In the further adventures of Throbbing Gristle as the most ingratiating band on the planet, the four original members turned on all the house lights in the Grand Ballroom last night, uncoiled an incessant low, seraphic noise from the stage, and started their first set in San Francisco since 1981’s famous show at Kezar Pavilion with “Very Friendly,” a peppy little tune about murdering children.
“No matter how fucking loud you yell,” declared a sort-of-almost-halfway-transgendered Genesis P-Orridge, “my voice will always be louder than yours.”
That could very well be Throbbing Gristle’s motto: Our voice will always be louder than yours. Of course, the band was quiet for years. In the aftermath of the Kezar show, they stopped performing, and the live album from that swan song, Mission of Dead Souls, served as a final spurt from one of the world’s most abrasive, interesting and unique groups. Last night’s return to the city of Dead Souls was a historic event, yes. It was also a sonically vicious onslaught, and its voice, definitely, was louder than yours.
In front of the speakers was not the healthiest place to be standing, where both physical and mental faculties were repeatedly strained by jarring stabs of digital knifeplay from the laptops of Chris Carter and Peter “Sleazy” Christopherson. And yet in front of the speakers was the most appropriate place to fully absorb the live experience, a full-body workout unavailable on Throbbing Gristle’s albums. The health of their audience is not a concern. The bass sounds blew loose-fitting clothes with each gut-churning wallop; up in the piercing tweeter range lay Cosey Fanni Tutti’s slide guitar abstractions; and in the middle of it all, the soul of the band, P-Orridge, delivering litany after litany on death, bondage, masturbation, mayhem and disorder.
In a blonde wig, orange blouse, pink skirt and brown vest, the bosomed P-Orridge commanded the stage, intractable during the frightening narratives of classic Throbbing Gristle material like 20 Jazz Funk Greats’ “What a Day” and “Persuasion,” and Mission of Dead Souls‘ “Something Came Over Me.”
A dash of humor came when a note was thrown on stage. “Genesis: Thank you for creating you,” P-Orridge read out loud, reciting the note. “Love, Stephanie. Call me.” Then, to make sure that everyone had a chance to write it down, P-Orridge twice read off Stephanie’s phone number. “Stephanie has brown hair, a blue dress, some cleavage,” he continued, “and she’s ready to be created with you.”
For as much as P-Orridge is painted as an antagonist, an iconoclast, and an artistic anarchist, he is still, in his heart, a human being. During the lone song played last night with the lights dimmed, the new song “Almost a Kiss,” he stepped back from each verse to unfurl his arms and plead to the skies for a love that had mysteriously disappeared. It was a dark, revelatory moment, unveiling the universal sadness that is so often shrouded in Throbbing Gristle’s industrial venom.
The show ended sweetly, with P-Orridge introducing his daughter Genesse to the crowd, and concluded with a long, long version of “Discipline,” which the up-till-then staid crowd took to heart by finally becoming undisciplined; bodies started moving, someone in the back dropped their drink, a fight broke out in the balcony. Finally, all the ingratiation had worked. Finally, Throbbing Gristle had made their grand return. And just like that, with an appreciative bow and no encore, they were gone again.
More Photos Below.
Attention all those who saw Of Montreal last night:
Next time your parents tell you how they saw David Bowie, or your sister tells you about seeing the Flaming Lips, or your friend’s dad keeps talking about Genesis or your dumb uncle won’t stop going on and on about Gwar or Mr. Bungle, you now have your response.
“You know what?” you can say. “Big fuckin’ deal, because I saw Of Montreal.”
There’s no need to explain it. No need to intellectualize it, or try to extrapolate some deep cultural meaning over theatre’s role in art. Of Montreal is just a damn good mind-blowing time, and easily the best entertainment you can get for $22.50. Even if you had to pay $100 on Craigslist for a ticket in these last couple weeks, you still got your money’s worth.
To everyone else: Look up their tour schedule. Drive to the next town. Call all your friends in upcoming cities and tell them to go. At all costs.
If you haven’t already heard, here’s the deal: Of Montreal’s Skeletal Lamping tour consists of a million costume changes, a non-stop reel of theatrical vignettes, a multi-leveled set centered by a moving carousel, a psychedelic lightshow, hundreds of props and dozens of instruments. Somewhere in the middle of all this is the band.
There’s buddhas, pigs, ninjas, a tiger, a roller-derby girl, a bikini beach party, a ’20s saloon scene, a pope, a nun, a gallows hanging, a coffin filled with shaving cream, guerillas wielding machine guns, a ghetto-blaster disco mamma, a two-man horse, devils who hand-paint the audience red, a beast with oversized arms and legs, a large eagle, and crazy machines that blow feathers all over everyone at the end.
It’s not pretentious, or juvenile, or mawkish or overly corny. It’s an utterly jaw-dropping culmination of the most basic human impulse to masquerade. Everyone who’s ever been in a band knows the feeling of seeing a funny shirt in a thrift store and thinking, “Cool! I’ll wear this on stage!” Take that impulse and multiply it by twelve bajillion, and that’s what Of Montreal’s tour is like.
Musically, the band was completely on point last night, and the set represented their two most recent albums, Hissing Fauna, Are You The Destroyer? and Skeletal Lamping. Kevin Barnes’ singing—with pitch-perfect harmonies by Bryan Poole—was unwavering, even on the more challenging tunes like “Gronlandic Edit” and “Wicked Wisdom,” and a solo upright piano rendering of “Touched Something’s Hollow” gave a poignant break from the nonstop thrust of “An Eluardian Distance” and “Gallery Piece.”
The nearly two-hour performance ended with Of Montreal wailing through a ridiculous no-holds barred, everyone-on-stage cover of “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” and the sentiment of “entertain us” was never more apt.
“Thank you, San Francisco!” said a glad, exhausted Kevin Barnes at the end of the show. “Thank you for letting us be ourselves.”
If you did not have a permanent smile on your face, or if you did not dance, or if you did not scream your lungs out, then you might want to check your pulse and make sure you’re actually alive. The shit was nuts, and one of the best shows I’ve ever seen.
More photos below.
Goldenvoice is a concert promotion company that grew out of the Los Angeles punk rock underground of the 1980s into a huge entity that today essentially dominates the market in the greater Southern California area. They’re now doing shows in San Francisco at the Regency Center Grand Ballroom, and they have brought everything that’s wrong about Los Angeles with them. I nominate that we send them back home. I’m not alone.
The Grand Ballroom (don’t confuse it for the old Avalon Ballroom, which is next door, on Sutter Street) is a beautifully ornate venue with tall ceilings, a wrap-around balcony and elegant chandeliers. One can only imagine how great it’d be in the hands of, say, Another Planet, because it’s clear that Goldenvoice is blowing what could potentially be a great venue.
First off—it’s hard not to be irritated by the very imposing security presence. There’s the usual pat-down, what’s-this-you’ve-got-here at the door, but once inside, it’s all hey-where-are-you-goin’ and being told not to walk or stand in what appears to be wide open, unrestricted spaces. The sense of authoritarian rule isn’t in-your-face, but it’s constant, and it makes for a lousy experience when you feel like you’re constantly being monitored.
Second—I understand that the Grand Ballroom is a difficult room for sound, but it’s not an impossible room for sound. It’s the same dimensions as the Fillmore, which has great sound. The problem is that the sound equipment isn’t permanent; Goldenvoice has to bring in all their speakers, boards, monitors and stacks for each individual show and get everything dialed in each time. It’s an extremely limiting situation, and it leads to the bands sounding utterly horrible.
Third—Goldenvoice takes a 20% cut of bands’ T-shirt sales, and a 5% cut of their CD and LP sales. This is unspeakable. There is no respectable reason for promoters to take a cut of a band’s merchandise. Especially their music. It’s not unusual among the more sleazeball promoters, and it’s the norm for huge concert promoters like Live Nation, but that doesn’t mean it’s okay.
Fourth—tickets for the Grand Ballroom are sold through Ticketmaster, which I think is totally inexcusable considering the far more fan-friendly ticketing options available these days. Ticketmaster is like the Bush presidency—a series of failed policies and “screw you” attitudes—and it needs to die like the embarrassment that it is.
The first time I saw Against Me! at 924 Gilman Street, obviously none of these issues were a problem. That was five years ago, and a lot has changed for Against Me! since then—not the least of which is selling way more records and playing way larger shows, for better and for worse.
The pivotal moment came when I saw them at the Warfield just before New Wave was released, shoved onto an awkward major-label co-billing with Mastodon. They seemed bored, and the new songs were awful. Imagine my surprise when they got more popular than ever, and New Wave, a slickly produced pile of crap, became Spin‘s Album of the Year.
And yet I couldn’t completely abandon Against Me!, as much as I certainly tried.
I still remembered the time they came to Santa Rosa on their first tour and stopped by the Last Record Store. They cruised the aisles, and bought some records, and then one of them asked, “Yeah, um… we’re a band on tour, and we’re playing a show at a place called Jessie Jean’s tonight, but we don’t see any flyers for it at all. Do you think you could maybe tell people to come?”
“Sure, ” I said. “What’s your band’s name?”
“Against Me!,” the guy replied.
I lit up with excitement. “You guys are reinventing Axl Rose!” I said.
“Yeah… how d’you know that?”
“We carry your record over here, look!”
And then one by one, they all filed over to the ‘A’ section, and held up their record, amazed. That’s the Against Me! that I still see in my head: four guys just totally stoked to see their own band in a record store on the other side of the country.
Last night, Against Me! played a fair balance of songs old and new, ensuring that longtime fans still had something to shout about. The older songs got most joyous reactions, naturally—”Cliché Guevara,” “Walking is Still Honest”—but one of the reasons I like seeing Against Me! live is to be reminded of songs like “Borne of the FM Waves of the Heart,” which is a highlight of New Wave.
Sure, new clunkers abounded. Despite its well-intentioned subject matter, “Anna is a Stool Pigeon,” from Tom Gabel’s new solo album, sounded forced and uninspiring, fulfilling the cliché of most solo album material. And I still can’t bring myself to buy New Wave, simply because I’d be picking up the needle and skipping songs so much that it wouldn’t be worth it.
The band’s gigantic banner draped the back wall of the stage, but the hall was half-empty. Though Against Me! is one of the most energetic and cardiovascular bands in the world, lots of people past the first 10 rows just stood there, like they were watching a cooking show or something. It felt a tad like much ado about little, until the encore, “We Laugh at Danger and Break All the Rules,” which proved yet again that Against Me! knows how to close the hell out of a show.
First people from the crowd began jumping on stage and singing along. Then, ditching his drums to help lead a huge clapping breakdown, Warren ran and stagedove into the crowd—flying through the air right exactly on the downbeat when the band, with a guest drummer who appeared out of nowhere, kicked back in and finished the song. It was fuckin’ nuts, and so totally fun, and the best part is that the overzealous security guards on the other side of the barricade were going crazy. Ha!
Made me love ‘em all over again.