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.