Review: The Ex (Plus Guests) at Café Oto

Katherina Bornefeld of The Ex at Café Oto.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2012 / All Rights Reserved

The Ex
(Cafe Oto, 29th November 2012 – first of 3 nights of ‘The Ex 33 1/3 Years Anniversary Festival’; review and drawings by Geoff Winston)

“The Ex aren’t dead!” declared guest compere Stewart Lee as he opened the first of three celebratory nights at Café Oto. In an evening burgeoning with musical riches and high spirits which ended at half-past the witching hour, The Ex showed just how driven they are by a musical imperative that shuns complacency, and constantly renews itself in collaborations and spin-offs with like-minded musicians.

Arnold de Boer’s opening guitar and vocal duet with clarinettist extraordinaire Xavier Charles, made the point succinctly. Over five numbers they crossed whimsical lyricism with a gentle acoustic tension. Charles used the clarinet as a richly expressive soundbox for all manner of unconventional voicings. Zea‘s guitar was the springboard for poetic and politically brushed lyrics – mostly in English with the occasional verse in Dutch –  leading off with Leadbelly’s Bourgeois Blues underpinned by trembling vibrato from Charles; jigs and jazz rubbed shoulders with riffs and the near-East and Song for Electricity (or the lack of it), based on an Ethiopian song (Bogiye) rounded off their closely bonded set with light humour.

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Jackdaw With Crowbar were introduced by Lee as “the greatest thing to come out of Leamington Spa [since] the Grand Union Canal”. The trio’s two vocalists delivered in knowingly hammy theatrical style against an assertive, grinding, slide guitar-punk-techno core. Behind the band was a constantly changing panorama of montaged images and film clips, mixing the political and the banal, a moving Rosenquist landscape. The way they revisited and reprocessed material had the feel of a musical – as Lee put it, “you were expecting Anarcho-Punk and got Variety” – as in the tradition of the music hall.

The juddering baritone blasts heard during the soundcheck confirmed the presence of Mats Gustafsson – and with The Ex guitars, Terrie Hessels and Andy Moor, the case was made for the power trio to end all power trios. Metallic, raw, supercharged, the combination of Gustafsson’s shattering detonations and the guitarists’ crashing, rhythmic synchronisations induced collisions and condensed, gritted teeth interactions. Yet when Hessels’ drumstick hit the strings and Moor’s fingers tapped the pickups, near silence reigned. With a twitch of feedback, a string pulled way out of position to be picked, and the friction of scrapes and escaping breath, the trio were briefly becalmed before the smouldering momentum was regained. The only thing missing was Sunshine of Your Love!

How could Ken Vandermark follow that? With a beautiful solo set, glistening with invention and finesse. Slipping from tenor to clarinet, then baritone sax Vandermark staked out territory between Ayler and Coltrane with piercing, sinuous phrasing that touched the nerves. On clarinet he held the lively audience totally spellbound as the flow moved from strident to folk-tinged. His bari locked in to a sustained rhythmic fusillade, taking in the highest notes and deepest rhythms propelled by a spell of circular breathing, dedicated (I think) to “the only person not here”, The Ex’s co-founder, Jos Kley [more likely, Jaap Blonk – see comment below/GW]. As Lee said – “he saw the target and hit it!”

When The Ex finally made it onstage around 11pm, Lee praised The Ex for their commitment and ethical stance – in contrast to goings on elsewhere in the metropolis where tickets peaked at over £500 – and assured the Oto crowd, packed with youthful followers, many from The Ex’s native Netherlands, that they had made the right decision by turning up and snapping up far better value.

The Ex at Café Oto.
Drawing by Geoff Winston. © 2012 / All Rights Reserved

Zoning in on their trademark guitar-drenched, percussive drive, the baritone guitars pummelled out the bass bias and Katherina Bornefeld countered with an unstoppable rolling drum pace. Retaining a freshness and openness in the areas where punk, jazz and rock coincide, the adrenalin-fuelled machine drilled out a joyous, bass-heavy trip through familiar and unfamiliar territory, veering off into high-pitched punky vocals and Ethiopian songs. The tables and chairs were cleared and Café Oto got close to having its own mosh pit. A big occasion with two feverish encores stretching into the small hours!

The Ex:
Arnold de Boer (aka Zea): vocals, guitar
Katherina Bornefeld: drums, percussion
Terrie Hessels: guitar
Andy Moor: guitar

Guests (in order of appearance):
Stewart Lee
: MC
Xavier Charles: clarinet
Jackdaw with CrowbarTim Ellis, Fergus Durrant, Adam Sindall
Mats Gustafsson: reeds
Ken Vandermark: reeds

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2 replies »

  1. I saw them here in my city of Sao Paulo (Brasil) in 2012, and they were as brilliant as on their records! Also there's a nice video of them on youtube playing surrounded my buildings as night fell beautifully!

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