Then-current album: Whirlpool
Opening act: Medicine
Back-of-ticket ad: KLSX, you just won’t go away. And you’re about to play the rock block of ELP hits to prove it.
So many of these shows I went to were sponsored by Coca-Cola/Avalon. I don’t remember drinking any Coke at these shows but hey.
The memories of this show — which Brad Laner still razzes me about.
Should explain that I’ve known Brad casually for many years now — first met him back in 1995 or so when he was the date of Nydia, a BMG college rep, at a promo dinner featuring Jason Pierce from Spiritualized. (A very long story.) I think we had already exchanged a few words on alt.music.alternative as well, and since then we’ve bumped into each other in various spots, including ILX — he and Nydia (long since wed) and I are all in touch on Facebook and I last chatted with him directly at the first ArthurFest, where I took a slew of photos of his excellent set. He’s a friendly and very talented guy, has released more music than god over thirty plus years now, and he’s very much worth checking out.
I mention all this because when I saw his then-new band open for Chapterhouse at this show…I hated them. A lot.
So Chapterhouse were yet another one of those shoegaze bands I’d heard them talking about lately (‘them’ being the UK press) and the third-ever issue of Melody Maker I bought featured them on the cover with Moose and Ocean Colour Scene, when the latter was allegedly sorta half-way kinda maybe shoegaze. (That lasted about five seconds.) I can’t remember whether I had already picked up the earliest EPs by the time Whirlpool came out but when it was released it immediately became a firm locked-into-the-CD-player favorite — of all the first wave gaze bunch they were the ones most openly worshipping at the temple of bands like Spacemen 3 and Loop as well as the inevitable MBV and Cocteau Twins and etc., and if it was more suggested by implication on the album in comparison to the punchier blast of the EPs, there was some undercurrent in there which wasn’t simply a blissout. So little surprise I was at this show much as I had been at Lush/Ride and had already seen Swervedriver and, well, you get the drill.
Steve M. was part of this crew and maybe some others, not sure, and returning to the Whiskey meant that the only surprise would be from the bands, whatever they might get up to. I should say at this point by way of digression that at some point earlier in the year I’d seen a really stellar show by the New Fast Automatic Daffodils here as well — no ticket from that one, it was a free pass situation — which remains just about the only ‘rock’ band show I’ve seen where an LA club crowd was dancing the whole time. Of course, the thing with the New FADs was that they were an often-stellar early eighties-styled minimal funk act that were way too early for the DFA revival they would have ridden brilliantly, so little surprise they could completely slay the crowd down to their frenetic version of “Purple Haze” that’s probably the best cover of said song I’ve heard. I mention all this because there was some really awful opening band — called Ionescu after the playwright, I believe — and about all I remember about them is that when we heard them announced their last song, my group of two or three peoples applauded this announcement loudly. We were not one for patience on this point.
So I’d seen anonymous and annoying opening bands before (and oh, would I ever see them again), and as no band was announced for this show to my knowledge we just showed up to see what was up. Had I known a little more then what I knew now, I’d likely have been much more anticipatory about it all — I had only just heard of Savage Republic a couple of years beforehand, and while Brad wasn’t an original member he’d made his mark on their final albums in that first incarnation, as well on a huge number of releases and bands throughout the eighties. So Medicine wasn’t coming out of nowhere and two to one says a good chunk of the crowd was there because of his work as well as others in his new band — I don’t think this was their debut show, but it was definitely one of the first unless I have my dates completely mixed up.
Now let it be said that comments aside already I don’t hate openers out of hand by any means. I, hopefully, was open to hearing whatever was going to happen as much as could be expected, though no question who I was there to see and who I was charged up to see. But something about Medicine’s show just didn’t work. I wasn’t chanting ‘you suck’ or anything like that — honestly don’t think I’ve ever done that over all these years, hope I never do — but Steve and I and maybe whoever else was there weren’t all that impressed. It all seemed pretty draggy, sometimes pretty enough in a ‘okay they’re making some sculpted noise and the two female lead singers are all intoning things well enough and um, well…’ sense but other than that I think we were doing a lot of checking of our watches. I remember some applause but I can’t say there was a sudden revelation of greatness and by the end of it all Steve and I were exchanging comments wondering if the band would just break up on stage. So when they did end we were all ‘thank GOD.’
So there ya go, we trashed the band that ended up, after a lineup change or three and a rethink, releasing a few albums are still a lot of shoegaze fans’ favorite albums in the style outside of MBV themselves, thanks in large part to the sheer volume and violence Brad kicked up as a result. (I seriously think the only rival either band had would be Scott Cortez from Lovesliescrushing/Astrobrite — when I first heard HIS guitar I swore my stereo was being destroyed.) But I admit I could never quite get past that first show — yeah, I admit that’s pretty unfair but I admit to impatience sometimes. When the first Electric Company album came out is when I realized Brad was really, really good, and I remember surprising him when I preached its virtues over all the Medicine releases way back when. So I have to thank him again for his patience — and he can still zing me about it as much as he wants.
And Chapterhouse? No worries there, THAT was stellar. All the sampled beats and tight psych/funk grooves and soothing vocals and noise noise noise, it all combined and recombined in ways that to my mind seemed like everything I could want from music in one place. At the time that was probably the case, all I know is that I really wanted to hear songs like “Breather” and “Pearl” and “Falling Down” and “Autosleeper” and more really, really badly and to go completely out of my head on the impact. To their credit, they delivered.
This is one of those shows that it’s not the specific details that stick as much as the overall feeling, the lights going crazy, their floppy hairdos all over the place, feedback crunching in and those of us up front going crazy — a polite kind of pit but even so, a pit of sorts. Some points do stick out, like how the beginning of “Breather” was a signal for me to just lose it, while at some point in between songs someone in the audience called out for “Thriller” for some reason and one of them responded by playing the riff to Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive,” because why not.
The end I remember much more clearly though — this would have been during the encore. Unknown to me at the time, when the album had been released on vinyl in the UK, there was a bonus disc containing a nearly quarter-hour-long rampage that was pretty much unlike anything else on Whirlpool. The vocals were shouted, almost gutteral, the well-sculpted focus given over to a sprawling, blasting riff that made the debt to Spacemen 3 and Loop (and the Stooges and Sonic Youth and a lot else) perfectly clear. I should also mention the song’s title — “Die Die Die.”
So I wasn’t quite expecting them to play that live, but they did — and while I’ve heard the studio version since, and while I’ve heard louder and/or more overwhelming performances at shows, it was a pretty daunting listen even so, the more so because it wasn’t like the volume hadn’t changed at all, just the way they played their instruments and delivered the arrangement. I don’t even remember how it ended but I probably felt pretty damn exhausted by the time it all wrapped up. Just another great show for a twenty-year-old music freak to go absolutely crazy about — even if the opening act was kind of a drag.
It is, as a brief footnote, weird to think that I know what I was doing both on this date and on the same date exactly ten years later. Yet both seem equally clear and hazy now in equal measure — I think I would prefer to keep it that way.