Concert Review: Nurse With Wound (and friends) – San Francisco, 3/26/09

Okay, so this is a biased review. I’ve been a fan of NWW for years, and when I found out a few years back that not only was Stephen Stapleton breaking his 20-odd year moratorium on Nurse performing live, but was doing so in my backyard (San Francisco), I knew I would have to go. I caught both shows in June of 2006 at the Great American Music Hall, and was blown away. I was thankful for the opportunity to be present for the somewhat historic occasion, and didn’t really expect that I’d get to see another NWW show any time soon.

Then, I found out that Stapleton was coming around again, and to the Great American Music Hall again, on top of it. There was no doubt in my mind – I was going to be there.

And, last night, I was.

One thing that immediately caught my attention was how many of the people I recognized in the crowd from the previous two shows I’d been to. Stephen Stapleton is very generous, and mingles with the crowd before the show. I got him to sign posters from the last set of shows, and from this one. There’s a picture of me with him from the previous shows in my name-dropping album.

The evening started off with a rather hypnotic and mind-altering set by Freida Abtan. Personally, I think her contribution was a little underappreciated by the audience, or it’s entirely possible that I was just that sucked into it, and wasn’t really aware of what was going on around me. Or maybe we all were. I think I’ll be buying her cd.

After Freida, came an equally compelling set from Jim Haynes, who managed to extract some amazing (and disturbing!) sounds from sand, wire, sheet metal, glass, and dead insects. And not in a Neubauten way, either. He’s another artist I think I’ll be investigating further now.

After Jim came a set by, and then, there was a bit of a break, while they struck half of the stage, and then came the main gig.

I’d forgotten the ability of NWW to completely transport me to another headspace. Like a lot of artists, this doesn’t always translate on albums, but hearing them live is something else entirely. It may have also had something to do with using enough bass to vibrate the entire building. :) Even so, the set, which went on for about 75-80 minutes by my count ran the gamut from alternate-reality drone, to nightmare spaces, to “sinister whimsey” (did I hear samples of R2-D2 in there at one point?) to pure fun (Stephen donning a panda mask and prancing about singing “Rock ‘n’ Roll Session”).

In many respects the evening felt like a continuation of a party begun back in 2006 – at others a reunion of old friends who’d been through something magical for two nights, and reconvening for a third.

I can’t really describe the music I heard last night, most of it defies attempts to classify it. What I will say is that it was beautifully overpowering and mind-altering – literally an entire body/mind/soul experience. For a low-fi taste, try searching for “Nurse With Wound San Francisco” on YouTube, and you’ll find a couple of brief clips from 2006 (and maybe some from last night if they’ve started to be uploaded). It doesn’t do it justice, but try to imagine it all happening at jet-engine level volume, taking over the physical confines of the venue, and transporting everyone with it through inner and outer and even sideways space.

Towards the end of the evening, Stapleton shouted out something about “see you next year!” I hope he was serious.

Because I intend to be there.