Dalston’s Cafe Oto gets a bit of a bad rap.
Home of hipsters in Birkenstocks, when I commented about the uncomfortable fold-up chairs in a Facebook post, a friend suggested that maybe I was sitting on one of the musical instruments, such is the level of out-there improvisation occasionally encountered at the venue.
This week’s doubleheader with Portland’s Marisa Anderson and William Tyler from Nashville was far from that somewhat ill-earned reputation. Yes, there was an array of effects pedals, cabled together and powered by a tangle of extension leads. It wouldn’t be Cafe Oto if there weren’t.
What we got was something that pretty much anyone would recognise as music. Two skilled and emotionally engaged musicians playing acoustic guitar (Tyler mostly) and a lovely bashed-up Fender Telecaster with a Bigsby tremolo arm, played mainly by Anderson. The duo were travelling across from the Green Man Festival in Wales, touring this year’s new LP on Thrill Jockey, Lost Futures.
The album’s title is apposite, coming off the back of a musical relationship fostered during the pandemic. The pair spoke on the evening about how they were aware of what was lost during that time, with lives cut short and livelihoods lost. The simple company of others slipped away.
Watching the two of them sat across the stage, you saw how the intuitive nods of who plays what and when was evident. This was despite the remote gestation of the music initially being between two locations in the US which Tyler commented were much further apart than Wigan and Penzance. Anderson’s electric guitar inevitability picked up the melodic heavy lifting on many occasions with Tyler providing colour and rhythm. Hurricane Light was a perfect example of this with a Mediterranean melody used as a starting point for the two to spark off of each other. They described how the tune was written amongst Oregon wildwood fires, the sky thick with smoke of a changing hue.
The music was close to what is often called Americana these days. One song combined the Going Home theme from Dvorak’s New World Symphony with Stephen Foster’s Hard Times Come Again No More. Dvorak travelled to the US in the 1890s, and his symphony aimed to capture some of the music he had heard. Foster’s song was written some 40 years earlier, and is entirely possible that his song or similar parlour songs influenced the Czech composer. Marisa Anderson led the melding of the two to create a bridge between the two pieces that felt entirely natural. She commented in her introduction that Dvorak could have been the first Americana artist, discovering ways of integrating traditional music into a new alternate setting.
I first saw Tyler perform in Sweden supporting Wilco. When he picked up Anderson’s Telecaster for You Can Never Go Home, the song felt the closest we got to Wilco’s modern take on Americana, fusing Krautrock influences (think Spiders (Kidsmoke)) to express the highway miles in a reverse homage from America back to the old world of Europe.
It was a feedback loop back across the Atlantic. Everyone and everything is linked in some small way.
You can buy Lost Futures via Bandcamp here: