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Scott Kelly And CHVE at Grüner Salon

Aside from his role fronting the mighty beast that is Neurosis, Scott Kelly has spent the past fifteen years establishing himself as an artist in his own right. Armed only with acoustic guitar and songbook, Kelly returned to Berlin with Colin Van Eeckhout of Amenra to present a night of deep and dusty music in the American folk tradition. 

Van Eeckhout opened the show with his CHVE project, building a rising swell of tones from his harmonium. The sounds began to overlap as he looped layer upon layer, the shifting light of a campfire in long grass projected behind him as backdrop. He began to sing, his clear, high voice ringing out amongst the swirling harmonium as if intoning a prayer. On and on it went, building gently with the addition of drums to the swelling froth of harmonium. 

The person beside me commented that the set was more of a religious experience than a musical performance, and this struck me as an accurate summary indeed. Where religious events can feel closed and exclusive to those who are not converted, so too this performance felt difficult and somewhat monotonous after half an hour of looped droning, prayer and drum with little variation. But to converts, it seemed very satisfying, and the room erupted into applause and cheer as the drone faded down to silence. 

After a quick changeover, Scott Kelly took to the stage. His solo material covers similarly heavy subject matter as his work with Neurosis, but is expressed in a stripped down, minimal manner. Kelly laid into his guitar strings, switching back and forth between conventional folk strumming and more strident riffing on the lower strings. There was an unusual intensity to Kelly’s performance, and he seemed to be either suffering a cold or feeling the music particularly strongly as his eyes watered throughout and he seemed genuinely moved by the moment. 

“This is easily the most people I’ve ever played to with my solo thing,” he stated before thanking the crowd again for their presence. His set was built mainly of songs from his solo albums but he slipped in some covers, amongst them tracks from his own projects like ‘We Let the Hell Come’ by Shrinebuilder and ‘At the Foot of the Garden’ by Blood and Time. Most surprising was a reworking of ‘Cortez the Killer’, Neil Young’s damning account of the Spanish decimation of the Aztec Empire.

Kelly finished his set but the cheers would not subside, to which he quipped “I have one more song I can play you, which I will probably fuck up.” Colin returned to the stage to sing with him and despite Kelly’s remark, they delivered a sterling rendition of ‘Tecumseh Valley’ by Townes Van Zandt, the perfect conclusion to a moving suite of songs forlorn. 

Review and photography by Greg Reason

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