Not Just the Ticket — #76, Front 242, November 21, 1993

Front 242, Hollywood Palace

Then-current album: 05:22:09:12 Off

Opening acts: Ethyl Meatplow, Stabbing Westward

Back of ticket ad: …hmm, forgot to check. I fear Fox Photo return.

I like the occasional strategies employed by Ticketmaster to gussy up tickets for bands with short names. Too much empty area on the ticket? Asterisks are the answer! Except they were never consistently applied, so.

So, the show that consisted of two ends and one beginning. A negative trend in all three cases.

It was kinda funny, though – and weirdly telling, this show. It was probably the last ‘industrial’ show I attended, by any stretch of the term, prior to Trent Reznor finally taking everything over the commercial top the following year with The Downward Spiral. But the shift was already in the wind – as I muttered at one point on the DVD I did on Nine Inch Nails, he went from new figure to poster boy at a hell of a pace. But that’s to talk about someone who wasn’t at this show, and from retrospection. At the time…well, who knew what to expect?

But this was a show that was already something containing familiarity all around, or at least for the most part. Front 242 I’d already seen earlier that year at Lollapalooza, playing a hell of a set in the sunshine thanks to well placed speaker stacks and staging providing shade and said speaker stacks meaning their rigorous, bass and beat heavy approach pretty much pounded skulls more relentlessly than a lot of bands at the time could ever manage. So I was already primed for more there. And Ethyl Meatplow had also performed there and I was coming up on my third show overall with them, so that was a fine thing.

And then there was Stabbing Westward, of whom I knew nothing – but more on them in a bit. I wish I didn’t have to talk about them but there you go.

The season this show was part of, fall 1993, had been going reasonably well enough for me, though it was definitely a case of learning curves all around. My new apartmentmate Wayne was a great fellow, an amiable computer geek who was and remains the height of personableness; we last chatted a few years back and he was doing well. So that was the easy part – the less easy part was everything else, in a way, from getting to grips with teaching to bearing down a little more on my studies after the initial rough year to the huge Laguna fire that kicked in one hot day, and which I could see cresting a not too distant hill from my apartment. (Friend Mackro remembers seeing Mary Lou Lord do a noontime show out on the plaza, then noticing her looking off in the distance and going “Gee that doesn’t look good” or something similar. He turns around, there’s a massive black wall of smoke rising in the distance, and the rest of the day went from there.)

So all the shows I was going to at this point consisted of one needed break after another – and one of those shows, another ticketless special I’ll be talking about next time, remains an absolute high point of everything I saw during my UCI grad school years. But there were the touring stops up in LA that I was getting to as I could, thus Depeche, thus Suede and thus this show. Another case of Sony connections coming in handy for me, I figure, though ultimately I’m not entirely sure with some of these performances if I just went ahead and bought a ticket or not to be on the safe side. (Trust me, I can’t thank Jen V. enough for all the times she did get me in to see something but I can’t believe she was able to do so each time.)

I do remember Jen V. doing some promo for this show on my computer, though. Which may sound either quaint or nondescript, but a little context here: having fully gotten to grips with the net for the first time earlier that calendar year, fall 1993 was when I first really figured out what Usenet and discussion groups were all about, thanks to Mackro. I then introduced it to Jen, who figured out it was a handy way to send around news about upcoming Sony releases or tours or the like – which included Front 242 and Stabbing Westward. It was the future but we didn’t fully understand it, or rather figure out that’s how it would all go – she reported passing this on to her bosses but they didn’t quite get what was going on. Par for the course for everyone then, though.

So all this was going on and this show was announced and it was the second tour for Front 242 that year counting Lollapalooza but then again they also had their second album coming out. A good approach, really, in that they didn’t do the Use Your Illusion route or anything – Evil Off, to give the simpler name of the second album, was part remix collection, part collection of other tracks, part experiments. These days that too is much more par for the course so like some of the promotion stuff Jen was considering they found the future maybe just a touch too quickly, who can say.

All I can say is that I ended up at my friend and fellow UCLA-era show vet Jason B.’s house at some point that evening before the show. He’d gone on to grad school like I had, in this case in history and still at UCLA, and I dimly remember a housemate hanging around briefly or something that night…all kinda unclear, maybe we all had dinner there with Jen. It’s a bit confused, but we all ended up over at the Palace for the show. To say that everyone there had almost certainly been at Lollapalooza as well for both Front 242 and Ethyl Meatplow was probably an understatement; everyone was probably wearing close to the same outfits.

For this show I hung out nearer to the bar throughout – I had a feeling that upfront might be a little hectic, based on past experience. But when it came to the first band on the bill, I think the general reaction among most folks was a big fat “What the hell?” Not entirely, but Stabbing Westward were at that time utterly unknown and not doing a good job at making themselves less known. I think their album Ungod had either come out or was about to, but I hadn’t heard it before the show, though I’m sure Jen had mentioned them as they were on Sony.

What they were, though, was pretty bad. Not as bad as another industrial rock band I would see later that month in the same spot also in an opening role – more on that later – but pretty damn dull and horrible. Lead guy was either wearing a cowboy hat or a bad beard or both – given the group’s Chicago provenance the whole ‘If only we were Al Jourgensen’ feeling was palpable, but there was also the inevitable wannabe Reznor effect. After they left I thought I wouldn’t have to deal with them again…how wrong I was.

Ethyl Meatplow, a much different situation. Either I’d heard they were about to break up or were soon on the verge of doing so, but there was a sense of semi-valediction at this show – also, as my friend Jason said, “Most of their fans here are hardcore Latina lesbians!” Which did seem pretty accurate and damn if they didn’t know every word. The topless cowgirls from the Lollapalooza set were back and they were even more…forthright with each other, for lack of a better term. A lot of the set is a blur but “Suck” got a hell of a performance, everyone shouting along, and as a farewell performance without it necessarily being one (it certainly was my last time seeing them) it was a monstrous way to bow out. Carla Bozulich was really only just getting started in many ways, though.

Which left 242 to wrap it all up, though compared to the Lollapalooza show this one was good if not specifically the greatest thing ever – crowd was into it from the get-go, no question, and old hits and new songs got everyone going and so forth, but in the memory it just doesn’t sink in as much for me as that Lollapalooza set did, perhaps just by default thanks to the sheer scope of their set and performance. Here it was ‘just’ the Palace and everything felt a little less defiant somehow, expectations met rather than being, slightly, challenged.

Still, had I known that the group was about to go on hiatus for a while I might have paid a little more attention. And in a way it was a perfect transitional show – ‘industrial’ as conceived in the broad sense of electronic power rigor and pansexual disruption was being winnowed down to angsty dudes shouting plus guitars when it came to the mass market. Not that everything was a paradise beforehand nor would it be a wasteland after but somehow the rise of Stabbing Westward confirmed that a sound which I had thrilled to, however faced with its own limits and biases, was about to become a hell of a lot more boring.

Of course, at least I could complain about it on the Internet at that point. Which wasn’t exactly progress…