Arto Lindsay at the Black Cat Saturday

IMG_3817One of the pillars of the New York’s no wave era, Arto Lindsay’s frantic guitar playing straddled punk, art rock and free jazz. He’s also been part of the Lounge Lizards and the Golden Palominos in his time.

But for more than 20 years, he’s been recording on his own, inspired by the music of his childhood, growing up in Brazil with missionary parents.  The sambas and easy rhythms suddenly broke for the jagged guitar for which he was known. And yet they all worked together somehow.

Back with his first album in 13 years, “Cuidado Madame” on Northern Spy, he’s also out on an extensive tour for the first time in just about as long.

His stop at the Black Cat in D.C. Saturday was home base for Beauty Pill, who opened and arranged for the tour.

With the foundational work of longtime bassist Melvin Gibbs, and the inventive drumming of Kassa Overall diving into the trancelike rhythms of Candomblé, there was a dance vibe to a lot of the show, helped considerably by the funky and fairly experimental keyboards of Paul Wilson, who was often grinning at what they were putting down.

But it was the man fronting the quartet that was the main focus.

Lindsay, at 63, looks like the professor that’s gone off the deep end, with spectacles, tousled thinning hair and a beatific smile, with little care for stagecraft and a getup that emphasized the looseness of his musical approach. He had flip flops on his feet.

Clearly not a multi-tasker, Lindsay often folded his arms on his guitar when concentrating on vocals; and kept silent when he let loose on his electric 12-string. His vocal approach is a reedy, soft ballad style not unlike that of Chet Baker, spitting out often incongruous phrases, thought provoking questions and bits of poetry along the way.

There was a bit of surrender to the sway of the soft approach that made his sudden jumps into guitar noise all that more contrasting. He’d bang into a non-chord, rattle it to decay and descend further into pure electric improvisation, slashing and crashing as the band continued behind him.

This fit together better than one would expect – the cool fizz of the rhythm making way for the edgy, electric excess; the cool and the hot swirling into a fine elixir.

The artful attack made one miss that whole era of New York experimentation, No Wave and beyond, that seems so scarce now; even more scarce since the death of Lou Reed, who’d routinely mix crooned poetry and guitar noise.

Lindsay is doing more than forging his own path between Brazilian cool and New York heat, he’s becoming a standard bearer of a movement; one of the last of the tribe.

That would explain the dwindling crowd at the Black Cat, yet it was one that was also deeply into the vibe, perfectly suited for a late night Saturday club.

There’s something intoxicating about songs like his old “Illuminated,” followed by “Grain by Grain,” off the new album, that closed the set.

In his agreeable patter, Lindsay mentioned German leader Angela Markel repeatedly; she was the answer to a trivia question he asked in the encore.

But he went into an old song “Simply Are” that began, “I do love your lack of all expression…”

Before the end of the song, both Lindsay and Wilson abandoned their usual instruments to sit at the stage’s otherwise unused second drum set, such was the pull of percussion.


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