Bottled Smoke II — Sunday afternoon

The Sunday afternoon Bottled Smoke II lineup

And now on to the second and final post — though there was a lot more to the weekend than just the two afternoons!

Like the previous festival, this was a three day affair, though this time around I found I could only get to the afternoons of Saturday and Sunday rather than the full Friday through Sunday haul. A real pity but such is life and I can’t complain with what I did catch! I actually like the feeling of the afternoon sets like this, tucked away into the small locations that both the Echo Curio and the comparatively larger syncSPACE find themselves in — neither are rock clubs as such and so they just feel different and, honestly, nicer than a lot of clubs, just because it is something else.

Those in attendance similarly fit that feeling, and I should say that as with last time I had a chance to meet up with and get to know a wide number of folks, not least of which were many of the performers. Some I’d known from the first Bottled Smoke, some well before that — I think I first met Tom Carter back in 2000 if not earlier — while others were new friends, though there were people who I knew without knowing, as it were. On Saturday I noticed one fellow that I knew I had seen at various past events, and we ended up being introduced by Grant at the Echo Curio — his name’s Mike, who runs the Seagrass Recordings label, and it turned out we knew various people in common and had both been at various Terrastocks, last year’s On Land festival and so forth. Not too surprising, really! Communities do form and continue this way, though they can be broad enough that people don’t close circles until years have gone past.

In meeting folks like him, Bryce at Abbadon Records, Phil and Myste at Stunned Records and in once again meeting Tynan at DNT Records and Nate at Abandon Ship Records one gets the best sense of just how in a time when we’re well into ten years plus of the music industry’s wider collapse and readjustment that the impulse to create, sell and otherwise maintain an economy for music in a physical form still remains and thrives. Over at Chain of Knives I’ve posted about how the whole cassettes-are-back meme seems to have taken on new life now that vinyl-is-back is exhausted for novelty but the deeper truth — and this is just a sampling of all the possibilities out there, obviously, among so many different labels and sounds and styles — is that there are multiple options for any number of performers and any number of curators or label founders, that one can find comfort levels.

I had a good conversation with Phil about this on Sunday, as I was genuinely curious as to how he viewed the inevitably of his particular limited-edition tape-only approach, in that there would inevitably be those who, because of demand or interest or just general obsessiveness, would be looking to convert and share the results ASAP. He acknowledged that he wanted to see that each release properly sold out first and did follow up with those who instantly ripped what they got a hold of but once sold out he really didn’t mind the mp3s circulating out there, because that way those who did need and want the physical item had it, while his creative goals had been achieved — the release of a physical product whose aesthetics he enjoyed — and recompense had been gained. He and Myste had also spoken about their desire to move away to some degree from the short cassette approach, which has generally been common in my own experience with recent work, to longer releases, allowing for more room and longer, more involved compositions.

If anything this reminded me further of the sense of options at work, that there is as much out there to try as can be imagined, and to whatever degree as the technology allows. I wouldn’t say it’s some radical change per se but there is more than ever a clearer and wider range of simply doing whatever works, that the means of production are now able to accessed by so many more than before. It’s still a business structure that exists, of course — somebody still has to make those tapes, that vinyl, etc. — and there are compromises in other areas too (more than one high-profile musician I’ve spoken with over the years specifically laments that the shift from full job to side job/hobby which an adjusting business model has created has meant new pressures, less abilities to learn craft at a different pace or context than possible for most now).

But more of this for a later time, and more on what I actually bought at the festival then too! For now, just to say again what a great time I had, how friendly, without fail, every one of the performers were, and much thanks as ever to Grant at the Echo Curio and Chris and Katie at syncSPACE for all that they do. Were I living up in LA I suspect I would be seeing a lot more shows there! Hope to see many of the people I saw there at On Land in September.

What follows are the collated Twitter posts I made on each artist along with a featured photo and a link to a band or musician webpage — the full set of photos from Sunday afternoon can be found here. All these Sunday sets were performed at syncSPACE. I should also say I had to duck out a touch early and thus missed the final set of the afternoon by the always great Metal Rouge, sadly!

Justin McInteer at Bottled Smoke II

Justin McInteer — “Justin McInteer starts things off with a set done on harmonium. By singing without any amplification — none appears to be applied to the harmonium either — the effect is very intimate. It aligns McInteer less with folk-as-such than with musicians who use the tools to create something more of the now. Add in the rhythmic drones and I’m reminded of Miss Murgatroid’s set I saw over a decade back at a Little Tokyo club.”

Matthew David at Bottled Smoke II

Matthewdavid — “Matthewdavid now starts up with a fair amount of gear, compressors and a variety of swirled sounds. You quickly get a sense of his DJ work, he’s treating the gear as if it was a set of turntables, a lot of quick intercutting. The resultant music suggests various antecedents — Legendary Pink Dots, non popsong Avalanches. Plus a sense of deeper found sound ‘take the remote alien ballroom dance broadcast and make it more so’ aesthetics. His physicality with the gear reminds me of Dan Brown’s percussive set yesterday; this set as recorded would not quite work.”

Dead Magic at Bottled Smoke II

Deep Magic — “Okay if nothing else this next set is featuring a LOT of gear. Said gear BTW belongs to Deep Magic, who are about to start here…sometime…soon… And here we go. Starting out with guitar played with cigarette lighter, after which the pedals and more start to kick in. After which he sets aside the guitar to concentrate on keyboards and pedals using the initial tones as building blocks. As with Pedestrian Deposit yesterday the sense here is of power implied rather than demonstrated with deep drones. Yet the sense is of something friendly, almost gently inquisitive and contemplative, suiting the source of the band name. The addition of vocal samples and additional guitar brings another Adam Forkner comparison to the fore, not suprisingly so.”

Sean McCann at Bottled Smoke II

Sean McCann — “And after a quick break Sean McCann starts with equal gear but a noisier feeling. There’s similar elements — echo, depth, serene chill — but everything here combines into a more sudden squall of sound. At times it almost sounds like full-on ambient serenity trying to fight its way through the swathes, intentionally failing. Extra bursts of noise add to the chaos, while his live violin additions seem to create yet more reverb above all else. When the clearer tones of the violin do emerge from the mix, though, the sense of a sudden elegance, a lovely anchor. A full shift into open-ended howls of cavernous sound, slowly ebbing and flowing, then follows.”

Alpine Decline at Bottled Smoke II

Alpine Decline — “Alpine Decline now firing up their two person rock machine as such. Easily the most ‘traditional’ band of all the ones I’ve seen so far, has a feeling of early Codiene with gaze-friendly echo. The background feedback zone adds a sense of extra melancholia, but the next song is definitely fired up more in pace. If not as surprising as Rangers were last night, this is still a sharp performance, pushing just enough fuzz/hook buttons. Whether it’s the amps or the reel-to-reel or more, they definitely do a good job at adding some loud volume to the scuzz. The sort-of ballad now, first just guitar and then with drums, could almost prompt lighter waving in another universe.”

Tom Carter and Barn Owl at Bottled Smoke II

Tom Carter and Barn Owl — “The Deglet Noor Fakirs didn’t show while the Barn Owl folks have to get back to SF soon so they and Tom Carter are setting up as I type. Why yes I’m essentially front and center for this, why do you ask? What’s nice about this combination is that it can go any number of ways. As it stands at the start, delicacy is key with something suggestive of the deep tones Fripp created for Sylvian, higher parts arcing out over the gaps. What’s also clear is Tom’s gift as a collaborator; at no time does it feel like ‘his’ project with assistance. As the performance now builds, the ‘black walls of sound’ that once described Barn Owl as creating now stand out more with Tom’s part alternately adding to the building flow and finding a separate space within it. Quite something. I’m now feeling this through the floor as much as through the air. It’s a perfect sublimity, like last time MBV came through. After a slide into a joint drone, then even more open ended feedback highs, a blasted but high-flying feeling. Tom’s work is almost akin to David Gilmour fighting through surrounding aural corrosion. The performance has slowly adjusted away from dark undertows and crushing force to an aspirational rise to somewhere. A sense of almost…reaching beyond limits, hoping to reach an impossible endpoint but still trying.”

Bottled Smoke II — Saturday afternoon

Bottled Smoke II, Saturday afternoon lineup

This’ll be the first of two posts on my Memorial Day weekend for this year attending Bottled Smoke II, which (as the name gives away) replicated in part a Memorial Day weekend three years ago just a couple of months before I started this blog — a wonderful three day event at the Echo Curio in Los Angeles, Bottled Smoke.

Bottled Smoke was actually the name of the concert series done as a counterpart to an exhibition at the Echo Curio, Bottling Smoke, which is why my collection of photos from that weekend has that as the overall title. I actually recently found my scribbled notes from that weekend which I had taken to set aside probably for a piece in the Quietus (I think), but which served as a predecessor to what I do now at many multi-act shows or mini-festivals like this one, namely swamp people on my Twitter feed with thoughts about it all.

I don’t see this as a replacement for the kind of concert reviewing we’re all familiar with, the polished pieces (admittedly often subject to deadline) that are put together away from the show and which draw on memory, notes at the time, photos or whatever else may be to hand. But over time I’ve become comfortable with my own in-the-moment thoughts as being just that, and also being reflective of how I often think about live shows to start with anyway. A friend understandably wondered why I wasn’t just enjoying the music over the weekend; in response I noted that this helped clarify those thoughts and descriptions running around my head, and where in the past I would have felt maybe a little foolish or strange simply just taking notes at shows in a notepad given that I rarely had a specific commission to review a show to start with, now it feels much more commonplace since cellphones and smartphones and what have you acting as the de facto equivalent.

Receiving feedback from others that this approach has been appreciated in turn does help — one friend said “As I arrive home from a tough late shift, this stuff is a joy to read.” Again, it’s merely an approach, a very public one but one that I hope has its place, though of course not every Twitter follower of mine would care for it! If nothing else I hope as always, with all my work, to catch the interest in something I find valuable or worthwhile, and the chips will fall there as they may, as they always will. You can’t force interest in the end, something I think is one of the key points that any critic — or any enthusiast, really — needs to have some sort of self-awareness about.

But if the posts there did turn people on to the work that the Echo Curio — and its co-presenting venue syncSPACE — were doing this time around, and if this will further prompt people to check out things like Stunned Records and Abbadon Records, then hey! Glad to have helped.

Some more thank-yous and pointers in my Sunday afternoon wrap-up; what follows are the collated Twitter posts I made on each artist along with a featured photo and a link to a band or musician webpage — the full set of photos from Saturday afternoon can be found here. All these Saturday sets were performed at the Echo Curio.

Headlight at Bottled Smoke II

Headlight — “Headlight are a one person electronic act, flowing from one queasy/serene composition to the next, sometimes beatless sometimes not. Suggestive of recent electrogaze but not out to completely soothe, it’s perfect for the hot clear Saturday. Shifting into some full on spacerock/synth grooves from 1978 is a nice touch, combined with a lot of howling echo. The stop start melodies are a very nice touch too from Headlight, a sense of ‘sense’ constantly thwarted and changed.”

Dead Line Connector at Bottled Smoke II

Dead Line Connector — “…now starting up with some scraggly noise pedal rumble and crunch. There is quite literal electroclash happening, what sounds like shards of sheet metal rattling and crashing. Nate’s setup reminds me of when I saw Aube live on air at KUCI years back, but without the aggressive fury in the playing. The source of the metallic noises now clearer — looks like a thin copper plate that he is essentially playing via contacts. For all that this is louder and more earpiercingly harsher, the background rumble’s serenity creates more calm than Headlight.”

Swanox at Bottled Smoke II

Swanox — “Swanox may or may not have started his set yet. I’ll say he has, because it sounds very nice. The combination of more background crumble, some just-created flute samples in a looped collage and his deep chanting is suggestive of White Rainbow’s approach but sonically differs from what Adam Forkner does, more ‘instant’ in a way. The sudden switch to a slow keyboard melody/drone is also inspired, a full shift in the sound while retaining the feel. The longer Swanox continues this keyboard/pedal combination the more visibly entranced he seems. Lost in music, indeed.”

Queen Victoria at Bottled Smoke II

Queen Victoria — “And now the highly spoken about Queen Victoria kicks in with bowed guitar loops and more besides. Kinda nice to see/hear a guitar/drums duo that’s not following blues/garage tradition as such; while possessing clear roots they are more derived from Spacemen 3 and Opal/Mazzy Star, a touch blissed out but more often politely skronked. Also, I like Nick the singer’s two guitar approach, one played strictly to set tones, another then more conventionally played. Also hints of Thurston Moore as understated psych guy, one of those odd touchstones that is present but not always noticed. Using the bow as a percussive instrument as much as anything else: also grand, builds to solid conclusion! Good stuff.”

Dan Brown at Bottled Smoke II

Dan Brown — “Dan Brown (not THAT one) now begins his all percussion set, mouth organ and all. The problem with the ‘drum solo’ as wankfest is all too ingrained but Dan is clearly out to avoid that by emphasizing possibilities with the drum set as starting point, and using other instruments in concert with it. The use of gongs and other hand percussion instruments furthers this, also creating a sense of slightly chaotic ritual. Also well taken with his use of drumstick on cymbal almost as a stylus. One gets the feeling this should only be seen live. Haha and out of nowhere he says “I was going to do the 1987 Lakers song ‘Say No to Drugs, Say Hi to Life’ but I didn’t have time to learn that!’” And back to the music with bowstrings on cymbals and more.”

Pedestrian Deposit at Bottled Smoke II

Pedestrian Deposit — “And with a hush, the duo Pedestrian Deposit begins their set with bow on hand cymbal. I like the sense of implied power so far — all the pedals et al suggest future noise but right now it is eerie calm. Plus, sudden silence after it seems about to explode and then treated cello adds to a chilled, mournful state. As it develops, the cello/crackle combination further suggests Bryars or Eno with Bowie while not cloning either. Instead it’s a tactile sense of beauty refracted, something where the form is not played but softly warped.”

M. Geddes Gengras at Bottled Smoke II

M. Geddes Gengras — “Ged Gengras setting up for his solo turn, Rogue Moog and plenty of wires and more. Describing this set so far is actually a little hard — while on the surface ‘just’ a series of drone loops there’s almost a wonderful 50s-into-70s space music sense as the core feeling, something ‘out there’ from the aliens. More serene keyboards coming in add to this feeling rather than counteract it, a message of strange peace. Ged’s ability to do different things each time I see him play is one of his best qualities and this is a strong set a sense of evolutionary transmissions that develop unexpectedly, new elements and spikes of noise now appearing.”

Rangers at Bottled Smoke II

Rangers — “Rangers now setting up for the final set of the afternoon — been a great day all around! Not what I expected, this set — a five piece band but defiantly avoiding much in the way of riff or groove. Halfway between drone and a fairly cryptic jam; it’s not shockingly new, but the expected clatter and echo makes everything more of a howling mess than I would have first guessed. Reminds me a touch of Crescent as a result. Though now some steady open ended riffing is definitely starting to kick in big time, Spacemen 3 meets shimmer. In fact it’s definitely becoming big postpunkgaze almost in spite of everything before it! A nice transition. The shift the band does between open-ended but rich murk and the instrumental epic charge, constantly shifting in both directions is ultimately the group’s secret weapon, they seem content to avoid being one or the other. I also admit to being amused in a good way that one of the guitarists is wearing a shirt/short combination that reminds me a lot of what my friend Jake Anderson would wear about ten years back. Keyboardist now on cymbals and the mood is almost celebratory. In all a really nice surprise of a set by Rangers.”

The garden on May 28, 2010

Turns out I was able to hit the garden this past Friday, so…

As ever, new photos can be found in the Flickr set.

Not Just the Ticket — #49, Mega City Four, June 3 1992

Mega City Four, Whisky

Then current album — Sebastopol Rd.

Opening act — the Black Watch

Back of ticket ad — so did KLSX just buy out Ticketmaster those couple of months or what?

The blur of shows around this time is more than a little amazing to me in retrospect. I clearly wanted to maximize what I could in terms of opportunities before I headed south for grad school, and I haven’t even touched on one show yet that was among the most memorable, though there was no ticket from that one — more on that next week, I figure.

But in the meantime, a band, a singer, and years later, a death.

Which sounds unduly grim. Yet inevitably, if one sees a band where someone in it is no longer alive, for whatever reason, there’s a sense of holding on to retrospective moments just that little more strongly, to see if there’s anything more that settles in the memory. Thus was the case with me thinking about the one Nirvana show I saw, the Lush shows, and now this one, featuring a guy who, oddly enough, probably had his greatest American fame some months later on a tour he had absolutely nothing to do with.

Mega City Four — its name a combination reference of two separate things, in this case the MC5 meets the setting of Judge Dredd — were, ultimately, probably never going to succeed in the big time in America. The album they were touring for was, I’m pretty sure, their only American release in the end, sneaking out on Caroline Records as part of a ‘well let’s see if it sticks’ deal. At the time they were lumped in with a variety of bands like Ned’s Atomic Dustbin (I’d seen at least one of their number sporting an MC4 shirt either on stage or in videos), Carter the Unstoppable Sex Machine, the Senseless Things, Midway Still, a grab bag of acts that were all kinda sorta T-shirt-oriented/jump about indie/this and that. I realize that sounds dismissive — I already know a few Carter USM fans that will still speak for their virtues and hey, I liked them then and now — but a number of these bands were on balance just pleasant, immediate rushes that didn’t last much longer than that, things I played and enjoyed and then a couple of years later I was all ‘well…why do I have these again?’

Mega City Four, to give them a more proper due, were a band that were about spiky, sometimes nicely harmonized guitar indie punk pop, ragged on the edges but ultimately a bit conservative in just simply wanting to be what I described. Where they had something more individual to offer was largely summed up with their frontman, Wiz, a tall, gangly and always warm-hearted-sounding guy who also had a huge mass of dreadlocks. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen any UK performers rocking those looks — Swervedriver in particular — but I saw Mega City Four around the time I first gained a very fragmentary and unsure idea of what exactly ‘crusty’ culture was supposed to be over in the UK. Rightly or wrongly Wiz’s looks became something of a symbol of what that was all about in my head, even though the band’s music didn’t seem to match what said culture was supposed to be all about. Then again, therein the danger of reading about everything from thousands of miles away and trying to square it with one’s own experiences.

Anyway, I’d heard enough about the band and had picked up the album and liked it, so I thought I would give them a chance live. For the first time in a long, long while, though, I had nobody to go with — I was literally the only person I knew who was interested, so for the first time in three years, since the New Order show, I found myself bussing to a show and back. This was ridiculously easy, as it turned out — all I had to do was catch a bus on Sunset near UCLA to go down to the venue and then back again — and in retrospect I wonder how many shows I could have just gone to had I gotten it more together on that front. Regrets, etc., but in this case I found myself outside the Whisky with not one but two tickets, having picked up a pair in anticipation someone else would want to go with. No dice, so I half thought I could sell the other outside the venue — but in a sign that this was not the hottest show in town that night, it was far from sold out. So I had to swallow the loss and head on in, feeling weirdly alone with not anyone else to talk to or just hang with. I saw fellow Ned’s fans everywhere but that was about it in terms of obvious commonality.

The opening act (and I confess I’m not 100% sure if it was them on this night for this show but I’m still pretty convinced it was) was a pleasant surprise, though, and was the start of a gentle obsession that’s lasted to the present. The Black Watch have always been led for over two decades now by John Andrew Fredrick, a guy who in a weird way was a perfect role model for me at the time — not only did he lead a clearly indebted-to-UK-rock band (his vocals at the time made me think approvingly of Ian McCulloch’s in the early days of Echo and the Bunnymen), he had received his graduate degree in English and was teaching at a local college. That was pretty much exactly what I thought I was going to be doing myself so finding out about this was fun news — I am not sure if I’d already picked up their album Flowering at this point or if it was after the show, but the elegant, crisp, strong performances on it remain favorites of mine, Fredrick’s singing further complemented by J’anna Jacoby’s vocals and violin work, adding further to the art pop kick. Live they all sounded just as great, and while Fredrick’s long since the only remaining member he keeps releasing new albums as he does — I have at least ten around, possibly more, and he’s varied his style enough over time to ensure he doesn’t simply rewrite things over and again. There is something to be said for making your life’s work what it is as you go.

As for Mega City Four, I got a sense from them that they were a little older and, if not wiser, then less frenetic than their compatriots in bands like the Neds — as such they probably did make more perfect sense in comparison to Carter USM, similarly with a few more years and shows and releases under their belts. The set itself I couldn’t tell you much about — I remember songs from Sebastopol Rd., as well as “Shivering Sands,” the stand-alone single that was either out or about to be released. I don’t remember Wiz himself saying much to the audience — one of the other members, I think the bassist, did more of the bantering, while Wiz tended to either look up with his eyes closed while performing (and when not singing) or else was a bit…perhaps it was shy, or a natural diffidence or something else? It wasn’t that he didn’t seem to be out of sorts, but then again, it was the end of an American tour and there aren’t many bands who have gotten through one of those without having it hit them a bit somehow. At other shows he might have acted differently, but who can say? The band’s live reputation was always considered one of its strongest points and I don’t deny it was a good time, but the strongest show I’d seen that year, no, and perhaps through no fault of their own.

It was still all fun enough, had a nice time — as the back of the shirt I picked up said, it was all about ‘posi-vibes,’ and you can’t knock that sentiment at base. Still, I didn’t pay much attention to them at all after that, but there was a strange coda — later that year, Melody Maker sponsored the Rollercoaster US tour, and more about that later in the series. As part of their promotion, they shipped over a huge stock of issues to be distributed for free at concert locations, an understandable move. What wasn’t understandable was the choice of issue — a cover story featuring Wiz (as Mega City Four had just released a live album), with the singer goofily sticking his tongue out at the camera. It was, frankly, unappealing, and given the band’s next to nothing profile in the US, hardly designed to win over people. I just remember tons of trashed, scattered issues around, probably at most flipped through and then ignored — create your own metaphor as you choose.

Mega City Four continued to record and perform — and Wiz even returned to America as part of Ned’s Atomic Dustbin during a 1995 tour — then broke up a few years later. Wiz continued on with various groups, eventually forming an act called Ipanema (and cutting back his hair along the way — but not completely, which I admit I liked learning about). They made it to the US for a tour in 2006, but during a band rehearsal back in the UK he suddenly collapsed and was taken to the hospital. It was a blood clot, and he sadly passed in December of that year. By a strange coincidence I arrived in London in March 2007 the night of a tribute show to him which would have been fun to attend, but jet lag and other factors meant that wasn’t going to happen.

This year has seen a little bit of a mini-revival in that Muse, on a single earlier this year, covered a song from Sebastopol Rd., “Prague” — turns out the members of said band had been big MC4 fans growing up and that they had helped inspire them to start on their own musical road. Drawing the throughline between the half-full crowd at the Whisky featuring a now-gone singer, into the music above all else, and the crush of a crowd that now accompanies Muse with every arena show they play worldwide is one of those odd but understandable experiences that time allows for us, those of us able to see them through if fate allows for it, as it didn’t quite for Wiz. Here’s hoping he rests well.

Some more AMG reviews for May

Just a few this time!

Not Just the Ticket — #48, The Nymphs, May 26, 1992

Nymphs, Whisky

Then-current album: The Nymphs

Opening act: complete blank here — but more on that below

Back of ticket ad: probably KLSX…again.

First off, yes, as the date shows this is actually out of order from what’s gone before; rather than being after the two Ride shows this was a couple of days before them. Didn’t realize that until I looked at the scan again the other day! Oh well, chronological funnies and all.

As for this show, once again time to be an unpaid extra for a video. Only the timing was all, all off.

As with everything-well-not-really-everything-but-supposedly-everything these days, the video is online, thanks to YouTube:

Let all the instant flashbacks kick in in terms of cinematography, editing, lighting — none of it will surprise anyone who was either there at the time or has gone back and looked at plenty of the evidence. Assuming the director’s name is correctly spelled, about the only other notable thing he’s done over twenty years’ time appears to be camerawork for a Cher in Vegas concert, which I suppose sounds about right.

Anyway, the live audience footage was from this show — and time to talk about it and the Nymphs again. I’ve mentioned them earlier in the series as I’d seen them now a couple of times this year already, and had met Inger Lorre and thought she was friendly and pretty funny. There had been enough of a buzz going around after the album’s release the previous fall that things looked promising for the future, and by this time they probably had been announced as the opening act for Peter Murphy’s upcoming tour for Holy Smoke. So catching them headlining a small club show seemed like a good idea as who knew what might be next, and they’d already shown that they were a great live band, loud and messy in the best way.

This is another one where I’m not sure who I went with — might have been Kris C. and Steve M., might not have been — and I’m even more unsure if there was an opening act. For all that there always seems like there should be one, it’s not always the case — sometimes a band is big enough not to need or want one, sometimes an opener drops out, other times who can say. But if I can digress a bit, here’s a chance to talk about an opening band or two I would have seen up to that point where I don’t remember who they opened for.

A show the previous year I’d seen (and really enjoyed) but that I lack a ticket stub for because it was a guest-list situation was for the New Fast Automatic Daffodils, an absolutely fantastic Manchester band that were caught almost exactly midway between early eighties art/dance like A Certain Ratio, Liquid Liquid and the like and this past decade’s massive revival/reinterpretation of said sound. They killed live — one of the only times I’ve seen an LA crowd dance at a show from start to finish — but their opening act was something else, I think some ridiculous bunch called Ionescu after, presumably, the playwright. Pirandello might have been a better choice of name, as they were a bunch of people in search of a reason to exist as a band, but it failed to materialize. I do remember applauding vigorously when they announced their last song, but that’s because I am hateful and all.

Dim memories of other kinda useless groups crop up, literally disassociated from memories of the headliners because they were either that anonymous or the headliners were that great, or both. What sticks in the brain about most of them is how they tended to vacillate between being ‘of the moment’ to a fault — I don’t think I saw any LA band in 1992 in such a spot go grunge completely or anything but I’m sure there were examples of it coming close — or else were distinctly aiming to be something else than that, carving out their own niche by visual style or something similar. But again, they didn’t stand out enough, or their music wasn’t strong enough to carry them through, and some might have gone on to bigger and better bands without me realizing it while others just jacked it in and have nothing more to show from it but maybe old flyers in a box and perhaps last copies of a demo tape or two, possibly all scanned and digitized and shared on a site, possibly not.

The Nymphs, at least, had gotten to the stage where they had more to leave behind them no matter what happened, major label debut and videos and all, a quote generating machine in the form of Lorre — the other guys in the band were definitely just that in the public eye, ‘the other guys.’ I don’t say this to be dismissive, I literally would have to look up their names because I just don’t remember them.

Which does them a distinct disservice. I can’t recall if I talked about it in detail in the previous entries but the great thing about the Nymphs was how effortlessly they made a certain LA combination work — and it IS definitely an LA combination, something that crops up again and again over time, though in recent years it seems to have smoothed out into something else, or maybe just irrevocably changed. But — at the risk of lumping a bunch of disconnected bands together — I sense a through line connecting X, the Gun Club, Jane’s Addiction, Concrete Blonde, the Nymphs, back to acts like the Doors, forward to…well, other things perhaps that I might be missing. Something that thrives on a self-consciously darker and moodier energy, something that reacts and interacts to being in a fragmented community where the Day of the Dead is more than just a holiday.

I say ‘self-consciously’ with the knowledge that one person’s dimly-lit romanticism is another’s goofy joke. (Just ask Oingo Boingo, which used all the imagery and went somewhere else entirely.) But the Nymphs, while not reinventing the wheel by any stretch, were a really good loud metal/goth/whatever act, they had the riffs at their best, they had the performances and they could turn it on. At this show, things were complicated by the fact of the video filming, certainly — the crews weren’t everywhere but they were scattered around, as the footage shows, and that’s a smallish stage there in the Whiskey. Also, as can so often be the case, they had to play the song twice in order to get enough covering footage to be on the safe side, though at least the second performance was at the end of the show.

Here’s the thing, though — “Imitating Angels” is a wonderful song, easily their best. It’s the one that’s stuck with me all these years, it seems to sum up that kind of feeling I mentioned in that group of bands earlier, the setting of the celebrity machine combined with the individual will-to-power sweep of Romanticism as handed down, aiming high but knowing there’s, indeed, a long long way to go. Sure, from a different angle it’s not all that far removed from, say, Pretty Boy Floyd’s utterly ridiculous/perfect “Wild Angels” or Poison’s “Fallen Angel” or whatever other song one can think of that’s all too appropriate for a city called, after all, Los Angeles. The crucial differences are two — the dark growl of the arrangement here, not a huge happily sung anthem or a power ballad but something that kicks and on the verses has this unsettling undertow, like the huge wash of watery effluvia on the album cover come to life, and Lorre’s performance and lyrics, not something about triumphalism but unsettled desperation — it’s not a metaphor about being an angel, it’s about the failure of actually ever being one. It’s not the prom anthem or the long distance dedication, it’s something else.

I remember seeing Lorre singing this with all the focused poise and drama that you see in the video — sure, the smooth closeups are obviously from a separate studio run-through of the song but it wasn’t too different in the end. Killer song, killer performance both times, the band were seemingly in a perfect groove and things surely had to be promising for the future. I couldn’t wait to see them with Peter Murphy in what would have been their biggest venue in the area to date, in front of a crowd that presumably would be perfect for them, goth and yet not.

As it turned out that was the band’s farewell to it all, their last LA show. They did start the tour with Murphy but some dates in there was a spectacular breakup, if not quite onstage then something close to it. Lorre was out, I forget the reasons as to why, and the rest of the band carried on for at least a show or two with one of the guitarists handling the singing — I actually wouldn’t mind hearing a bootleg of that, just to see what it was like. But that didn’t last, and a different band took their place, as I’ll say more about when I get to that show.

Yet somehow that makes that final LA show all the more appropriate — image and artifice triumphing over the reality, as clearly things had to be already pretty bad in the band to reach that state. But there on the stage, under the camera and stage lights, they all came together and put on a show, Lorre the central star. If it was an imitation — an intimation, really — of what was supposed to be the path upwards, it was still a wonderful one.

Not Just the Ticket — #47, Ride, May 30, 1992

Ride, Palace

Then-current album: Going Blank Again

Opening act: The Pale Saints

Back of ticket ad: KLSX grinding my motivation to a pulp once more.

Rather a haunting similarity between this ticket and the previous one, I realize.

One reason why I spoke a lot about Slowdive in the previous entry lay in the fact that I knew I would have this entry to talk about Ride some more. Also, to talk about something I never really did — but which a friend of mine did, often. In a way, this is a memorial to her.

She passed away a month back. She was known for many things but perhaps was most well known for her fandom of Morrissey, and had followed him on many tours, many shows, time and again. His open message on her passing is one of the most remarkable things I’ve read this year, and one of the best takes on the nature of how fandom can work, that fine line — I almost said fan line — between the deep appreciation that the artist or creator acknowledges, sometimes with surprised gratitude, and other ways of fan/star interaction that might not be as rich or resonant.

As he notes, she came to some of the most out of the way concerts he’d ever played. In contrast, I don’t follow bands on tour, I’ve never felt that impulse — something like this is the closest I’ve ever gotten, and there have been other examples of it that I’ll get to later in the series. But they’re instances where, instead of going somewhere else to see the band again, I get to essentially sit back and let the band come to me by playing multiple times in the general area, whether it was via a multi-night stand at one venue or at various locations throughout SoCal.

Inasmuch as this reflects a certain settled laziness on my part, well, there you go. But it’s the way of living in a big city area like LA, there’s more of a likelihood one can pull it off, depending on the fanbase. I often imagine it as being generally easier for the bands as well — no all day car trips or the like, you can sleep in for a bit if you’re lucky, take it relatively easy. Not every band really has this luxury even with a multi-night stand, of course, but if one is fortunate then why not indulge?

Ride at this point, as noted, were at a high peak, able to pull off not two shows in a row but three, though the first was actually down in Orange County at the Coach House. I did know people who had gone to that show as well as the two Palace shows, though, and there was little surprise why. Keep in mind this was (unless I’m totally wrong) only the second time that Ride had actually come through the area, and by that time they had five or six EPs and the two albums under their belt over nearly three years, enough time to build up an obsessive fanbase to justify it all, especially after the reports of the previous year’s performances. It was a false dawn in many respects, given how quickly the musical tide in general seemed to turn against them — by the time of their next album, things were about to fall flat in a big way — but then they seemed ready to take over, if not the world, then a good chunk of it.

Part of their cachet lay in the fact that, due to the accident of timing, they could be seen as patron saints for the opening acts each night. On the one hand, Slowdive, as previously discussed. This second night, it was the Pale Saints — and that was a story of its own.

A strange band, the Pale Saints, thanks in large part to the intriguingly strange person who was still leading it but was months — weeks? — away from pulling the ripcord and trying something out. Ian Masters is one of those people who popular music throws up every so often that follows the expected path for a while and then decides, “You know, to heck with this, I’m bored.” That can mean just getting out of music entirely, but in his case it seemed to be more of a frustration with the general tour-release grind — at least in part, I don’t know the full story (though I’m guessing it’s been told somewhere). But he almost immediately sidestepped after this into collaborations, cryptic websites and basically leaving everything that was the Pale Saints completely behind him.

But again, that was the future. For me, appreciative of what I had heard but otherwise not knowing much about the band except what a somewhat curious interview in Melody Maker had told me, which ended with the interviewer talking about how the band collectively regarded him with wary eyes and a sense of a private joke being told — which could say as much about the writer as about the band — I just went in wondering if things would be as reasonably good as they were on their newest album In Ribbons. Uneven but sometimes utterly stellar, it was also one of the first releases of the 4AD label straight up in America, having decided that year to go for a full distribution partnership with Warner Bros. That didn’t last but even so, it was nice to get that album cheaply as opposed to the jacked-up import prices for The Comforts of Madness, their previous release. It might also have explained why I was able to get a clear sense of the tracklisting.

I remember the Pale Saints being somewhere between poised and posed on stage — they weren’t moving much, they seemed very self-conscious about not moving much, and they didn’t mind at all. Mathews was the most active member in that he seemed to be keeping a very close eye on proceedings, either out of a sense of wanting to control it all or just because it was all beyond his control to a degree and he just wanted to make sure he knew where he was, at least. I remember his eyes being almost…not quite unblinking, but giving a look that was always very considered.

Two things I especially remember about his performance — first, throughout the set, he kept turning to the side and indicating that he wanted the monitors to be turned up, often enough that I remember the gesture he made when he did so. He didn’t simply jerk his thumb or shout off stage or even ask at the mike, rather he turned towards wherever the person was, whether it was a member of the building staff or their own crew, and did a little gesture that was a combined quick lick of his index finger and then a pointing upward in the air, all done very fluidly, very serenely. It was as if it was just a natural tic with him, rather than a command or request.

The second came with the final song, which I’m pretty sure was a version of “Time Thief” though I’m not entirely positive. What I do remember was that the band were going all out in a frenetic way — at least, the noise was frenetic, but the band themselves weren’t indulging in rock-out antics, it was again very studious, Kraftwerk goes gaze in a way. At a brief pause in the song, Masters said simply “Thank you” and then the band kicked back in as if nothing had happened. It was all a performance, though in a way that didn’t seem like one in the end.

Which left Ride to come on again and pretty do what they had done the previous night. I’d be lying if I said I can distinguish the shows in my head, for all I know the set list was exactly the same both nights, and I exchanged the thrill of relative surprise with just wanting to hear a good performance, and that I got. Maybe if I had been in the habit of writing down my thoughts after each show I could get a sense of the patterns or changes or those signs that more clearly mark out a good show from a bad one, a great show from a good one. Sometimes the divisions are very clear, but for many less so than might be guessed, seeing only one show out of a tour or a series of tours.

But as mentioned, some do more, and see more. That’s what my friend did, singing her life each day. I know next time Morrissey’s on tour he’ll feel her absence, just as much as those of us who knew her elsewhere will. Rest well, Mel.

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