A.A. Bondy - The Crofters Rights, Bristol, 05/11/2019

A.A. Bondy – The Crofters Rights, Bristol, 05/11/2019

There’s a fucking massive glitter ball in the back room at the Crofters Rights. It’s a magnificent specimen, but totally out of proportion to the scale of the venue. For the first few minutes, A.A. Bondy looks a bit distracted by it and doesn’t quite hit ‘Diamond Skull’ in the right places. Perhaps he’s wondering how they got it through the entrance. A quick recap then, while he finds his feet. Enderness is the best record you ignored this year, a spectral encounter with numb desolation. Imagine if Burial had remixed David Crosby’s long lost cover version of ‘Ghost Town’, and multiply that by John Foxx, and you’re nearly there. If Neil Young’s horse with no name had left him in the desert and gone off with Eno to make an album of razor-sharp electronic minimalism that took in opioid addiction, climate breakdown, child murder and the seductions and corruptions of the internet, you’d have something approaching Enderness.

He’s an unexpectedly fragile-looking guy – slender, with more cheekbones than Ziggy Stardust, his hair close-cropped, cowled in a black hoodie, and sunglasses that nearly cover his angular, cavernous face. He doesn’t waste a lot of energy either. Mumbling his lyrics over a cascade of reverb-heavy synth, every tiny gesture he makes seems magnified. Each flick of his wrist to the dead slow, dubby beat, each crystalline keyboard hook and every sha-la-la is as carefully and sculpturally placed as a pencil mark on an Agnes Martin painting. Every sound emphasises the silence that contains it. His artistry arguably gets him away with a couple of moves that in anyone else’s set would be completely stomach-turning. More later.

Abstract films flicker behind him (a racehorse, a cloudy sky, sunlight on water) and we get all the songs from Enderness, plus a few new ones. ‘I’ll Never Know’ sounds like a forlorn prayer to some traumatised and unknowable other, while ‘In the Wonder’ and ‘Pan Tran’ conjure up an only-just-imaginary America, all banal surface, endless road, limitless sky and suburbs, pristine motels, health insurance and death. ‘Fentanyl Freddie’ is simply devastating. Precise scraps of misery and degradation float dreamily in and out of view – crashed cars, stolen lawnmowers, fingers in purses – Bondy coldly observes the unfolding mess. “Heard his sister say / be better if he died”. It’s the kind of thing that Mark Kozelek would come up with if he knew when to stop.

The song is followed by this rather odd, and ultimately very affecting moment where he takes a seat by the side of the stage, and plays us an instrumental piece from his laptop over a slow-motion clip of a gyrating Prince in his Purple Rain gear. I’m not sure how anyone gets away with this. It’s not a good idea to take the Purple One’s name in vain, and I feel a bit like, artist and audience, we’re all damned now, cursed to wander the earth forever on a futile quest for the kind of raspberry beret you can only get from a second-hand store. But it seems that we’re someplace the normal rules of good taste need no longer apply. As the chords break around us, and Bondy sits meditating beside the stage, it feels like a pretty apt tribute both to Prince and everyone else who got jacked by their prescription meds.

We’re halfway through ‘#Lost Hills’ when I notice the image flickering on the screen behind him. Cinders dancing above a layer of smoke. The lyrics touch on the recurring wildfires, and the “apocalypse on every highway / the places that we fled”, the scale of which is hard to appreciate here in Brizzle. Bondy’s own home was burnt to the ground just after he finished recording Enderness. He, and we, were lucky not to lose the album along with it. It’s a compelling, mesmerising report from the front line.

Finally there’s a bit of chit-chat consisting of a few impenetrable observations about sailors and intestinal bugs, and a request for help identifying a bird he keeps seeing on the motorway, ‘a raptor with a swallow-tail’, which turns out to be a red kite and which leads him neatly into a song about vampires. He closes with a cover. I won’t say what it was, in case you’re going to see him elsewhere on this tour (and you should) and I don’t want to spoil the joke, but again, he’s sailing fucking close to the wind with it. How can something be so wrong yet feel so right? Then finally he asks the sound guy if he would please activate the glitter ball, and we’re lost to the swirling crimson storm.

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.