O+ brings Hella smiles to the Garage

A fine line exists between the musically brilliant and the simply insane. This is a line trodden upon by people like Syd Barrett, Roky Erikson and Daniel Johnston, and the critical response to such artists tends to be confused at best. For each moment of brilliance, there is another of madness, and madness does not necessarily bring about great art.

On occasion, though, one comes upon musicians who somehow can tap the mentally unhinged parts of music without joining the artistic train wrecks that litter our music culture, musicians who sound like they might be crazy but, in the end, are (or at least seem to be) sane. Case in point: O+ (pronounced “O Cross”), the stage name of Neil Haydon. O+’s tape and CD releases are folky, mostly acoustic, experimental mishmashes of lo-fi songs that simultaneously bring to mind Donovan, Syd Barrett, the Crazy World of Arthur Brown, Pinback, Will Oldham and Modest Mouse.

O+’s recent gig at Capitol Garage gave listeners a peek at his inner world. Opening for an eclectic show that included the Little People, Electrogroup and Hella, O+ performed a solo set, folk-singing through a set of new material and a few numbers from his self-released CD, Movement. Bringing to the fore a guitar technique that was both interesting and effective as well as songs that brought huge smiles from onlookers, Haydon wooed the audience with an effectiveness one seldom sees from newer performers. This is a testament to Haydon’s self-assured stage presence and to fans of the evening’s headliner, Hella, who clearly appreciated the different. O+ is clearly someone to watch in the future.

Sadly, the remainder of the evening was not quite as interesting. The metal sounds of the Little People seemed more comic than effective. Electrogroup’s musicianship impresses, but ultimately each song sounds the same as the last—loud guitars over emo-core vocals. The band is good, but if you’ve heard one song, you’ve heard the whole set.

Hella, in many ways the area’s most interesting act, continues to amaze audiences. Particularly exciting was the duo’s new material, which displayed an emphasis on chord-based song structures rather than the hammering note explosions featured on the group’s debut release. The newer work is thick and musical, making it appear as if Hella has found a way to progress musically while retaining its characteristic sound.

harsh noise will be pleased to note that Super Art Media (www.noisepimp. com) has released a full-length CD of acts featured at last year’s 2002 Northern California Noise Festival. Titled If Opera’s Not Your Thing, the release serves as an excellent primer on the fringe of sound performance, featuring a cross-section of harsh noise acts (Stimbox and Xome in particular), experimental rock acts (such as Uberkunst) and electronic acts (such as Chachi Jones & Sawako and C/A/T). The Jones/Sawako piece, “Strawberries-7,” is particularly effective here, bridging the gap between harsh sound manipulation and ambience. If Opera’s Not Your Thing is available at the Beat.