Bitter Harvest @ Clinton's Bar - 2/4/99
Cardigans @ The King Cat Theater - 2/17/99
Murder City Devils @ ARO.space - 2/18/99
Purple Penguin @ ARO.space - 2/14/99
Punk Rock Karaoke @ RKCNDY - 2/6/99
February 4, 1999
I had a working vacation recently and spent some time in Toronto. Picked a
good week too. No less than four nights of
ambient/experimental/industrial/gothic music to choose from, including a
two night anniversary party for Feedback Monitor, Greg Clow's Toronto radio
show on CIUT (89.5 FM on Tuesdays, 10pm-midnight). An awkward side-effect
(as I discovered several days in) is that a/e/i/g can be really uninvolved
and, frankly, boring to see live. Scott Mackay, the man behind Bitter
Harvest, crosses this hurdle with a simple approach. He builds the songs
as you watch. Most ambient or experimental music relies heavily on
technology and the tweaking of said technology. Witness Aphex Twin's live
shows: him and a PowerBook and a couch. The artist in repose. Thank God
for dancing bears. Mackay doesn't resort to such means of obscuring the
man behind the curtain, instead allowing the audience to watch him as he
layers loops upon loops until he has built a complex rhythmic cloud. He
begins with a loop of tape stretched between a suspended reel and the
reel-to-reel player. A simple construct, but something concrete and shiny
for the audience to magpie itself with. The loop spins--what it is doesn't
really matter, the last he admitted to not knowing either when he put it
on--and he begins to sequence rhythms and tones around that loop. Small
cymbals, hand drums, gongs, marimbas, pipes, bells, all contribute timbre
and melody to his growing composition--themselves looped about the basic
pattern. The rising structure is like ivy, growing wildly and twisting
about itself. The audience gets to watch as he builds and discards
elements until a synergistic epiphany is reached. And then he allows it to
collapse, ending as he breaks and discards the loop of tape. The song is
over and it is gone, a transitory aural experience dissolved as soon as it
His debut album, Ritual Music for Broken Magick, has more indelible permanence by virtue of its medium, but there is still an element of fleeting existence to this music. Songs that seem to be built more ritualistically than for rituals, they unfold and drone with a pulsating vitality that speaks of spontaneous creation within a more structured environment.
The live showing should be approached as a ritual. The elements are gathered--audience, instruments, loops--each in its place and, as the witching hour approaches, the ceremony commences. "Eye of newt and toe of frog/Wool of bat and tongue of dog." Though, in this case, the ingredients are: Drone of loop and patter of finger drum/Sound of cymbal and dark machine hum. We are taken in by Mackay's ritual and mesmerized by the sonic upheaval of his magick.
The King Cat Theater
February 17, 1999
With Gran Turismo, the Cardigans produced an album which seemed to propel
them into the Lynchian light, their new direction seemingly perfect as the
Friday/Saturday bar band at the Road House just outside of Twin Peaks. I
went to the show wondering if the lamentable beauty of the album would
translate well live. I shouldn't have asked. The Cardigans lose some of
their magic as they come across as a rather straight-laced rock band on
After a recorded intro that caterwauls in its pace (yes, that really is the best word to describe it), the band arrives and lumbers into "Marvel Hill." They forgo the treated vocals, dropping those verses entirely, and Nina Persson seems a little confused with the holes in the music as does some of the audience. It's more the music than her stage presence thankfully as she chats amiably with the audience before they drop back a few years with "Step on Me" and "Been It," finding their groove with these older tunes. By the time they return to the newer material, the initial musical stumble is nearly forgotten and the band roars through the entirety of Gran Turismo, stepping aside for a couple of other older songs as well as their two "disco numbers" (Nina's phraseology). Shamelessly enough, there was dancing in the aisles for these songs.
Just past midway, I realize I put Gran Turismo on my Top Ten List from last year and am frantically wondering how much of bribe it is going to take to revise recorded history. (still waiting on that *first* beer, mark. --ed) I rated this album higher than Curve's for Christ's sake, I'm thinking, and there is no comparison in staging between these two bands. The Cardigans are passably enjoyable live, but don't really bring anything new to their music with the road show. In fact, there is something lost in the muddle of the mix. The gurgling, snarling guitar line of "Paralyzed" is buried beneath the rhythm section and it is an ache to not have that melody snake over you. And "Do You Believe" becomes a driving rock song, losing the plaintive hopefulness of Nina's voice which pervaded the album track. They still qualify for the showcase position on the money nights at the Road House, but the position is won more on the strength of their produced album than their live sound.
And no Sabbath cover. That wasn't me shouting for "Iron Man" at the end of the encore. That was the guy next to me. Really, it was.
photo by robert zverina
The Muder City Devils
"The boys sound good tonight / so good / they sound just like a riot looks."
Even with a less than friendly sound mix, The Murder City Devils took the stage and claimed ARO.space as their own. Time on the road has sharpened their rock 'n' roll sense and it was on full display this night as the band pulled out their switchblade garage punk, leaving no disbelivers standing by the time they were finished. Spencer Moody's seemingly mild mannered appearance behind his thick glasses and button down sweater was quickly torn away as he stepped up to the microphone. Propelled by the powerhouse drumming of Coady Willis, and flanked on one side by the hip-shimmying, facial contortions of guitarist Dann Galucci, and on the other by the epileptic fits of bassist Derek "Shouldn't you be at Biohazard?" Fudesco, Moody howled the night through, ministering to his demons as the band tore through their set. Not even the between-song banter of the band's other guitarist, Nate Manny, nor the secret smiles of new MCD organist Lesly Hardy could hide the unmistakable power and sway this band's music has over an audience when they're onstage. With the Peter Fonda/Nancy Sinatra movie The Wild Angels flickering on the screen behind them, they played through punchy numbers like "Make It On My Own" and "Broken Glass," the sexy "Boom Swagger Boom," and the sultry sway of "Dancin' Shoes."--all songs from both their self-titled album, and their '98 Sub Pop release, Broken Bottles Empty Hearts. The regrets of "18 Wheels" ended the night, but it was the fireballs that crashed upward off the cymbals of Willis' drumkit--backlighting the band with fiery kersplash--during "Cradle to the Grave" that defined the show.
Openers The Weaklings were tight and punchy, but the histrionics of their singer--from his self-immolation to his posturing--was lifted straight from Iggy and the Stooges. A little originality please. And, with the exception of the singer's microphone flying off the cord as he twirled it à la Roger Daltrey, the Spitfires were not even memorable. These two would do well to pay attention to The Murder City Devils and what it is about their ability to pull off such visceral live displays. The attitude means nothing if you don't have the goods to back it up. Thankfully, there's enough boom swagger boom in The Murder City Devils, proving that they do sound just like a riot looks.
Purple Penguin, et al.
February 14, 1999
The problem with DJ shows is that you can't go expecting to hear something. A DJ's toughest decision when he leaves the Archive and goes on the road
is: what to bring along. You bring the right wax and the crowd gets
thumpin'. You bring the wrong and... And what about the audience? You
bring the wrong expectation and nothing put on the wheels will please you.
Which puts me in one of two categories: wrong expectations or just getting
too old to keep my eyes open until 3am.
ARO.space and the Seattle Weekly were throwing a Valentine's Day party complete with a set by Purple Penguin--all the way from merry olde England and the Cup Of Tea label. I saw an advert while in Toronto for a show there and had been sad to have missed them. Lucky me. Here they are in Seattle and I'm here as well. I kitted up, went down, and proceeded to wait. And wait. And wait. It wasn't long by ARO standards, the opening DJs starting up their turntables shortly after 10pm. But I was here to see the Penguin. I was here for that opening chord of "Memphis." I was here for the trumpet line in "Mountain." I wasn't there for the two hours of tepid DJ-ing that took me through the beginning of tomorrow. That isn't to say that it wasn't good or that the floor wasn't filled with people having a great time dancing. Yet the two fellows working the 'tables weren't really spinning anything that kept me from nodding off in one of the comfy chairs. However, no one on the floor was making a value judgement on the music, they were just moving. They were happy someone was making noise which had a regular beat to it. And that, I guess, makes the night a success.
Me? I went home before the second DJ took the stage; went home and listened to Detuned, Purple Penguin's first album. If the whole point of their tour is to raise consciousness of their work and the point of a review is to direct you towards something you might not have otherwise picked up, then let's salvage the evening with this nugget: Detuned is sublime. Who cares what they do with their live DJ act. Buy the album. Stay home.
photo by craig young
Punk Rock Karaoke
When I first heard that the Punk Rock Karaoke show would be an all ages night at the RKCNDY I wasn't too enthused about going--after all, what's karaoke without copious amounts of alcohol? But I couldn't resist the chance to see Mike Watt thump his bass to some punk oldies but goodies, so away I went--anticipation building for the music to come, hoping I wouldn't be disappointed. A continuation of one of the side stages during the Vans Warped Tour, Punk Rock Karaoke is you--a willing audience member--clambering up onstage to belt out your favorite punk classics with Derek O' Brian (Fancy Pants), Gret Hetson (Circle Jerks, Bad Religion), Eric Melvin (NOFX), and Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE, his own bad self), there to back you up with the righteous music. Trying to remember the words is one thing; trying to remember the words in front of a packed house with those four playing behind you is quite another. But the kids proved that you don't need libations--just inspiration and lots of energy, both of which were in abundance.
It had been some time since I'd been to an all ages show and I forgot just how manic and how much energy there can be. Stark contrast to most of the over twenty-one clubs around where people stand idly by with their drinks in hand, occasionally cheering between songs. Funerals can seem more lively. Such was not the case at the RKCNDY. Those who were lucky enough to sign up to sing beforehand were called up one after another, lyric book clutched in one hand, microphone in the other. And one after another they jumped, shouted, menanced and yelled their hearts out--all in fine form--showing much respect for the songs they were singing. "Minor Threat," "California Über Alles," "New Rose," "12XU," "Damaged," and my favorite of the night, Suicidal Tendencies' "Institutionalized." Watt, Melvin and the rest stood back and let the participants have at it, at times themselves noticeably impressed with the intensity of deliveries. It was a treat to watch the band play some great, and still potent, songs. It was even funner watching the participants bring the house down with their energy; showing us all what going to a show should be about and proving without doubt that the kids are alright.