Not Just the Ticket — #22, Pigface, October 18, 1991

Pigface, Palace

Then-current album: Welcome to Mexico…Asshole

Opening act: …was there one? Not sure at all.

Back of ticket ad: I would have been terribly amused to see any member of the Pigface collective use the Domino’s coupon for $2 off any medium or large pizza, if only because I suspect they would have been chased out of whatever location they were in.

The ticket rather insists the band name was “Pig Face” and yet this was not so. I do wonder what the anonymous programmers building in all this information to their database thought of some of the band names they had to deal with; I’m surprised more opportunities for abuse didn’t come up there.

This was the show where two generations/mindsets crossed and weren’t too sure what to do with each other — but that was after the show and as far as I know the band wasn’t involved at all, at least directly.

I’m not too sure where I would have first learned of the idea of supergroups or one-offs or musical collectives or anything like that — as was the case with most anyone, doubtless when I thought of bands when I was very young, I would have thought of fixed memberships and part-and-parcel identities, so even the idea of changing lineups would have been a strange novelty to me whenever I first encountered it. I do, though, remember more clearly what got me into what I learned of as industrial, and that would have been Gregg Araki’s review of Ministry’s The Land of Rape and Honey in the LA Weekly in late 1988. He made it sound so unusual and so must-listen that I bought it soon thereafter, only to not quite get it and set it aside. But after a little more exposure to the Sex Pistols and Metallica and the like later that year the logic of what was going on with Al Jourgensen — at least in that incarnation — started to click, and when I joined KLA in early 1989 and started learning about this label called Wax Trax (I think the first thing I would have heard from them would have been Front 242’s “Never Stop” single, which I was pretty well obsessed with for a while), then things started to slowly but surely stumble into place.

But from a very different place than a lot of people already had been involved with — the lesson that ‘industrial’ as such taught me was the lesson of genre labels being very poor things at the best of times, easy flags of convenience that hurt as much as they help, if not more so. The logic of ‘if you like this you might like that’ is a compelling one in general — thus so much of the Internet this century, say — but what I thought was industrial as such was to others just heavy metal with more electronics and drum machines than might otherwise be expected. The overlapping and utterly complex — and, as I learned and still learn even more with time, often non-Anglophonic — wash of styles and approaches that were first given the tag and then increasingly focused in more and more limited ways in many areas and among many groups (and listeners) remains a tangled puzzle even now, when ‘minimal synth’ is no longer a label name (like ‘industrial’ itself) but a new tag to describe an old style that now returns in different yet similar ways.

Yet what did I know? Little as yet, and if that’s a recurring theme throughout many of these posts it has to be an understandable one — all this is happening when I’m twenty, and what I half-thought would be the end of my college career and further education wasn’t the extended stay in the field that it’s become, and only with time did I further appreciate how education never ends unless you want it to. (Horrible thought, frankly.) All I did know is that this Pigface thing, when it had been first announced that year with the release of their debut album Gub, got a lot of friends of mine at KLA excited, and I was right there with them. While not on Wax Trax it might as well have been, thanks to the Chicago connection or direct label association of so many of the participants, including En Esch from KMFDM, Ministry/Revolting Cocks/Fini Tribe veteran Chris Connelly (only then just embarking on what’s proved to be a lengthy and far too underappreciated solo career — but more in a later entry about him), Skinny Puppy vocalist Ogre and the two lead figures (at least at the time) Bill Rieflin, Ministry drummer, and perhaps most intriguingly Martin Atkins, the original drummer for Public Image Limited and therefore by default one of the most commonly heard and still regularly imitated ‘rock’ drummers to this day, thanks to his ability to help incorporate and popularize approaches from German experimental rock and Jamaican productions into what at one time was one of the most anti-commercial yet somehow successful bands in existence. All that and Trent Reznor contributed vocals to a song as well — and that didn’t hurt at all.

I’d missed the first tour they’d done earlier that year but, in what would become a pattern, they’d already released a live album from said tour, Welcome to Mexico…Asshole, by the time they came around again. In what would also become a pattern, whatever Pigface was on the tour was pretty much whoever showed up to play with Atkins and company — Atkins himself had founded and ran a label, Invisible, that was releasing the Pigface material, and in a weird way seemed to be an extension of what was the original promise of PiL with its ideas of constant production as seemed fit. So with folks like Kris C. and Steve M. and others once again part of a small crew, it was off to the Palace, with its open-access water fountain, handy spot near the stage where one could avoid being crushed and general atmosphere.

Kris, it should be noted, was all hyped up for the appearance of Chris Connelly, so when he first appeared on stage — this was when he still wore his hair long and slightly dreadlocked — she was quite happily appreciative. It helped he wasn’t wearing a shirt and, frankly, didn’t need to. His performance was strong but of the people on stage that night I most remember Atkins, who clearly lives for the possibilities of live performance and wants to see where things will go as they happen, and En Esch. There’s a number on Gub he sings with the very German name of “War Ich Nicht Immer Ein Guter Junge? War Ich Nicht Immer Schoen und Net” and the performance of that was a high-speed near rant that was shiveringly compelling — it helps he is as tall if not taller than Connelly, who’s a really tall guy himself, so seeing this imposing shaven-headed dude roaring at the audience while Atkins blasted away was pretty overpowering.

But this is another show where it’s not the full sense of what happened but the details that will remain, like the fact that Mary Mary of Gaye Bykers on Acid was also there on stage and Kris and Steve and I made a convoluted joke about how it was Peter Murphy. Trust me, far too long to explain that one. Later, near the end of the show during an extensive encore, when who I guess was either a local or Chicago-based dancehall vocalist was getting the crowd going with a chant as everyone else was on stage jamming along, I was up near the front with a couple of my friends. Next to me was a woman also happily dancing along, and at one point I did a double-take and looked more closely at her — I wasn’t seeing things, there was a well-groomed white rat sitting on her shoulder, gripping a bit into her jacket for dear life but otherwise making its way between her shoulders as it wanted to by walking across the back of her neck. During a quieter moment I leaned over and asked about this, and she talked about how it was indeed her pet and how she brought it to shows all the time. “He loves it!” she said, but I admit I just figured the poor critter was deaf by then.

The real moment of the evening came after the show, though — you might notice from the ticket there that the show started a little early. That night was also a regular KROQ-sponsored dance night at the Palace, a common enough splitting of the evening at a club or venue into two events. This meant that our rather bedraggled, none too sharply dressed audience poured out of the Palace to come face to face with a slew of people dressed in their best eighties holdover gear and early nineties fashion. There had been an announcement from the stage earlier that we could all stay for the club if we wanted to, which I think made everyone leave all that quickly.

The irony is that both audiences were, in general terms, about to be crushed within the next year by The Nineties In All Caps, as grunge-as-fashion (with G-funk hot on its heels) rendered the club audience old thanks a rapidly reinvented KROQ while our own self-perceived edgy non-style style with weird bands was going to be reduced down to ‘Industrial? Like Nine Inch Nails?’ And of course I was already a longtime fan but even so. There wasn’t any sort of weird confrontation, it was more two ships passing in the night, both about to slam into hidden icebergs.

Presumably the rat enjoyed more shows until it met its inevitable end. Probably saw a lot more fun shows than most people did.


One Response to “Not Just the Ticket — #22, Pigface, October 18, 1991”

  1. Brian Says:

    I saw pigface in the later half of the 90s. They put on a pretty good show as I recall, despite me not really digging their music too much.

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