself is divided almost arbitrarily (or so it would appear) into discernibly disparate segments, each determined according to how far through the rouge he’s got. It’s a necessary tipple to facilitate the reciting of a poem citing Facebook and Tyler, The Creator (at length, I ought add), while also comprising couplets rhyming “butt-scratcher” with Thatcher and “white gluten” with Vladimir Putin. Such slick referencing sees Moore’s guard slip somewhat, or so I’d contend as he portrays himself to be that bit more in touch with the world which continues to revolve and accelerate around him than his aloof demeanour may otherwise intimate toward.
And if he’s aware of Tyler’s social media omnipotence, then he’ll likely have read of Danny Brown’s fairly horrific undergoing of that traumatic episode just last week – an event which, aside from causing some problematic discrepancies in contemporary gender roles to arise, should’ve taught us a thing or two about appreciating an artist’s craft. And to be able to stand up there and declaim such a piece is pretty special. “Bring me the head of Jack White! Sweep my driveway, Jack White” he hawks in disgust come its aptly illogical conclusion, referencing the White Stripe’s hijacking of his Tennessee hometown, the tirade apparently wearying him if an exhausted, yet still exhilarating The Winner be any indication. It’s intoxicating as the blown amp fumes to encircle us, Moore crooning affectedly and seemingly somewhat autobiographically: “He spends his life in a box of ideas he can use/ But every night you can find him alone, a loser.”
His words resonate as explicitly disheartening representations of just how reprehensibly neglected left field artistry can be at times: Moore is no loser, though it may irregularly seem as if he’s losing and as he slumps to the floor during an eternal Carmen Is Coming, he resembles a panda cooped up in a cage. All eyes are on him as an entertainer, with the music consequently suffering in quality beyond and it’s in this exact moment that the contemporary performer clearly appears a creature made captive by its own creativity. There may thankfully be no impromptu fellatio this time, though the blood on the bars comes from the hands of those that scrutinise him so…