Then-current album: Organ Fan
Opening act: …drawing a complete blank
Back of ticket ad: Fox Photo, assuring me once more that I can get half off their ‘1-Hour Film Developing.’ I simply cannot doubt it, and yet.
This is one of those classic tickets where I have to squint a few times at the original item to confirm the details. I thought it was June 8 there on first blush. I could have just checked an online calendar, I guess, but I’m not that obsessive. Yet.
So, the show that meant I got a T-shirt that I still have that reads HIPS LIPS TITS POWER on it in big white letters on a black background. Why the hell not?
Silverfish were always constantly almost…not famous, that’s a stretch, but they seemed like they belonged somewhere that they never quite found, which is a damn pity because I’m all about bands like them needing to be huge. It was probably because they were based in London and all, which meant that even the boost of being initially released in the US on Touch and Go meant a little suspicion of sorts from folks over here. (“We have a bunch of post-hardcore types already here, what could they tell us?”) I only first heard about them due to various random — very random — mentions of them as being a holdover from something called the Camden lurch scene, of which I knew nothing and don’t really care to have cleared up further, necessarily. Not out of hatred for whoever was involved, it’s just that it sounds like it was dreamed up on a lunch break from Melody Maker one day, a whole bunch of unrelated people were lumped into it, and then they were stuck with it from that point forward. Typical enough.
Still, I was paying some attention to Silverfish. Keep in mind I hate the actual insects, the bastards really do a number on books and all. But I gathered that the four members were a bit volatile at points and/or with each other, partially because they had a hell of a frontwoman in Lesley Rankine. I’ve met plenty of fiery people over time, I’ve met plenty of Scots folks, I’ve met a lot of strong as hell women, and I’ve encountered a number of combinations of all three over the years, and she ranks up there with them, though I can’t claim to have met her except in passing after this show and all. Still, you got a sense even from just the recordings that she gave…not directionless attitude, more that you wouldn’t want to mess with her because, hell, why would you? Add in the fact that apparently she could prop up whole bars by herself and hey, bring it on — plus I liked the fact that they had released an album called Fat Axl, featuring a caricature of said singer, and which also contained a rather unexpected version of Grandmaster Flash’s “White Lines (Don’t Do It).”
So through a weird combination of events — ending up on Creation Records, then because of that finding themselves associated with Sony overseas — Silverfish found themselves with an even bigger American connection than before, and god knows exactly what the people in the Sony LA office were thinking when they realized they had this assignment to deal with. Around this time is when my friend Jen V. actually started working there as an intern so I should probably reconfirm with her, but this was a classic case of them going “Okay they must have some fans here but they’re not on radio or anything so um…what do we do?”
The details of everything building up this show really do escape me. The new album in question, Organ Fan, had actually appeared in the UK a few months prior, so for US release an EP was added for that bonus track elan. I didn’t have either of those so ending up with a promo copy of this release was kinda nice, and I’ll always have a fondness for the French language track as they’d said in an interview that it was their tribute to the Young Gods, at that point one of my overall sonic heroes. Also I’d noted that Rankine had gone right ahead in recent months and cropped her hair completely off — bald as hell and rocking it to the full. Had to admire that, really, not that I was about to follow her example any.
I would have gone to the show with Jen V. if only she kinda had to be there by default given her Sony work. This was probably the first time I was in the Sony offices though I can’t say that for sure — I ended up there a couple of times over the next few years, and while I can hardly say I got familiar with the place, it was amusing enough to see exactly what part of the music business juggernaut looked like up close. Until that point all I would have really known about was the David Geffen office that was on Sunset near the Roxy, whereas Sony — as well as Polygram and probably a couple of other spots — were happily established in a set of buildings next to the 405 freeway on Santa Monica Blvd. I’m sure the place has a name (and for all I know the companies are still there; I know the buildings are) but at the time I would have more been checking out the interior design as a mix between random posters in the cubicles and high end professional lobby area. That and, I think, John Travolta in Staying Alive playing on a TV in said lobby. I have no idea why.
In part I talk about all this because again, I can’t remember much leading up to the show — if we had dinner up there, if we went straight to the venue and so forth. Didn’t interview the band or anything beforehand, I remember that much, I think we were just all milling about on the floor of the Whisky as per usual checking watches and the like. Completely, utterly drawing a blank on the opening act, assuming there was one, so whoever it was, I salute your anonymity, or at least your ability to take up time without making any impression whatsoever. But you probably helped drive people to the bar, at least.
Silverfish themselves put on a show that’s fragmentary in my memory. I remember they started a bit hesistantly — Rankine seemed to be looking out a little warily at the crowd, singing as if she was still finding her feet a bit, the rest of the band similarly. Fuzz, their guitarist, was the other visual focus, a slight short fellow with a great mop of dreadlocks, and similarly he was playing but not quite performing, just easing himself into the song. I thought it was nice and all but not the end of the world, and wondered if it would be like throughout.
At some point, though, there would have been a changeover, a little more intensity, a little more sharpness, a classic case of a group just needing to get a little warmed up in the course of the performance to really do something at its best. So the quartet turned into a stronger band as the show went, and we would have seen more of the act that got them their reputation over in the UK. Thing is, they would have just as easily held their own had they been American — Rankine as in-your-face performer was pretty damn good stuff, clearly someone who used the stage to take it all higher when possible, a little stylization blended with the stomp and shout. I can’t remember the name of the final song they played but it was almost as if the whole set was building up to that one number, with not one but two points where the arrangement just built and built and built and finally broke, the bandmembers all seeming to lean into the feedback as it stretched out and then exploding like a rubber band had just snapped. Pretty impressive and they deserved the applause they got.
Up in the balcony area afterwards I chatted with Fuzz briefly — energetic guy but I barely caught what he said — and exchanged pleasantries with Rankine as noted, not that she would remember any of it of course. Later that year she ended up departing the band and forming an even more underrated act in Ruby, something that aimed for the moody crawl of someone like Barry Adamson or Massive Attack with its own unsettled spikiness. Wish I’d caught one of those shows and I hope she’s doing well now, certainly deserved to be better known in general. And I’ll always treasure that one Melody Maker cover shot of her after the head shave posing with a gargoyle-like leer half wrapped around the lipstick-smeared Brett Anderson of Suede. If you’re going to make some sort of visual splash, after all, might as well go big.