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Live Review: Colin Stetson

30 January 2014 | 10:40 am | Lorin Reid

Arcade Fire’s Canadian-based saxophonist has one of the most unique playing styles you’ll ever see.

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Colin Stetson's compositions are cyclical, hypnotic and meditative. A combination of circular breathing and throat singing, Stetson never once took his mouth off the sax and there was never a moment's silence during his pieces. He flurried through an onslaught of runs and arpeggios and kept in time with a slow beat you could see pulsing through his arms.

Alternating between the huge contrabass saxophone that was nearly as large as him, and the comparatively minute yet familiar alto, Stetson was constantly mixing things up while sticking rigidly to his style. His voice seemed to travel through the brass of his instruments and echo, as if through water, to our ears. The wordless, musical moans were ethereal, their sound feminine and not unlike the cries of Sigur Ros.

The sound he elicited from the bass sax was like a live wire – it was mic'ed to become full of static and grind like an electric guitar. The higher notes were piercing whereas the lower ones, sometimes, were barely audible. Within the one instrument, there were a number of layers at work, as if he had a whole orchestra in there.

Stetson paused occasionally to shake his hands and rattle off song titles like The Righteous Wrath Of An Honorable Man and another he described as a song about “man's universal conundrum of aloneness – not loneliness though – people confuse them and they're very different.”

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Some songs rose from calm into a swelling dissonance, reminiscent of a swarm of bees; some had a beat made from the sound of Stetson's fingers forcefully hitting the keys.

His songs were long – the first over ten minutes – and an hour-long show was just the right amount of time to disappear from this world into his.

Arcade Fire's Canadian-based saxophonist has one of the most unique playing styles you'll ever see.