Not Just the Ticket — #57, Laibach, July 26 1992

Laibach, Palace

Then-current album: Kapital

Opening act: none

Back of ticket ad: Power Insurance Brokerage, “The Low-Cost Auto Insurance Experts.” I wouldn’t know.

Somehow Laibach just doesn’t even READ right on the color scheme of a typical Ticketmaster ticket of this time. A near antithesis.

As for this show, truly the end of an era, for me at least.

The reasons why can be simply summarized — a few days after this show, I went to the UK for my big summer trip to the UK, my first visit to the country and my gift to myself for having graduated from UCLA. Then I would come back, head south to UC Irvine for grad school…and leave LA. For almost four years straight, aside from summer between my freshman and sophomore years, I had lived either at UCLA or in Westwood, plus the brief July 1992 interregnum at my former apartmentmate Steve’s new place a little to the south of there. But I’d been in LA all that time, it had become home in however fitful a fashion for me, something I was arguably only really finally appreciating and getting used to in that final year of college.

I still wonder what it would have been like had I stayed there, either for grad school or for work in the library system there; my story would I think be a much different one, and I have no idea for the better or worse. At the time, I don’t know exactly what I was thinking in terms of what the move south to Orange County would mean, and I very much doubt I had any conception of the fact that nearly eighteen years later I would still be living within a few miles of UC Irvine. More than anything I would have been thinking about my trip to the UK, wondering what grad school might be like perhaps, otherwise simply getting to grips with the fact that I would soon be leaving a circle of friends I’d made that I wouldn’t be regularly hanging around with anymore, and that in some cases I’ve never seen again to this day, however much we have been able to keep in touch online.

All of which of course explains why I was going to see a bunch of stern faced Slovenian art students working with the trappings of hypertheatrical fascism.

Laibach were one of those bands I had just heard about with time and experience, as my stumbling and somewhat hesitant sense of what ‘industrial’ was supposed to be had codified with time, almost thoroughly in a post-EBM/Wax Trax ‘oh right it’s all overdriven guitars and evil disco beats’ sense. Laibach were on Wax Trax for a bit there so it made sense that I discovered them that way and in that context, but they were something else entirely, and if there was one thing that everyone agreed on, it’s that nobody seemed to agree on them. From a distance the sheer stonefaced hilarity of the group is patently clear — they knew exactly what they were doing (heck, Laibach was just one element of a huge project in a variety of fields as part of the now-legendary Neue Slowenische Kunst), and the humor was always perfectly black, perfectly pointed. It’s something to behold still via their cover versions, videos and looking over all that they’ve done.

At the time it felt a bit different, even more so given that they came from the one part of what was Yugoslavia that was about to escape the patent sorrow and madness of a decade under arms, and that they were doing so after decades of a military regime had been in charge of the country — previous to which they’d been under Nazi control. That Slovenia produced a Zizek doesn’t surprise me, but my sense of the grimly absurd means that I’m even less surprised, and more appreciative, of the fact that it produced a Laibach. The group’s embrace of uniforms and artistic styles, of even the language, of a culture that aestheticized terror and death is on the face of it completely wrenching, but that they did so by means of artistic protest in the regime they’d grown up in then made everything all that much more of a high matter of artistic brinksmanship.

All of which dances around a core fact that I hinted at earlier — Laibach were entertaining, compellingly so. While they were most known to me for their reworking of the entire Let It Be album — minus the title track — as well as a near-contemporary reworking of “Sympathy for the Devil,” and while the entertainment there was as much from the massed chorale vocals and drums and orchestral blasts tweaking ‘good old fashioned rock and roll,’ their original work, often incredibly cryptic, was just as involving. By the time they’d released their album they were touring on this time around, they’d scored operas, staged any number of productions, created vivid tape-heavy collages underscored with inflated pomp and probably had to be secretly having a laugh at just how much they’d done.

I had picked up most of the albums at this point and that included Kapital, so I was all up for this show — no idea who I went with but it was the Palace once more. Things felt a little different from the start — it was a typical enough crowd for an industrial show of the time, plenty of black T-shirts and protorivetheads and whatever else might be found there — but there was no opening act, and we all milled about a bit (I was more or less in the middle of the floor). The lights did go down a bit at some point and a steady drum loop began, sounding — very intentionally — much like the kind of drumming performances one can see in something like Triumph of the Will. You had a sense of a call to arms…or something.

As the band appeared onstage, five in number for this performance at least, there was a sense of that theatricality I mentioned earlier — this wasn’t anything like a ‘typical rock show,’ no acknowledgements of the crowd, not even a glance. They were all painted in gold makeup, wearing severe clothing, two members flanking the stage and playing elaborate, almost comical, massed trumpets that looped around their torsos. Everything was performed in something almost approaching ritual or invocation, and again this had to be exactly what they were aiming at, presented without any tinge of conscious irony. You had to read that all into everything they were doing, or you would have to accept it at face value.

I was very much reading into it, and I remember thinking at the time that it was impressive but also a bit crushing, wearying. Again, perhaps the point. In relistening to Kapital now it’s one of their most controlled, minimal albums, almost parallel to the stripped-down-to-almost-nothing sound that their then labelmates Wire were making under their Wir guise. Only Kapital had even less, nearly all the songs were essentially instrumentals, dark rumblings that were…well, almost as if there was such a thing as microindustrial, a compression of all the bombast into a cool pulse and starkness. While a lot of industrial acts ended up following that kind of vein later, they didn’t do it in quite this way; it’s a forbidding listen still, and translating that live made for a disorienting experience.

Lead singer Ivan didn’t seem to sing much, I recall — I didn’t even have a sense that they were inclined to do anything from either Kapital or their earlier albums for that matter. He was at the mike, dressed in a kind of partisan greatcoat and peaked cap or hunter’s cap, occasionally saying or singing things, quite often striking a stern fist in the air pose. Drums rumbled all around him, horn blasts, other technological touches…friends who had seen them previously at the height of their classic rock revamp phase indicated to me they were actually acting a bit more like classic rock types, partying it up on stage at least a bit. That clearly wasn’t the goal with this show.

So it’s hard to pull out a memorable moment when the whole show was what it was, unsettled and strange and at the same time very precisely performed, as if the overwhelming structure and focus of the album was going to dictate everything about the show as well (and why not?). I seem to half remember it ending with the album’s single “Wirtschaft Ist Tot,” but even then that’s not clear in my head, though Ivan was to the fore apparently singing or declaiming away while everyone else, stone faced as ever, moved through the song with specific focus. It might have been an encore, it might have been the end of the show that they were never going to do an encore in the first place.

There was no real significance to the show being my last one I attended as an LA resident beyond the accident of history. There would be more shows at the Palace for me, plenty more shows in LA in general, it wasn’t like I was gone and never returning. But nonetheless this did mark a definite point of closure, where my focus would be on LA as this thing off in the distance rather than all around me, where getting to a show would require a little more effort, luck and good will, given my carless state, and where I would by default be paying more attention to clubs and spots nearer to hand.

But what I hadn’t realized was that I was actually coming to UCI at just the right moment for a lot of things musically, not all of which would require tickets.

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