Gloom with a view: Cold Cave at the Guggenheim
The synth-heavy sound of the band Cold Cave has just the right sort of darkness to pair well with John Chamberlain’s bright metallic sculptures.
Chamberlain’s assemblages, which shared space with Cold Cave Friday night at the second installment of The Guggenheim Museum's Divine Ricochet series, are all crunchy color, but it’s hard to see car parts tangled up and not imagine a kind of violence. And Cold Cave’s Wesley Eisold—deemed “the world’s least likely critical darling” by New York magazine—has transmuted his background in hardcore music into moody experimental pop that combines danceable melodies with a sense of drama and that hint of violence. The band owes a debt to darkwave, '80s minimal electronic music, and post-punk alike, crafted, like Chamberlain's sculpture, from elements of the past.
An hour-and-a-half-long after-hours private viewing of the Chamberlain exhibition, Choices, precedes each of the series' 10 p.m. shows, so concertgoers have plenty of time to consider the art and get in the mood for poetic fusion. Chamberlain’s sculptures are arranged in chronological ascent up the Guggenheim's spiral, evolving in their materials (foam, aluminum foil) and scale (cherry picker, paperweight) but hewing closely to a signature technique that Chamberlain called "articulate wadding"—abstract crumples, typically of metal salvaged from old cars, shaped with a haphazard approach he compares to the handling of toilet paper, yet "articulate" in their ability to convey tone, emotion, and action.
One deviation from this method took the form of a fabric-draped foam couch. Visitors were invited to take a seat, provided they removed their shoes, but Friday night few chose to do so. Many wore shoes too impressive to remove, and besides, it seemed that many felt it shrewder to stay close to bottom of the spiral; some had already staked out floor space near the stage or near the bar.
Cold Cave took the stage almost stealthily. Eisold, Cold Cave’s founder, was joined onstage by Dominick Fernow of Prurient, one of several collaborators he’s worked with since starting the band. Both wore black leather jackets, and both kept their heads bowed over their control panels as they launched into an extended period of wordless, abstract noise. As they began in earnest to play the material from their newest release, last year's Cherish the Light Years, their divergent stage personas emerged. Eisold—tall, lanky, possessed of only one hand—sang mostly solemnly. His hair, shaved around the sides, suggested a monk-like aspect. Fernow was more animated, pointing and making truculent faces while pacing the stage, whipping his forelock while twisting knobs, looking as though he was spoiling for a fight.
The crowd, for the most part, was composed, quiet, even demure: they were on museum behavior, but they were also taking cues from Eisold's brooding detachment. But when Eisold and Fernow began to play “Confetti,” it was possible from the upper level to see the people on the floor start, irresistibly, to bounce.
The stage, tucked up against the ramp leading to the museum’s upper levels (built over top of a small fountain), was an island amid the crowd with audience members out front as well as behind, on the ramp. At one point Eisold leaned his head close to those on the ramp so that they were all clustered together to sing into the microphone.
For the most part, though, he was a reticent presence. His first words to the crowd came only before the final song of the set.
“Thanks,” he said to the audience. He then expanded slightly: “Thank you for being here.” The crowd cheered. Eisold and Fernow slipped from the stage, but the audience kept yelling, and the duo returned quickly for an encore. More from Eisold: “Thanks.”
After a couple more tunes the two players disappeared for good—Eisold headed to Bemelman's bar at the Carlisle, as one fan documented with an Instagram photo. Most of the crowd, however, made for the subways to ditch the Upper East Side, leaving behind a museum floor sprinkled with crumpled plastic cups and wadded napkins (articulate and otherwise).