I have a pretty irrational hatred of saxophones. I worked in a jazz cellar for far too long and the thought of hearing yet another version of My Favourite Things makes me sad to the core. However, Mats Gustafsson has gone and destroyed that blanket of comforting sax smugness with an inspirational performance of incredible intensity at the first night of the Le Weekend festival in Stirling.

RM Hubbert eased us into proceedings with a some impressive, intricate six-string guitar playing in the bar before being ushered into the hall for Critical Mass, a duo of Mats Gustafsson with Agusti Fernandez on keys. Gustafsson played the saxophone like no one I’ve ever seen before, with incredible energy and expressivity. The first ten minutes of intense effort produced barely any actual noise whatsoever, sweat pouring off him, his lungs filling with air but allowing only short controlled jabs of sound to escape between Agusti Fernandez’s piano string plucking; immense tension building within the room. When he did let loose I could scarcely comprehend how the noises were being created from the instrument, some more familiar with amp feedback as his body contorted desperately controlling each escaping sound. The interplay between the two leapt from tension that bordered on painful, with Fernandez barely touching his keys as he played, to shattering moments of euphoric release; waves of tone lasted forever with almighty shows of circular breathing, Fernandez crashing his elbows down on his keys to match the powerful saxophone intonation. The spectacle proved divisive between my companions, varying from bemusement to downright anger, but it was one of the most exhilarating pieces of live music I’d ever witnessed and I left the theatre totally buzzing, weakened by the all-consuming concentration.

A weakened state is far from ideal going into a Ben Frost set. Frost’s music defies easy categorisation, he gives the impression of living a hermits life in cave somewhere in a frozen wilderness, performing his crazed sonic experiments unconcerned with the trends of the music community. Following an instrumental set of such virtuosity is a difficult task, certainly for a predominantly laptop-based artist. But, without really giving you a chance to assess anything he began an assault on your ears, pulses of rich sound ripping through the audience at the absolute threshold of aural meltdown. Using electric guitar, piano and synthesizer he built evocative, dramatic soundscapes; which he consequently annihilated with heavy sonic shelling, each massive sound ricocheting through your body as the room and air vibrated with noise. It was a visceral and exciting performance, and although I didn’t find it as an immersive set as its predecessor, this fact was heavily debated between the rest my group (I was outnumber four to one).

The final act saw Mats Gustafsson return to the stage with the Sten Standell Hammond Organ Trio, which confusingly featured four musicians and barely any Hammond. There was plenty of deft playing, but if I’m honest, by this point I was a beaten man, completely destroyed by the intensity of the previous two acts. The ability to concentrate on the interplay between all four players was beyond me and I sat as the music washed over me; a bit numb but immensely satisfied.

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