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Live Review: James Chance & The Contortions

18 January 2016 | 4:10 pm | Dylan Van Der Riet

"Chance clearly demonstrates the fire, raw creativity and disharmony that were the catalysts for the short-lived no wave movement."

In the far-off time and space of late-1970s New York, sandwiched between the goliath punk and new-wave eras, came another scene from the hallowed grounds of CBGB, the runt of NYC's artistic litter, no wave. Sharing both space and influences with the likes of Talking Heads, Blondie and Suicide, the genre — a punk-fuelled mix of funk, freeform jazz and '50s rock as anchorless as its title suggests — had one champion, its own rock'n'roll king: James Chance.

Almost four decades later, James Chance & The Contortions humbly swagger onto the stage. Chance boasts the air of a self-assured legend, a true dude of dudes, brandishing a David Byrne-esque over-sized suit and sax as slick as his glossy pompadour. A makeshift stage stands within the Gallery's Great Hall, glowing under the towering faces of the honoured master artists of present and past, Ai Weiwei and Andy Warhol.

The Contortions, young enough to be Chance's children (and grandchildren), are so in line with the no wave spirit that you can easily forget that this music easily outdates half of the audience's birth dates. The ensemble masterfully extract and imbue the correct amount of rhythm, dissonance and aggression from each respective influence to create the chaotic, violently danceable result. Chance's sax and organ improvisations never lose out to the insurmountable groove of his meticulous backing trio. Chance's rebellion and artistic outset have not wearied after 40 years and he maintains punk ethos by delivering a cover of Gil Scott-Heron's Home Is Where The Hatred Is (which is dedicated to Donald Trump).  

The stage's impromptu, inescapably sterile nature dashes any feeling of this being an organic performance. Both audience and performer alike share the sensation that this is far from just another exhibit. With a quick victory lap of their signature Contort Yourself, and even an encore in the Gallery's anti-showmanship atmosphere, Chance clearly demonstrates the fire, raw creativity and disharmony that were the catalysts for the short-lived no wave movement; one that will not sink under the shifting tides of the modern world as long as he is there to keep it afloat.

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