Live: Blissfully Up, Blissfully Down with Tom Carter in Durham | Music

Live: Blissfully Up, Blissfully Down with Tom Carter in Durham


  • Photo Courtesy of Wholly Other
  • Tom Carter
Tom Carter
The Shed, Durham
Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Tom Carter exploits his guitar.

Last night, during the first of his two sets at the preternaturally comfortable Durham club and listening room The Shed, Carter conjured a wide world of sounds with only a six-string alabaster Ibanez, a small army of daisy-chained pedals, and two amplifiers to his right. He strummed strings violently or brushed them delicately, pulled them emphatically or plucked them politely. He’d lift his arms off the instrument, revealing a brown patch where his arm had worn away the instrument’s paint, or drape his body over it, as if clutching a child.

He alternately charged into jumbo-sized, hyper-distorted chords, which suggested the throbbing heart of some boogie rock outfit, and slipped into colorful patterns so quiet and calming that you could mistake the chimes for a crib’s overhead mobile. Carter would layer the unmistakable sound of strings plucked or strummed against sheets of sound that seemed almost alien, as if they’d arrived as unseen signals from some source beyond the space of the little room.

The set unfurled as one continuous sweep. He began with a circular, almost mechanical pattern, a little riff spiraling up and falling down. At one early point, it seemed that Carter had made a mistake, with a glitch-y click from an errant audio cable or perhaps a pedal pressed at the wrong moment infesting the loop he’d been building. Rather than apologize or back out of it, though, Carter simply worked it into the sound and maneuvered around it. It became an unexpected fold in his uninterrupted forty-five-minute flow—a prompt for something new, not a problem.

That deliberate seamlessness turned Carter’s set into a hypnotic spell. When he started playing, the entire room seemed to slip—quietly, without discussion or concession—into another sphere with him. At one point, I glanced at a clock and was stunned to realize Carter had only been playing for about a half-hour; it felt as if we’d all been swimming with him for hours. When his set began, the sun still bled slightly through The Shed's long windows; when his set whispered to a romantic close—with tiny notes dotting the room and dissolving like tiny drops of rain—the sky had gone black, a visual illustration of Carter's grand audio arc.

After Carter relinquished his guitar, he shyly peered beneath his long swoops of wavy hair and said he’d take a ten-minute break to retune. Grab a drink, he encouraged, or some of the records he had scattered on a nearby table. He said it all with a leveling kind of modesty, as if unaware he’d just pulled his captive audience back from a splendid hypnagogic halo.

I didn’t stick around for set two. After all, how many times does one need to be lifted so high and let back down so gracefully in one night? 

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