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Published: 2006/05/24
by Jesse Jarnow

Jim O’Rourke, The Stone, NYC- 5/16


Jim O'Rourke returned to Manhattan for an equally rare and random mid-week gig at The Stone, saxophonist John Zorn's latest experiment in egalitarian club-building. Located in a former Chinese grocery on the southern tip of Alphabet City, the space is as minimal as it gets. The door from the street opens into the venue itself: a long, rectangular box broken only by a bathroom in the rear corner, and an indentation for the basement stairs. There is no stage, no bar, and no advance ticket sales. All shows — 8 pm and 10 pm every night except Monday — are $10 (all money to the performers), though O'Rourke offered his sets for $5. Patrons sit on folding chairs. It's about the music, maaaan.

And, amazingly, it actually is. After tip-toeing through the small, packed crowd at the early show, the Sonic Youth/Wilco collaborator was met with nearly pure silence, save for the conversations of pedestrians outside and cars chugging past. Being part of a month-long tribute to Derek Bailey, the late British avant-guitarist, O'Rourke was in acoustic experimental mode (as opposed to the electronic technician he played last time he accompanied Bailey in New York, or the barbed singer-songwriter persona of his last downtown gig). Coming across like a befouled pixie, O'Rourke giggled nervously, making one false start before beginning a long instrumental.

O'Rourke started abstractly, slicing dissonant fingerpicking with intricate harmonics. Throughout the performance, O'Rourke was able to play in such sheer quiet that his switch from using his fingers to using a pick became hugely dramatic moment, as did his switch back. Midway through the piece, O'Rourke was joined by longtime drummer Tim Barnes, who played a small kit without sticks.

Even then, the music didn't become notably louder. Gradually, and almost imperceptibly, O'Rourke's patterns resolved from jarring dissonance to pleasing consonance, recalling the triumphant major-key crests of Bad Timing. Just as undetectably, O’Rourke returned to angularity, and eventually faded to silence. After a long moment, he added an even quieter coda. Smiling and making eye contact with Barnes, O’Rourke released the tension in his shoulders, and the song was over.

O'Rourke, who recently quit Sonic Youth and moved to Japan, was amiable and chatty, despite having hurt his neck while moving boxes several nights previous. He told a long kinda-had-to-be-there anecdote about Bailey (who was also being paid tribute in May by Zorn, Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore, Arto Lindsay, Fred Frith, Eugene Chadbourne, and other leading lights of the downtown diaspora). A second, shorter piece filled out the second portion of O'Rourke's 45-minute set. The 37-year old musician repaired outside for a cigarette (no backstage either, dig?) and the crowd — five well-spent dollars poorer — filed out into the pleasant Tuesday evening.

Jesse Jarnow blogs at

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