Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Al's Attempted Metal Weekend, plus Glen Benton versus the Rickshaw sound guy

Scarebro at the Astoria, March 16, photo by Femke van Delft (not to be reused without permission)

Attempts to reconnect to my primal self, blow off steam, feel part of a tribe, and generally enjoy a couple of metal shows were kind of foiled this weekend, alas - I ended up walking out early on both of them. The Scarebro/ Big Nothing/ Congress show at the Astoria started so late that I was exhausted by the end of the Scarebro set, which wrapped up around midnight, with two bands left to play. Scarebro have solid tunes, much more straightforward than what guitarist/vocalist James Farwell does with Bison, though the high point of the night was (still) probably the ironic segue into the BOC's "Astronomy" bridge at the end of the one about the joys of work (one of their strongest songs in its own right, due to the brilliant simplicity and universality of its chorus - a catchy repeated refrain of "I don't wanna go to work," in its own way as powerful as pop-historical one liners like "I need a god damn job" or "school's out for summer"). It was rivaled only by James' potentially legbreaking leap from the (high) stage of the Astoria to solo on the floor, which sorta started like he was going to just fall; he then seemed to ratify gravity and leap into his tilt, ending up safe and soloing on his knees, maybe as much to his surprise as the audience's. It was amusing, too, to watch (bassist, former Pride Tiger and S.T.R.E.E.T.S. member, Bison cover artist, and former Alienated in Vancouver cartoon subject) Mike Payette, who, celebrating his birthday, seemed more than a bit inebriated and glazed-over (James kept calling him "Muffy," for some reason - the vibe between them was a bit odd that night). Really my only complaint was that it shouldn't take til after 11 for the opening act to go on - it's just not fair to people who have, like, jobs or gruelling daytime schedules or such; Fem and Dave, whom I'd met earlier for beer and burgers at Pat's Pub earlier, had long since glazed over, staring at what they were reading as an unintentionally queer-themed reality TV show about UFC on the Astoria's screens. They left as soon as Scarebro wrapped up, and I was in no state to stick around any later myself, much as Congress sounded cool online.

Scarebro at the Astoria, March 16, photo by Femke van Delft (not to be reused without permission)

The Rickshaw had no such issues - the show started at 8pm, as per usual, apparently a venue policy and a very, very wise one - but the head of excitement built up for Deicide was somewhat tainted when singer Glen Benton blew a bit of a fit on the Rickshaw sound guy a few songs into the set, cussing him out for meddling with his microphone, accusing him of stealing it (?!) and telling him to get the fuck off the stage. I'd actually briefly considered interviewing Benton - an intimidating figure, but certainly an interesting one. Had my school activities not rendered it impossible, it would have been interesting to discuss the social uses of blasphemy as practiced by the band - how it functions between the band and its audience, which I think is a much more relevant question than whether Benton is "really a Satanist" or so forth. My own thesis is that blasphemy in metal is mostly just an aspect of solidifying tribal bonds - ingroups and outgroups, creating and maintaining an "us" solidfied in relationship to a "them," with bonds that much closer by their involving the shared breaking of social taboos - witness the guy in the crowd with the Cradle of Filth "I Fuck Nuns/ Jesus Is a Cunt" t-shirt - tho' obviously Benton's relationship to cussin' out God might have more personal dimensions, as well (I've braved talking to Lemmy about his father-issues, so why not Glen Benton?). It'd also have been interesting to talk to him about why it is widely assumed that there's something WRONG about metal blasphemers and "stage Satanists" who are adopting a persona for the sake of their art (Slayer, say), as opposed to people who "mean it, maaan;" personally, I would rather listen to metal bands that are just doin' it for fun, "like a horror movie," as Cannibal Corpse are wont to say about their murder/ rape/ mutilation and gore themes; it's not like I feel let down to discover that Alex Webster isn't really a serial killer, so why should it affect me to know that Tom Arraya is a Christian, or that Glen Benton, while still describing himself as a Satanist, isn't about to go burn down a church? It takes awhile, but Mark Prindle gets into some of this with Benton, in his interview with him, which makes me even more curious about the guy - "if you wanna fight God, fight Christianity, do it with words. Actions only make us look stupid. Burning churches down, all the other bullshit that came out of Norway and shit. They’re all 17-year-old kids fuckin bored fuckin rebelling against Mom and Dad and shit... A lot of that shit was just stuff they could brag about in interviews").

Deicide crowd by Bev Davies, not to be reused without permission

Anyhow, while not expecting him to exactly be a sweet and cuddly guy, given his habit of branding an inverted cross into his forehead, and being no stranger to people chewing out the Rickshaw sound guy - witness Michael Gira during the last Swans show here - I really didn't want to risk being put off Deicide's music by Benton's crankiness: I've got half a dozen of their albums and find them very useful for surviving my more gruelling commutes. Nothing quite seals you off from the mundane chatter of suburbanites like Deicide - there are mornings when nothing less will suffice.

In fairness, I should note that I was already not enjoying myself that much, which also had something to do with my leaving early, as:

a) I actually did think the sound  rather sucked that night. Death metal - particularly Deicide's variety of it - is so dense, and so much about technical complexity and precision, that it kinda makes it hard to appreciate when the individual instruments merge together in a vague, pummeling roar (turning their music into what Benton derisively calls "blur metal," in the Prindle interview linked above). It's gotta be a difficult music to make sound good live, 'specially in a concrete box like the Rickshaw - but it was disappointing that I couldn't even pick out what song was which. As close as I tried to listen, it all just merged into one vague, assaultive stormcloud, and I couldn't beyond a doubt discern a lyric, a riff, a lick. None of which was Deicide's fault, but neither was it very enjoyable. It's music I'd much rather listen to on headphones, or in a venue with really, really clear sound (the Venue, much as I dislike other aspects of it, gets my vote for the best in Vancouver at the moment - Wolves in the Throne Room sounded great there).

b) I had already been somewhat put off the night when, during Abigail Williams' opening number, an overly enthusiastic mosher, in the metal mode of moshing - aggressively going around shoving people who weren't moshing, and then patrolling his mostly empty territory - rammed into someone, slipped on the beerslick floor, and came careening into me in such a way that his shaved head collided with my crotch. While it was not the worst sacking I have received - a deliberately directed knee or foot is much, much worse - I have done a good enough job of protecting my nuts through my adult life that I haven't had to EXPERIENCE the dull ache of testicular pain in a long time. This made the experience no more welcome, even if I got an anecdote out of it. My balls were still vaguely aching when I related the story to Scrape proprietor JJ half an hour later, standing by the door ("it gives a new meaning to the concept of giving head," he replied. Ha.)

c)  I felt a vague pressure growing in my bowels, and there was NO way I was even going to look and SEE what the Rickshaw men's room toilets were like, let alone attempt to USE one. I like the Rickshaw, don't get me wrong - its one of my favourite places to see live music in the city - but I try not even to LOOK into the men's room stalls when using the facilities; to my recollection, I have never not regretted a toiletward glance there. To hell with chewing out the sound guy - someone should turn Glen loose on the Rickshaw janitor!

Deicide crowd by Bev Davies, not to be reused without permission

Anyhow, nursing my testicles, evacuating my colon, and sparing my ears from the blur all had a role to play in my bailing on that show. Bev was on her way out, as well, having gotten the pictures she'd come for. High points of the evening, in the end, included:

a) seeing the massively long hair of the lead guitarist of Jungle Rot, who swung it in arcs that rivalled Corpsegrinder, and then seeing the amazing photos Bev took of him (she observed that his hair looked rather feminine and soft when at rest and then, when he swung it, straightened out and became almost weaponized - as nearly was Bev's camera, when she was pushed by a mosher)

b) seeing the kid next to me at the urinal in the men's room (safe, compared to the toilets) continuing to headbang to Jungle Rot's music while he peed

c) Jack Owen's cool little toss-away solo that he launched into as Deicide took the stage. He's kinda been relegated to rhythm guitar duties in that band, but I rather like his solos from his Cannibal Corpse days, so it was fun to hear one while the band were gearing up

d) Running into Anju Singh of Ahna something like four times during the day, and then later Kyla-who-made-me-a-zombie at the show (note the presence, if you follow that last link, of the Soska sisters - the makers of the Vancouver-shot exploitationer Dead Hooker in a Trunk - also all zombie'd up in those photos, which Kyla also had a hand in, and watch this space for news about a screening of an unrelated sci-fi movie Kyla did makeup effects for. Also, go see Anju's new project, Dead Terror, on April 1st, opening for Thrones at Iron Road Studios. While I'm digressively cramming things into this space, also note that the night before, there will be a gig at the Interurban organized by Scratch - I ran into Keith at Scarebro and he's very happy to be back to putting on shows. The headliner will be Dominique Fricot).

e) Seeing the general warmth of the metalheads (the "tribal brotherhood") towards each other, and ogling the cleavage and fishnetted thighs of the women present, many of whom were Pleasingly Plump and Pale - a preference of mine (tattoos and piercings are optional). Come to think of it, being a fat dude, I actually rather like that metal shows seem to have a higher percentage of fat people of either gender in the audience than, say, noise, jazz, or punk shows, though they have nothing on the American casinos my Mom likes to gamble at. The very fact that I feel physically at home at metal shows probably has something to do with my re-awakened fondness for the form, as does my ongoing suburban relocation. Let the beautiful cityfolk have their highfalutin' noise... we do things differently out here in th' 'burbs.

In the end, tho', both the concerts I'd stayed in the city to see - for the first time since Wolves in the Throne Room in January - ended up being disappointing affairs. The best part of the weekend ended up being seeing Hugo the Hippo at the Cinematheque - it's exactly as charming and surprising as Mack suggested in the Straight.

Though it was also a lot of fun to encounter a sped-up Ms. Pac Man at Pat's Pub, and a Multicade at the Astoria that featured Frogger, Dig Dug and more.

Al indulging his nostalgia, playing Frogger at the Astoria, by Femke van Delft.

Thank yous to Bev Davies and Femke van Delft for the terrific photos of both nights!

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