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Music Review: Of minimal significance

La Monte Young/Marian Zazeela Benefit Concert

Barbican, London

"The purpose of this concert is not entertainment," volunteered the ticket to Friday night's gig. Forewarned is fore-armed. The phrase was borrowed from a series of happenings that La Monte Young organised in Yoko Ono's New York loft in 1960, and clearly its use should have put us in mind of that revolutionary period of anti-art, the thrill of being at the fringes of what is possible musically. But in the Barbican Hall's magnificent cavernous interior?

Gavin Bryars' epilogue from Wonderlawn set the tone; meandering, droning, slowly evolving. It made you yearn for something more... or less. At least Kraftwerk knew how to respond to Young, the godfather of minimalism. How much more musically minimal can you get than to send T-shirts to be auctioned during the interval?

Spring Heel Jack couldn't appear in person due to prior commitments, but had recorded two small pieces for La Monte Young, the first of which was accompanied by a Paul Catling video. The slowly-shifting, often menacing soundscape brought to mind Brian Eno's Berlin era work with David Bowie, the perfect mood music for the visuals - a woman walking along an anonymous street and an erotic, intimate glimpse of her washing her feet.

Nick Cave's performance was honest and engaging; from his Birthday Party phase, "Dead Joe," with its repetitiveness, starkly violent imagery and discordant piano-thumping to the moving ballad, "Into My Arms," whose opening line, "I don't believe in an interventionist God," demands that you sit up and concentrate. The same couldn't be said of Jason Pierce's Spiritualised. They offered more of the big chord, slowly unfolding, largely melody-free stuff that was the evening's theme. That's not a criticism in itself, as the performance was suffused with energy - and everything- but-the-kitchen-sink noise. It's more that minimalism's founding intention, as the composer Terry Riley has said, "of really wanting to be free," seems to have been replaced by a reliance of lush textures and liberal use of the word crescendo.

And then to the great man himself. What was most noticeable about a video of Young performing live was not its expansive title, ("96 VI8 c. 8-11 PM NYC" Young's Dorian Blues in G [B flat = 60 Hz]) or the relentless bass figure hammered out on the keyboard, or even the free form ramblings of the bass and guitar. It was, as Tony Wilson, the evening's unlikely compere, put it, that "terrible carpet" on which the performers played. We philistines in the audience liked that one.

The four-hour event climaxed with Pulp, on stage for the first time in 15 months. Jarvis Cocker, ever the showman, treated us to his entire portfolio of arm gestures, pouts and shuffling moonwalks. The first two songs from their forthcoming album, This Is Hardcore, however, were a departure - more in the style of Marc Almond or Dog Man Star era Suede in their camp orchestrations. "Help The Aged," which Jarvis dedicated to the occasion of his dad's birthday, found them returning to that catchy, literate pop that is their forte, and the audience at last found the reason to tap its toes and sing along.

The lights went up, and a recorded, po-faced discussion of a Terry Riley piece began. It seemed to highlight the difficulty of putting on Young's work, and the work of those inspired by him - demanding, perception-changing compositions, in a formal setting. At best the sense of immediacy can only be artificially replicated. By comparison, the moments during the evening that had relied on emotional directness, the simplicity of a melody or honest-to-goodness camp went down a treat.