At first glance a post-rock outfit and melodic electronica performer seemed an ideal live pairing to induce maximum subdued blissed out shuffling but neither performance fully lived up to their stereotype.
Despite technical difficulties, despite a bad venue, and despite the fact that it usually takes a fire under St. Louis' ass to get anybody to dance, !!! came to the infamous Creepy Crawl and left the crowd exhausted and cheering for more. The doors opened at 7:30 and, perhaps around 8:15 or so various members of the band came on stage and started spinning records, DJing everything from hip hop and Prince to electronic funk and foot-tapping pop songs and winning over the crowd before a single song had been played. As the group got on stage and began to jam for a soundcheck, several confusing glances were exchanged from the stage to the mixing board, keyboards glitched up, monitors fizzled, Justin Vandervolgen appeared frustrated, and Nic Offer kept the crowd together, continuing to dance to the house music and promising the crowd that they had come to "rock ass." Once things had sort of been worked out (many of the members just shrugging and suggesting they start the music up) the first notes of "Pardon My Freedom" poured out of the speakers. I've never seen a St. Louis crowd react the way they did to the music that night: everyone was sweating their ass off, jumping about, slamming their feet to the floor, and waving their hands in the air because !!! were fucking tearing into the soul of excellence and pouring out an energy that I've never seen from any performers anywhere. Disaster struck again and the monitors that were supposed to be playing behind the percussionists bugged out and completely died. A friend of mine echoed my sentiments when he said "fuck this place, they should've played at Mississippi Nights." The Creepy Crawl is incredibly notorious for being a venue without much to brag about, but despite difficulties the band pressed on and continued tearing the roof off the ceiling and ejecting it into the Mississippi River by playing "Dear Can/King's Weed" with "Hello? Is This Thing On" and "Me and Giuliana Down by the Schoolyard" following right behind. Despite the drummer's being virtually deaf to the rest of the band, the songs sounded absolutely perfect and at no point did anybody in the crowd stop moving. Nic Offer could've told us all to jump off a bridge that night and, in all likely hood, many of us would have. At one point there were kids up on stage dancing with members of the band and Offer was hanging over the crowd from a post near the stage screaming "can U feel it intensify" like a man possessed by the energy that threatened to blow the glass right out of the windows. Only five songs were played, but after the show I managed to ask the band some questions and it was the technical difficulties that kept them from playing further. 5 songs, over an hour of non-stop dance mania, over three hours of total music (including the DJ work), and !!! left without a single mention of disappointment or dissent from the crowd. If !!! can own a city for a night like this with all these technical difficulties, then I can't imagine how incredibly intense they must be when they're at a venue that can actually manage their equipment correctly. I suppose that says something about the band and their dedication, though: although problems persisted, !!! played one of the best and certainly the most fun shows I've ever been to. There is absolutely no excuse for missing a show from these guys and they are still on tour in the US through June 29th. Beginning July 2nd they will be touring throughout Europe with a special show being staged in Japan. The website says there are more US dates to come and all I can do is wait patiently and hope they either come back to St. Louis are play somewhere very close.
Due to a theater performance in one of the venue's other rooms the band had a late slot at 10pm, after the theater perfomance had ended. The room was well packed with about 200 people, but there was still enough room for everybody to stand comfortably. When the band walked on stage, the great outfits were the first thing to notice: bright yellow or orange pants, neon rainbow belts, matching blue or green shirts, and platform boots. (Even the drummer was wearing a pair of them, probably making it difficult to play.) The band itself is a sight to behold, with the bass player looking like Beck himself, tall guy Pearly White manning the keyboards, the drummer looking like a copy of John Bonham (complete with moustache), guitar player Sledd looking like he used to play in a hair metal band (and boy, the stuff he played sure sounded like that, too) and Monica Bou Bou—the only girl in the band—switching between keyboards, violin and recorder. The real star, however, is 5' 4" singer/guitarist Bobby Conn. Looking like a cross between Lou Reed and a smaller version of early 70s Bowie, he immediately took command of the stage and the audience, ordering everybody to move closer to the front.
The main set consisted mainly of material from the latest album The Homeland, with a couple older songs thrown in. Highlights were the album's prog rock opener "We Come In Peace," the single "Relax," with its funky rhythm and the title track, "The Homeland," which was announced as being the 'official sing-along anthem for the 2004 Olympic Games in Athens.' For the ballad "Home Sweet Home," Bobby descended from the stage and performed the song amidst the audience. Musically, the set was a mixture of Queen, Led Zeppelin, Iggy And The Stooges, David Bowie, and T Rex, with some funk and disco thrown in for good measure. Quite a few people critizice Bobby Conn for delivering his political messages "disguised" as 70s glam rock, but in concert this worked out fine, with Bobby commenting on the current political situation in the US and talking with the audience between songs.
When the main set ended after a short 75 minutes, it still felt complete and they could have ended it right there. After much cheering, the band came back, performing a few older songs, with "Whores" (from the previous album The Golden Age) being the last one. After that, the band left the stage and Monica started selling merchandise, but the audience was still screaming for more. When the cheering didn't stop after five minutes, Monica left the stage and went looking for the boys to come back for some more. She must have pulled them right out of the shower, for they returned half naked, wearing sweat pants and sneakers, but they did another two fast and loud songs, which Bobby announced with the words "After these, you don't wanna hear anything else." When they finished, the band was finally released to the well deserved showers.
It was a great night with an excellent performance, and it was pretty cheap, too. (Hey, and you can't go wrong with a concert where a platform boot-equipped guitarist is doing jumping jacks on stage, right?) The remaining tour dates can be found on the Thrill Jockey web site.
The first show was at Bigsby's on bustling 6th Street at 1 am and the second at The Red Eyed Fly on slightly less bustling Red River at 6 pm the following evening. The sets were 55 and 45 minutes respectively, typically truncated for SXSW, and featured a fine balance of old and new. Classics included "Johnny Mathis' Feet," "Sick of Food," "Why Won't You Stay?," "Dead Part of You," "Outside This Bar," "Nightwatchman," "Challenger," and "Bad Liquor." New tunes included "Ladies and Gentleman, It's Time," "Another Morning," "Only Love," "Patriot's Heart," and "Home." The new ones were just as good as the old ones and I was surprised by how much most of them "rocked." The band's energy and enjoyment was as palpable as ours: these guys were born to play together. Perhaps "Home" is Eitzel's confession on where he stood before the reunion when he emotively bellows "I got lost! I started to hate my own skin!" Eitzel seems considerably reigned in with the band, less self-deprecating and spontaneously combustible, but still lovably disagreeable at times. Danny and Mark quibbled over what song to play next as often as they playfully slam danced. Tim was a tornado on drums and intently watched Eitzel for cues. Marc head banged and bounced in his seat while playing keys. And Vudi was as calm and collected and eccentric as ever sporting big hats, scarves, cowboy boots and what looked to be a guitar made of metal. After band members and fans alike convinced Mark back on stage at the final show, he announced "this is the last time we're ever playing this fucking song" and they launched into an explosive rendition of "Bad Liquor" that left the South Texas evening air sizzling.
Of the approximately 1,200 acts playing 56 venues city-wide, American Music Club were the main reason I was there and they did not disappoint in the slightest. Welcome back guys. Check http://www.americanmusicclub.com/ for future dates and the budget "1984-1995" compilation CD.
Friday's first live act was LCD Soundsystem, coming exactly one year after the DFA's James Murphy unveiled the live act at last year's WMC. Listening to LCD's various singles and EPs, the music doesn't sound as if it would lend itself particularly well to the live arena, but Murphy and company do an incredible job of creating a dynamic live performance. "Beat Connection" is a long, slowly evolving dub-disco track that slowly gathers momentum before exploding into a loud barrage of nervous beats and Murphy's confrontational screams. It might be intentional or it might be the venue's limited sound system, but the wall of distortion created by LCD's tribal precussion, bass slaps and synthesizer squalls vibrated the entire club, focusing attention on the hypnotic, reverberating groove. Murphy played fast and loose with the lyrical rants of "Losing My Edge," improvising a stream of hilariously sarcastic verbiage, name-dropping Black Dice and telling the audience just how hard he works to make sure they have good music to listen to. The Rapture was next with a brief but pitch-perfect set. The band has gotten progressively better over the four performances I've witnessed — rhythms more complex, blasts of saxophone skronk, and songs are joined together with gently evolving dub bridges and sparkling synthesizer arpeggiations.
Saturday night was not well attended, a lot of clubbers having left to attend other events featuring populist acts like Underworld and Paul Van Dyk. !!! took the stage, their sound checks and warm-ups evolving unannounced into their set opener. Somewhere in the club, a fire alarm was tripped, but !!! didn't miss a beat, improvising right along with the shrill siren. Luckily, the venue did not ignite into a red-hot fireball like the Great White show in Rhode Island. Even if it had, I think I would have tried to catch as much of !!!'s killer set as I could before heading for the emergency exits. Their performance ended with a 20-plus minute interpolation of "Me and Giuliani Down By the Schoolyard," a politically-charged funk song that turned the perplexed, ecstasy-fueled dancefloor into a mash of spasticated jiving. A set by The Juan MacLean traced strange connections between late-70's leftfield disco and late-80's acid house, holding it all together with elastic bass and funhouse-mirror echoes.
Every room of the SoHo Lounge was consistently bumping with celebrity DJs, their myriad sets attempting to erase barriers and connect the postmodern dots between early-90's rave culture, 80's-retro, Moroder-esque disco and the newer wave of Berliniamsburg dance-punk. It was not at all strange to hear The Rapture's "House of Jealous Lovers" rubbing shoulders with Wink's "Higher State of Consciousness," fading into Was (Not Was)'s "Wheel Me Out," funneling out into a Walter Gibbons mix of Arthur Russell's "Schoolbell/Treehouse." When disposable culture is this deliciously eclectic, it's hard not to be seduced.
October 21, 2003, Birmingham, UK
October 22, 2003, Bristol, UK
October 23, 2003, London, UK
October 24, 2003, London, UK
Bardo Pond are the greatest heavy psychedelic band in the un-USA. It had been four years since they last played in the un-UK, so I wasn't going to pass up the chance to catch as many dates on their tour as possible. The good news if you missed them this time is that they're going to be back next year, as Foundation have asked them to play at All Tomorrow's Parties and plans are being hatched for a headline tour in the same spring time/space. Mega props go to Mogwai, men of good taste, for inviting the ten-legged Philadelphian artnoise group for a trip around this island. It was such a joy to hear manipulated feedback noises welling up to ear splitting crescendoes from Michael Gibbons' pedal rack as we walked into Manchester Academy that we were straight down the front waving our arms in the air and going crazy at the edge of the Pond much to the bemused consternation of baby Mogwai fans who seemed confused that anyone should react to music anymore positively than standing still balancing a little backpack.
The band played a set mostly comprised of tracks from their awesome On the Ellipse album, but also taking in that old Lapsed favourite "Tommy Gun Angel," a whirlwind elegy to the passing spirit of singer Isobel Sollenberger's dog. Drummer Ed Farnsworth was absent at a friend's wedding so Mogwai's drummer filled in and did a sterling job considering the minimal time he'd spent playing with the Pond. The set grew denser and assumed sunlike gravitational pull with the final slow skullfuck "Night of Frogs." Mogwai were OK too. I missed the Glasgow show so that I could listen to over three hours of hilarious anti-Bush cabal rants from Jello Biafra, who made me realise that the world is even more fucked up than I'd thought. You thought Cheney and Rumsfeld were repulsive motherfuckers? Just wait until the Terminator and the Wolfman decide who lives and who dies!
I hooked up with the Pond outside Birmingham Sanctuary and helped them load in the heavy amps. After a few drinks in a nearby pub it was time to soundcheck in a venue with vastly superior theatrical acoustics to the Manchester student hive. Asked if I had any requests, I went for the faster paced "Again" and the band finished the set with it at about twice the speed they played it last time they toured here. By now they'd revved up eight times faster than the sun and merged all the rainbow colours into one bright mass of energy. I had to shift from the direct trajectory of Clint Takeda's earth moving bass rumble as it seemed initially to be obliterating the rest of the band. Clint and effects happy guitarist John Gibbons seem to form the heavy bedrock under the Pond whilst the other three ripple the water into waves. Isobel pulls off the neat trick of singing and playing violin at the same time, and also blows melodies out of a battered old flute, to float above the sea of churning noise riffs and battering drums. Ed seems to have an ecstatic grin for every skittering beat he hits, like a child opening a gift box. Mogwai seemed a little more intense than in Manchester.
The Birminghum Police Farce must've been having a quiet night. A duty bound jobsworth cooked up a tall tale of the Pond van hitting another vehicle and pulled us over. Accused of "smoking cannabis" we were searched one by one ineffectually. Buying time by being awkward and generally taking the piss out of these clowns, I was asked, "Are you The Joker?" which was hilarious considering I'd just seen Killing Joke eight times. A trip to Stonehenge was aborted due to bad weather and bad timing, and Bristol was damp and dreary. But Bardo Pond effortlessly turned night into day, every heart a star. They could take you there even from the blurred balcony of the Corporate Rugby Player Pisswater Academy. Clearly it was time to head downstairs and hit the whisky! Fade into London Astoria, and the most floor shaking sets from the Pond. Mogwai had assumed monstrous proportions by now and every night seemed to widen their dramatic loud/quiet dynamics, bursting out with strobes. Bardo Pond needed very little light tricks to bring out the senses and flip the trip switch. The surprise finale was "lb" from Dilate which had Isobel animated like some Woodstock biker-rock singer transported through a sugar sci-fi grass vortex, leaning back to sing into a hand held mike. My friends all seemed to be more into Mogwai that night, but what the fuck do they know anyway?
October 5, 2003, Leeds, UK
October 6, 2003, Manchester, UK
October 7, 2003, Nottingham, UK
Killing Joke should never be confused with the average rock band, who are quite happy to deliver mundane platitudes and mere entertainment. Before the now defunct Melody Maker dumbed down into an inferior rerun of Smash Hits, one of their hacks gave a Killing Joke gig a slagging. Bellowing keyboard playing composer and lynchpin Jaz Coleman visited their offices and demanded to see the vapid bitcher, and when refused dumped a mound of offal and maggots on the reception desk to much screaming and hilarity. The next day he got a written apology for the bad review.
Ever since they fired up the post-punk ghettos at the very end of the seventies, this has been the band who can keep you running when you hit your lowest ebb. Jaz assures anyone who attends their Fire Dances that there is nothing to touch The Joke in full flight. Having just witnessed four gigs on this tour, I can agree that this is no mere hype. There is nothing to match the precision intensity of Killing Joke. The Everything Alive set on The End of the World tour seems to have been carefully chosen to ritually alter minds, in preparation for battles ahead. The "Wardance" is now dedicated to Tory Bliar and the 2004 US sham-elections, and Jaz is rallying the troops to fight these rapists of Mother Earth. Whilst too many other bands sing crappy happy songs, Killing Joke make music that's "Not music no more."
Elfin Keyboard Walker enters first and fires up the wailing walls of Everything Alive! The rest of the band stride on as the Middle Eastern vortex swirls. Last is Jaz Shaman, now a black lipped sorrow mouth spider-man. It was a nice surprise to hear "Communion" which seemed very appropriate as an opener. Jaz swings a violent cut off arm and the "Requiem" for the cattle for slaughter begins. In Liverpool, Raven sang back up on the line, "The sound of breaking glass, this is your reflection," looking me straight in the eye. The drummer is the mountainous Ted Parsons of Swans and Prong, who Jaz says has some strange habits. Guitarist Geordie is one cool dude, smokin' and turning head from side to side. Bassist Raven glowers in black warpaint, black woolly hat & camo combat shorts, a towel hanging from his back pocket.
The Joke sounded sharper and even more fired up in Leeds and incredibly upped the energy further at the sold out Manchester show. In Leeds Jaz seemed to feed off the wired energy of the crowd. Cop sirens wailed for "Change!" "Everywhere's changing into fucking America!" lamented Jaz, looking for a way out. "Empire Song" and "Asteroid!" boosted later gigs to more massive proportions than the half full Liverpool. The penultimate onslaught in Leeds was a big surprise. Jaz said it might be a bit ropey because they hadn't played it for so long, but "Follow the Leaders" was perfect. Part of the process - same old story?
Whilst most of the best songs from their stormin' album released earlier this year, including the ultimate rock song "Seeing Red", are in the set there are so many older attacks delivered with venom and wit that no Joker should leave without a toothy grin. Tracks like "Tension", "Frenzy" and "Pssyche" are fantastic obliterations of the self, leaving Jokers leaping about in animal ecstasy. Citizens of the un-UK still have a chance to get The Joke in Preston and Sheffield, with a couple of Irish ignitions earlier this week. The "Asteroid!" hits D.C. on the 23rd. Do you want total war?
Gig prices in the un-UK have really shot through the roof of late, probably because gigs are selling out fast. Whilst record sales slump due to the utter bovine idiocy of the record industry, people are partying on eternally with blasts of rock music, loud and proud. A tenner is a right bargain for over two hours of top notch tunes from the legendary Guided By Voices. The first few tunes sounded good enough, but when some inspired heckler called out for Subspace Biographies I waded down the front and counted them in with a cheeky Wire homage recognition "154!" Lynchpin teacher and genius lyricist Robert Pollard sang the keyboard parts with "Ba ba!" abandon, which was hilarious. He doesn't do the high kicks anymore, or if he did it was while I wasn't watching, but he did stick his head in his beer bottle ice box to cool off between songs. Aside from Bob, the line up has changed completely since the first time I saw them at the late lamented Leeds Duchess of York around the time of Under the Bushes, Under the Stars, but the intention has never shifted. They always deliver kick ass yet intelligent rock with uplifting tunes that just make you want to party on. That is unless you are the Badly Drawn Boy. They just make him want to yell requests like everyone else. I got Motor Away, which Bob said was on the 42 song setlist already. He got Echos Myron which he probably read off the setlist as the last song before encore anyhow. The annoying thing was he kept yelling out a request for a dedication to him, because he was insistant that he was Guided By Voices' biggest fan. We were all their biggest fans that night. At least the boring hippy didn't get up onstage and steal the bands' time like he did with Flaming Lips. When I pay to see Flaming Lips play live I want to see them play live, not cut the best song from their set so someone else much less talented can play instead. Crap beards and dreadful hats, necessary ego I suppose. There's something in this deal for everyone. Did you really believe that you were the only one?