Perishing, Howling, Brutal...

KISSING THE SHOTGUN GOODNIGHT by Christopher Brett Bailey, Thursday 24th November, Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts (ACCA) Brighton

One of the many joys of watching Christopher Brett Bailey perform is the manipulation of sound. Whether his words are running circles around your brain, or his music is coursing directly through your body, the impact is undeniable. Hypnotic, aggressive, intimate; it’s virtually impossible to pin down a single description while attending a performance of his, although several seem to blur together. It’s only when you leave, however, that you realise the extent to which your emotions have been catapulting around your body.

I first saw Bailey perform the acclaimed “This is How We Die” in 2014, and was immediately struck by the relationship established with us, the audience. Expecting the same kind of intimacy from Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight, which is part theatre-performance, part rock concert, when I first arrived at the Attenborough Centre for Creative Arts I was a little dejected to be handed earplugs. I was thinking, “can it really be that loud? And does it have to be?” Before the blinding noise, however, we were greeted with Bailey’s intoxicating ease of words, trickling off the stage into the brightly lit seating.  While in an audience hand out Bailey says “the fake stuff didn’t taste good in my mouth anymore”, the way his drawling subtly slid over dark phrases such as “the sun froze over” and “screen saver eyes” remained both alarming, and oddly seductive. The repeated promise of speed freaks and junkies coming to die established the approaching intensity, the dark journey ahead.

When the sound first kicked in, it was only gentle. The soaring violin, played by the wonderful Alicia Jane Turner, was recorded, looped, and built upon. The impact of mournful yet irreverent sound was one of the most breath taking moments of entire performance for me; I was immediately reminded of the conclusion of This is How We Die, and Bailey’s assertion that “the band got too good for me to tell em to shut up”. I can sympathise. When George Percy and Bailey finally kicked in with the electric guitar, the build up had allowed for my entire body to be enveloped and welcomed into the trembling, post-rock wash of ambient sound. It was surprisingly loud, too, even after the warning of earplugs, which I gave up on trying not to use after about 10 minutes of eardrum splitting electric guitar.

Each of the three performers stood before the deconstructed insides of a piano. With strings laid bare, the more intense moments were only interjected twice; once by the beating of the piano corpse, and later by Bailey’s “sprinkling of words”. These words were more difficult to connect to. While the music was captivating in its emotional intensity, it sucked the disembodied, faceless voice dry, leaving me blinking as I tried to understand what was being said. This was a shame – I have no doubt that Bailey’s words were beautiful in their poeticism, but they really needed a space of their own. Amongst the obliterating noise, they just felt dampened and slightly misplaced.

This was stark contrast to the other show elements, as the blinding flashes of light onto the audience, and the smoky haze wafting over the red lights upon the pianos, combined wonderfully with the music to leave me feeling isolated and implicated in my position, allowing the space for me to construct my own narrative, follow my own journey. I drifted in and out of focus, allowing the music to completely enter my body and take over. It felt drug-like, all consuming, and quite brilliant to surrender to.

The final words I’d use to describe Kissing the Shotgun Goodnight are deafening, perishing, howling, brutal, and violently mournful. Bailey’s performance is talking about obliterating the self, about giving in to the screaming voice in your head that wants to embrace the pulverising and suicidal relief of pure, unrelenting noise. And, despite the few discrepancies, the effect is quite mesmerising. I left feeling settled in myself, yet incredibly distanced from everyone else in the theatre. This distance is perhaps the most powerful thought of all that I took from the performance; as Bailey aptly highlights, “you’ve got no idea how it feels to walk to the fridge in their shoes, let alone a mile”. Yet another reason to embrace Bailey’s raging sound, it seems. Either way, I will definitely be attending a Christopher Brett Bailey performance again – and hopefully quite soon.

John Giannini