Not Just the Ticket — #14, Butthole Surfers, May 17, 1991

Butthole Surfers

Then-current album: Piouhgd

Opening acts: Redd Kross and L7

Back of ticket ad: Pirate Radio. I’m almost happy to see this one again after all the endless National ads. Almost.

Must have bought this at UCLA’s box office (even though it’s not for a UCLA show) given the switch back to typeset, the coated paper and the like. A little bit of a slight return.

So, two days after a show that, as part of Jesus Jones’ larger breakthrough, signaled a shift in the future for a wholly separate band, another such show, only even more directly and even more about the band in question, who once again weren’t performing on the bill. It all came down to something that happened over on the other balcony.

Not that I knew. How could I? I was off to this show for three wholly separate reasons that happened to be one reason, namely this amazingly killer lineup — Butthole Surfers headlining, Redd Kross middle of the bill, L7 kicking it all off at the start. I’m still a little in awe, and I was definitely incredibly thrilled then. I don’t think I felt anything about this show other than ‘oh hell yeah, this’ll be great.’

At this point in time as well I was starting to get into much more of a regular show groove. From months-at-a-time separation it was starting to come down to not merely every other month but almost every other week or, in this case, every other day. So there’s less of a sense of overwhelming anticipation each time, everything all jumbles up together — one show, another to come, time and again. I definitely remember that my friend Jason B. was part of the crowd that went because he headed out to the main floor of the Hollywood Palladium as soon as he got through the doors, either made a flying leap onto the floor or misjudged a step, and ended up spraining his ankle slightly for his pains.

The big attraction for him, and probably for a lot of us, was actually the opening act, who were sound-checking on stage as we all came in and were milling around with everyone else. L7 had become a firm favorite of mine ever since I’d reviewed the Smell the Glove EP on Sub Pop for KLA the year before — “Dude, wow, they rock!” or whatever the hell I thought to myself at the time. But they did, they sure as hell did — didn’t know anything about their first release on Epitaph but this EP looked stellar, sounded great, still does. So many great pissed-off and hilarious and pointed one liners, great gang shout choruses, pretty damn fun all around. And yeah, they happened to be a quartet of women musicians as well. Jason had seen them open for GWAR earlier and knew they were great, I was looking for my own confirmation of same.

Later shows would provide clearer memories but I can’t but imagine that they kicked down the damn door. All the more impressive given that the Palladium’s acoustics were and almost certainly still are a notorious, crazy mess. Slightly dim visions in my brain of a lot of hair being tossed around all over the place, throat-shredding screams and god knows what else — it wasn’t sprawling chaos except unintentionally, L7 were never about a mess for its own sake, they wanted to focus and destroy. No Bricks Are Heavy songs yet in the setlist I think but they would have slotted right on in.

L7 were also definitely the first all female band I’d seen on stage as well. I don’t know whether that was a dramatic moment in my head or not — in fact I only recognize it being the case in retrospect. I’d already seen bands where female musicians were the key driving forces of the group, Lush in particular, but this was a step beyond that still. Call it an unconscious education rather than a definite pledging of allegiance on my part, but even so it was a necessary step for me as a listener, as an audience member, something that had to happen so I could get certain stereotypes out of my head, or at least recognize them for what they were. You didn’t have to have a Y chromosome to crank up the amps and get really loud and mad, with a wicked but still sharp smile on one’s face. I probably just headbanged a bit, really.

Redd Kross, meanwhile, I had seen before without quite understanding who they were. I don’t ever really remember learning about them at all, it was more something I gathered by osmosis. But back in 1989, I was walking near the UCLA Student Center in Bruin Plaza, where bands often did noontime shows. I remember two long-haired guys — REALLY long-haired — kicking up a racket with their band, and while I was sorta appreciative I didn’t hang around. Not sure why, must have had to run to a class, but I did some asking around and my future apartment-mate Rick was I think who clued me in to who they were, at least by name. Not actually having grown up with KROQ, much less Rodney on the Roq, exactly why they were important escaped me a bit then. Two years on I was vaguely more aware and after having had a good time on the floor I retreated to the open audience balcony to watch the racket and see what was up.

Third Eye had either come out or was about to come out by then — amusingly, the inside art featured a photo from that very same UCLA noontime show — and while I couldn’t really get every last level of seventies jokes and references and so forth (they may have been pretty young then and all but I was barely conscious of anything beyond Star Wars by the end of that decade), I still enjoyed it as it stood. The hair was still long as hell but I do remember them doing “Linda Blair” and “Peach Kelli Pop” and otherwise thinking “Hey, pretty good.” Sometimes you learn by inches with a band.

And then the Buttholes. I have Musician magazine to thank for cluing me in to these guys’ existence — the same 1988 issue I picked up with what in retrospect was a crucial New Order interview also featured Hairway to Steven as its lead album review, which was something I doubt Rolling Stone would have even tried to think about doing at the time. My just out of high school self read about them liking strange noises and bodily functions and obscene drawings for song titles and penile replacement film projections and thought “What…I don’t…uh.” Probably. Three years on and college radio and knowing a lot of friends who liked them and actually listening to a lot of their albums and so forth, well, it does things to a person, so I thought I was prepared for whatever kinds of vile nonsense might be served up.

Turns out there wasn’t much vile nonsense at all, at least not on the level of genital slicing or whatever when it came to the backing films — I do vaguely remember a chopped-up overlay of what might have been a Chinese baseball team and a woman either screaming in pain or ecstasy or both, but the films themselves were inaudible because the band was ridiculously loud. The album they were touring behind, Piouhgd, isn’t one of their best — it’s them knowing they have a sound and essentially continuing with it, so Gibby Haynes mumbles and screams and otherwise does things through his vocal treatments, the rest of the band plods and roars along, it’s entertaining but not deathless, and I remember that about the show as well. Haynes stood to the side and seemed to mostly sing to the wings, but Paul Geary did a great high-speed lead vocal on “The Shah Sleeps on Lee Harvey’s Grave” for the encore, and the whole thing was an entertaining enough bout of confusion and hullabaloo. No idea if they did their Jesus and Mary Chain parody “Something” but if they did that would mean they did it on the same stage where I’d seen said band the year before, which would seem right.

Meanwhile, the other balcony. In a previous entry set at the Palladium (probably that JAMC show), I mentioned how one balcony was always kept open for the general public but the other was essentially the VIP lounge for guest list folks, band friends, industry types, whatever — mix and mingle and rock out. What I didn’t know at the time of the show was that over there — as came to light in a variety of stories in the next few years, and can also be read about here, Kurt Cobain and Courtney Love met each other for the second and what turned out to be the crucial time for their relationship and everything that followed. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” was still months away from release, nobody could guess the rollercoaster of the next three years.

But again, I can’t look back on that show and think “Wow, the unique atmosphere, rock history being made, I was there!” It’s nonsense to think that. It’s an interesting bit of trivia to be sure but I didn’t see it, none of my group would have seen it, none of us would have known what was going on. More than anything it’s a little weird, strange, but no more than that. It’s an accident of history that at a pretty okay overall show something else was going down.

Looking across the hall at the other balcony, I would have maybe just envied them the free drinks.