by John Tarpley
That was the general consensus when news of Vincent Gallo’s last-minute Little Rock gig spread through town, immediately followed by…
“That guy’s a dick!”
…or “creep” or “jerk,” “hack,” “weirdo.” “Sleaze,” probably. Surely no one said “a peculiar fellow.” “Dick” was the go-to direct object du jour.
“Yeah, so are we carpooling there or what?”
If people were dismayed by the notorious provocateur’s visit to town, it wasn’t enough to keep 80 or so curious locals away from his show at Juanita's. Gallo, the director/actor/model/musician is infamous for a laundry list of reasons including, but not at all limited to: a, (successfully?) “hexing” Roger Ebert with cancer, b, unchecked pretension; c….
Nevermind. Listen, he’s the “snakey-lookin’” guy that directed “Buffalo ’66,” now a ‘90s classic, and followed it up with “The Brown Bunny.” Yep, that’s the one with the 6-minute, XXX close-up of him getting blow-jayed by Chloe Sevigny. It made him a household name, not to mention solidified his place as one of the most intriguing, controversial filmmakers in the weird, dark history of indie film.
Off camera, he perfected his reputation as an erratic, unhinged egotist years before Joaquin Phoenix threw out his Schick. So did Friday night’s show—booked for Juanita’s hours beforehand—have a sense of “celebrity zoo” to it? Of course. Am I guilty of indulging in some stargazing? You bet.
To make affairs even stranger, we found out that the night was the kick-off show for a coast-to-coast tour with Gallo—and two musicians he had met just the day before—under the RRIICCEE banner. It's a name Gallo’s used for years, kicking out and bringing in an orchestra pit’s worth of collaborators along the way. This time around, he was joined on drums by Nico Turner of Los Angeles’ atmospheric femme duo VOICEsVOICEs and Woody Jackson, multi-instrumentalist and film composer.
The sound? Well, Gallo’s quick to remind people that RRIICCEE doesn't "jam." They "spontaneously compose pieces." (Whether it’s on purpose or not, he’s great at riding the line where pretension and satire blur, right?)
For the hour-long set, the three roamed around on a stage stacked with an array of gorgeous, pricey equipment: two drum sets, vintage synths, a stack of analog sequencers bursting with colored cables making even the least of gear fetishists a bit light-headed.
So, what did they build with them? The three or four meandering, minimalist pieces—all constructed on the spot, never to be repeated—toed the line between Mingus-inspired avant-gardism and syrupy trip-hop, all built upon four- or five-note bars and a liberal helping of loops. Of the 80 people who turned up, a scattered few phased out near—but not too near—the stage with the rest of the crowd either wide-eyed or nodding off at the tables.
The worst accusation I heard all night dismissed it as “pretentious, aimless shit,” a dart not unfamiliar to Gallo and also one I won’t throw. After all, with this show—like his movies—it’s no secret what was in store.
(As for me, I'm an unabashed fan of his movies and "When," his biggest album, has been a long-time favorite. Like everything else he does, I enjoyed the show, but almost feel as though I need to apologize for liking it—yep, like with everything else he does.)
Regardless, if the music wasn’t unexpected and the negative reactions weren't surprising, the biggest shocker of the night was that Vincent Gallo, Mr. Callous, Snide Art Star, was—wouldn’t ya know it—a pretty nice guy who was genuine, pleasant, eager to chat with anyone who so much as nodded a “hello” his way. In fact, the end of the night saw him tagging along with a dozen or so locals to close out the evening (and shut down the bar) at White Water Tavern.
Yep. Friday night was, just like his music and movies, reliably and totally surreal, not to mention a story we expect to go grow in local lore for years to come.