three black and white images of Arto Lindsay playing guitar against a dark background
Somnambule - Writing About Music

Arto Lindsay

14th March 2005, The Spitz

If art is the opportunity to practice disciplined freedom of choice then Arto Lindsay’s solo performance tonight recalls the grand gestures of Franz Klein, except that the stark relief of the Brazilian American singer’s art is achieved against the unremarkable backdrop of a small London venue rather than the pristine white walls of a downtown NYC gallery. Oh and there’s the small matter of Arto performing in real-time: lithe, living, the right side of livid, always playful...

Strangely, he shares the bill with another infinitely more traditional singer through which the assembled crowd sit patiently. Eventually Lindsay, graduate of a plethora of influential bands through the ‘80s and ‘90s – DNA, Ambitious Lovers and Lounge Lizards to name but a few – takes the stage in trademark pipe-cleaner suit and white shirt. He scrapes noise from his electric guitar in gorgeous, grin-inducing waves of sound. That smile – of recognition and pleasure – teases the mouths of some of the audience as well as the performer himself. And then he sings in a mixture of Portugese and English, from which occasional lines can be made out: “... I’m so lonesome I could cry... ” (did he just cover the Hank Williams song?)

Song lengths range from will o’ the whisp to settling into something. One moment Arto sings samba gentle as a nostalgic caress, the next his guitar is like flint grinding on flint. At no point is there any sense of flaccid synthesis or well-meant hybrid: this is musical juxtaposition, as if to ask ‘what does this added to this do? what do I get from the co-existence and interaction of lilting Brazilian pop and guitar noise?’

Arto is clearly in control – or happily at the mercy of whatever impulse strikes him - and he’s having fun, if the smiles and playful commentary between songs is anything to go by: “Questions?” (asked after a particularly noisy guitar outing that ends all too quickly); and “That’ll show ‘em” (a little later after another bout of mayhem). It’s difficult to get enough of either his vocals or his guitar playing, one interrupts, stalks or interferes with the other and vice-versa, though the end result feels neither like bullying nor harrassment. As he sings lilting lines like a knowing naif strolling down a sunlit alley, there’s the suspicion that something might jump out and mug him at any moment. Except that Arto’s too clever by far to be caught so easily (unless he wants to be). Or, more likely, he’s the unreliable guide leading his audience pied piper-like into the favella, none of us sure we want to leave, or are even able to.

“Are you beautiful? ‘Cos it’s dark out there and I can’t see you... ”

Arto sings “You’re simply so beautiful” over and over again above a bass string slung so low that it suggests an unreliable rope bridge suspended above an abyss or the schoolkid’s ruler vibrating on a desk that tips a teacher over the precipice into mental breakdown. Arto sings songs like they’re childhood memories wistfully recalled, but then declares:

“Just testing whether anyone speaks Portugese... that one roughly translates as ‘that big guy is trying to stick it in me, but I’m only going to dance with my arse to the wall...’”

He returns for two encores:

“You didn’t really mean that did you?”

We did, Arto, we did.

Colin Buttimer
Published by Signal To Noise magazine