‘Dapper Dutch drummer dons bandana, saves world!’ could have been the headline. One moment Han Bennink is to be found mixing casually with the audience in blue business shirtsleeves. The next moment, onstage in a white T-shirt, on with the turquoise bandana and suddenly he’s drum-Superman.
Supported by Pat Thomas on keyboards and electronics, and John Coxon on guitars, Bennink demanded the full engagement of everybody in the room, with a whirlwind of creative energy and edginess. Bennink’s exquisite technique was just as much at home with straight-down-the-line mainstream as with as the out-on-the-edge improv on which he has built his formidable reputation. His timing and his timekeeping were impeccable.
The first set started with an intense, jarring barrage which saw Coxon deliver wah-wah with a vengance, bringing a smile from Bennink; Thomas hinted at a calypso and then the flush-faced Bennink delivered a Roadrunner-pace rhythm, piling it on and clearly enjoying every millisecond. He then planted his whacking great boots on the drumskins to dampen the sound, and much later briefly ran his sticks across the wall to get a clickety-clack into the mix. His unpredictable staccato blasts are just as full of intent as on his early ICP albums, and punctuated the sets with an intuitive precision.
Thomas excelled, blending moody samples with his accomplished runs on the Steinway and Yamaha. Coxon’s birdcalls were eerily regurgitated in the sampling, while his guitars veered from thunderous chordal layers to skipping, lyrical flights as the trio hinted at the jazz standards. Bennink whooped joyfully at times and in the name-check proclaimed ‘and I am … Gene Krupa!’ before throwing his white towel over his head, Surrealist-style – the towel found its way on the drum kit, too. Later he asked ‘Where do you start?’ ‘At the end!’ was his own answer.
Guided by Bennink’s focused drive, the trio hit a total groove in the second set, switching gears, offering dense sound fields, then snatches of boogie-woogie and Monk-ish off-beats. There were no concessions to the genteel surroundings – but the audience responded in kind, and would not let the band depart without an encore. But what this member of the audience would have wanted from Bennink was the reassurance of a particular one-liner, not from Superman this time, but from Terminator: “I’ll be back.”
For Geoff Winston’s pencil drawing from the gig, follow this link.