Jeff Younger continues to push his Devil Loops project into new territories, and this event was the furthest he’s pushed it yet. In my reviews of his previous CDs, I’ve noted that the music itself is layered and detailed, alternately soothing and aggressive, and rewards close listening. Younger composes in the moment with guitar, amp, and effects pedals, but also with household objects (combs and nail files) and even a new set of gestures and ways of playing—breathing into the pickups, mashing the strings, or scraping the tremolo springs behind the guitar body. Avant-rock bands like Sonic Youth have been sticking screwdrivers through their strings for decades, but Younger takes these techniques in a completely different direction. Devil Loops on CD is a deep listening experience, its abstract nature also inviting interpretations from other artistic disciplines.
That multi-disciplinary potential was fully and wonderfully realized at the Devil Loops volume 2 CD release event at the Orpheum Annex. The Annex is a big room that’s quite a shift from the kinds of intimate venues that Younger often performs in, but it was perfectly suited to this event, which combined music, dance and visual art into a often-dazzling whole. Every performer brought the spirit of Devil Loops alive in all that project’s challenging, mischievous permutations.
The night started with a playback of several tracks from the album with video accompaniment by Flick Harrison, as well as a solo dance segment by Renee Sigouin to “Queen Bee.” Sigouin was joined by fellow dancers Elissa Hanson and Alexa Sloveig Mardon for “Roomies.” To finish the first half, Younger took his seat on the huge stage (the floor, to be precise) and embarked on the first live Devil Loops music of the event. After intermission, the action got more freewheeling and frenzied, with Younger joining forces with drummer Dylan Van Der Schyff, Chris Gestrin on piano and synthesizer, and JP Carter on trumpet and effects. As the various configurations of dancers and musicians worked together, the action was so involving, the attention required so demanding, that I sometimes wanted to laugh out loud at the brave abandon of it. (I apologize to any of the dancers who came near the front row and might have noticed my agitation—I was just getting caught up in it all.) Dylan Van Der Schyff is the most creative drummer I’ve even seen—for every “out there” technique that Younger used, Van Der Schyff had one of his own. For the show’s finale, every performer was out on the floor, including Flick Harrison, who was shooting live video from every perspective for simultaneous projection on the big backdrop screen.
To see this group of performers working so well together to manifest the whole Devil Loops ethos was a testament to Jeff’s curatorial skills. Although he was at the centre of a lot of the action, he remained a calm presence, presiding over the performances as a guiding spirit, letting the ensemble of diverse talents speak for itself—and they did him and his music proud. It was a night that left my head buzzing with inspiration and endless possibilities.