A week and a half later, I feel I’ve finally got the tinnitus out of my ears to be able to discuss the glory that was This Heat playing Chicago.
Did I type that? — Yes, that happened, and holy hell how.
A week ago, two-thirds of the original This Heat lineup (Charles Hayward and Charles Bullen, reuniting after the 2001 death of Gareth Williams), rounded out by four additional touring heavies to make up This Is Not This Heat,—who, for all intents and purposes, allowed this sanctified crowd at Thalia Hall to witness a ninety-plus minute set by THIS FUCKING HEAT.
Keeping the audience in a ten-minute holding pattern of the intro/outtro “Testcard” from their self-titled blue & yellow release, This Is Not This Heat launched into a ripping rendition of “Horizontal Hold” with the blasting energy of the Peel sessions version from some 40 years prior. With the heft of the added musicians, who fleshed it out to a double drummer and often triple guitarist affair, This Is Not This Heat put on a pummeling spectacle of nearly all of This Heat’s recorded output.
Aside from a brief set at last year’s Pitchfork fest, this was the only proper Chicago outing for the UK outfit, who, after a few decades in relative obscurity, are finally getting their due, in part thanks to the deluxe vinyl reissues of Light in the Attic’s Modern Classic Recordings imprint.
But for the show. Pretty much everything from their two full-length masterpieces, 1979’s This Heat and 1981’s Deceit, along with a few others, including showstopper and musique concrete masterpiece “24 Track Loop,” apparently the first time it’d been performed live; “Not waving,” “Twilight furniture,” and “Fall of Saigon” off the first lp—then “S.P.Q.R.,” “Cenotaph,” “Paper Hats,” “A New Kind of Water”… pretty much their whole catalog in a setlist that reads like the greatest hits of experimental DNA.
People were pressed against the front of the stage and singing every lyric with the kind of smiling-while-near-tears earnestness one might from a Jawbreaker reunion at the Fireside: suffice it to say it was a devout reception.
Aside from being basically the only time stateside one could catch (This Is Not) This Heat in the act, it was also pretty much the only possibility (outside of a bloated Discogs price) to snatch the obscure tour-only reissue of their 1982 cassette split release with composer Albert Marcoeur on French label Tago Mago.
This Heat’s side of the cassette sounds recalls in equal parts the knotty, jungle-undergrowth rhythms of “Fall of Saigon”/“Rainforest,” along with dronier “Not Waving”-esque key/woodwinds and existential contemplations, all laid down in an intimate lo-fi vibe. On the flip, Albert Marcoeur’s excerpts from the 1980 film “Deux Lions Au Soleil” are a fitting B-side, which struck me as if Carl Stone directed his work through jazz ensembles instead of tape players and computers (which at least was my late-night driving home impression; still holds).
Now that the genius of This Heat has finally become (somewhat) more visible, listening to these rarefied recordings feels like a reminder of what a privilege it was to discover This Heat in the aughts, downloading the Out of Cold Storage box after reading up on it through S.F.’s Aquarius Records (RIP), when their existence seemed little more than a myth breathed to life by the few who knew the word.
Back then, consigned only to some old blurred photographs, the attitude of This Heat—perhaps best personified by Charles Hayward, who’s been the most visibly active member over the years—and his portraits with the band, which painted him/them in dour, sometimes madcap expressions, befitting the music’s soundtracking of the corrupt road to the apocalypse (never more relevant). How indescribably endearing then to see Hayward full-on smiling, all while singing in that creaky death rattle battering away, irrepressibly showing how he was having so much fucking fun: smiling for the duration of what, was, really a career retrospective.
But not yet. Leaping into the aforementioned debut version of 24 track loop, where Charles Bullen put down his guitar and worked some knobby filtering magic in synch with the double-drumming of the original loop. A blast, and one that also would have been a fitting closer, did they not jump into aa even more raucous version of “Health and Efficiency”—which it should be noted is the bar that all set-endings should aspire to. The fucking set closer of closers, after what felt like a greatest hits package of bombastic endings, akin to a fireworks show you think just had its finale, and then after a brief pause one-ups itself with bombast.
In sum, 100 min of fucking THIS HEAT for all intents and purposes.
From what I could tell, they were as giddy as I.
Not that it was all smiles, Charles Bullen taking time to crack wise about who they just elected.
Yes that Charles, the other Charles, was quick to point out that the historic show, with no small sense of cosmic irony, took place the very day that pro-Brexit stooge and capo-ignoramus Boris Johnson became the next UK prime minister, the most recent in a long line of failures to take the post, now de facto the most powerful person in Britain.
“Want to trade?” Quipped the concertgoer next to me.
Which got Bullen to smile.
For a band whose nightmarish classics were forged in the midst of the unholy Thatcher-Reagan alliance—for those of us born or raised in the Reagan era but too young to really grasp the details, or, like myself, really raised in the complacent 90s, the prospect of re-entering the cross-Atlantic alliance of the early-80s, in all its oligarchic, kleptocractic, austerity-driven splendor, is, well, nauseatingly fighting while simultaneously the most perfectly fitting backdrop in which to see This Is Not This Heat.
After years toiling in semi-obscurity, the legacy of This Heat is solidified, and its members are as outspoken and prescient as they’ve ever been.
I hope you’re listening.