On paper, Massacre is one of the least likely “supergroups” in recent memory. Its members represent polar opposites of the avant-rock spectrum, with bassist Bill Laswell known for forays into visceral rhythm (not to mention work with Motorhead and White Zombie) and guitarist Ferd Frith renowned for forging a byzantine, bucolic style over three decades of recording.
The perf — which kicked off the last week of the Knitting Factory’s 15th anniversary month — drew a packed house on a Monday night. Despite Massacre’s under-the-radar profile, the band has a rabid core following, and like those that follow Arto Lindsay, James “Blood” Ulmer and John Zorn (all of whom performed during the monthlong fete), they’ve grown accustomed to the Knit’s dotty pleasures.
While much of the lengthy opening set was devoted to hard-charging improvisations — with only occasional dips into Massacre’s recorded catalog for pieces like “Tourism” and “For Food and Scatter” — subtle rhythmic undercurrents leavened the bombast. The jittery, brittle drumming of Charles Heyward (who cut his teeth in the punk-era experimental group This Heat) brought to mind the more arid end of post-Joy Division Manchester.
Laswell, who often cuts a foreboding figure onstage, looked unusually relaxed and animated, a mien that swept Frith up as well — leading to some clever extrapolations, like one that seemed to draw on the band’s twice-reworked “Conversations With White Arc.” Frith, in contrast to his often studied distance, brought the noise with both body and brain stem.
The set’s true highlight, however, was a faithful, if condensed, version of John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme,” on which Laswell took firm command of center stage, wringing the song’s rending chant melody line from his fretless bass with disarming passion.