Then-current album: Cuckoo
Opening act: Engines of Aggression
Back of ticket ad: AT&T importuning me for my business. Flattering and all, and yet.
So the show that had an opening act that was utterly totally and terribly atrocious. But one which I lucked out on because of the real opening act in a completely different context that evening. To explain:
As you can see from all the recent entries, I was pretty much living the life of Riley with a slew of these great shows happening one after another, and all not conflicting with each other either (it’s entirely possible I missed a few more shows as a result of all these dates up against each other, granted, but I can’t remember them now if so). So the news that Curve were coming through again was about all I needed to know when it came to attending this show – no Sony/Jen V connection this time around, given Curve were on Virgin instead, but my friend Rich A was more than happy to join me on a trip up to LA to see them.
This wasn’t too surprising at all given, now that I think about it, he had been with me and others at the Rollercoaster touring festival show about the same time the previous year, where the Jesus and Mary Chain had headlined but Curve had put on a pretty sharp set. Both bands weren’t goth as such but they were pretty happily adopted by the tribe, thanks to the preferred all black fashion sense; in the case of Toni Halliday, her own clear inspiration in someone like Siouxsie Sioux didn’t hurt either.
The other connection was the sheer volume and rhythm crunch of Curve live and in studio; there was something about the relentless bass-heavy mechanistic grind and punch of the band that was both unlike a lot of shoegaze per se and much more in line with someone like, say, Nine Inch Nails – which made it no surprise at all that when Curve’s first 1993 single “Missing Link” came out there was a remix on the second part of that single which was a remix done by Trent Reznor. That this ended up getting a slew of attention in its own right gives you a sense of how much people were practically slavering over the possibility of something, anything new from him around that time, but The Downward Spiral was still some time to come.
Cuckoo, meanwhile, was Curve’s own second full album, and as accomplished as the initial EPs had been – and as monolithically powerful as Doppelganger was – this was really their high point up to then, at once a more varied album and more powerful one; at times the bass sounded like it was going to rip my floor out. (Actually I think it was either this or the Cure live albums around that time which caused my downstairs neighbor to pound on his ceiling and completely freak the hell out of me.) Even the one out of nowhere acoustic number “Left of Mother” sounded impossibly rich and bottom heavy in equal measure. If Curve had ended up opening for the Depeche Mode tour around then, say, people might still be talking about it.
1993 had also been a year for me really getting into comics for the first time, I should also note – Peter Bagge’s Hate had me rolling on the floor more than once, and friend Eric R. having just begun his first work for Fantagraphics didn’t hurt when it came to getting earlier issues. Rich A. was more of a traditional superhero type of reader – though as was the case with a lot of people then, the true lodestone was anything with the words ‘Neil’ ‘Gaiman’ and ‘Sandman’ on the cover. Point being, we both had a good reason to actually spend some time at the legendary LA comic store the Golden Apple on Melrose before going over to the Palace to see the show.
As we entered, we noticed that there seemed to have been some sort of signing or something that had finished up, but we weren’t too sure what it was or who for. I was wandering over looking for the most recent issue of Hate and, upon finding it, picked it up with some sort of ‘Hey, great, here it is!’ statement, when I noticed someone else standing nearby – and then I figured out who the signing was for. Because you notice when Matt Groening is nearby.
A quick digression – as with anything once revolutionary and now an institution (and depending on how old you are, whoever might be reading this), it’s at once a cliché and totally true to say that if you weren’t there when The Simpsons first hit and became a thing – and then very rapidly became THE thing over the next few years – then you’ll never quite know. It was such a breath of fresh air, and given I had been a fan of Groening’s work since my high school discovery of Life in Hell back in 1986, all the more cool. So I knew enough about Groening to know who he was and what he looked like, as did Rich, who I’d be willing to bet had noticed him first.
I didn’t go and bug him then and there – he’d just done a signing after all – but I admit I was a touch starstruck. Quite happily for Rich and I, we found ourselves in line with him at the register, and we ended up having a brief conversation with him; I figured I could feel free to name myself a fan and we explained how we’d just swung by by chance. It was a great little talk, actually – he complimented me on my choice in comics, always a nice kick, and I remember the two of us talking about music and artistic inspiration in general with him; he was very personable, very friendly, and I came away feeling pretty jazzed, as did Rich. A chance encounter of the best kind, and it still makes me smile to think about it.
What makes it all the better was that it was the complete opposite to our initial experience at the Palace due to the opening act. As mentioned, waiting to see what Trent Reznor was going to do next was on the mind of more than a few people that year, and even before the breakthrough there were enough ‘industrial’ bandwagon jumpers in existence that, like so many other bands out there, adapt themselves to their surroundings in the hope of getting the brass ring. Stabbing Westward had seemed like that just a few days beforehand in the same venue, but Engines of Aggression were the absolute pits.
I vaguely remember standing somewhere on the main floor – or was it up in the balcony maybe, just so I didn’t have to stay on my feet the whole time? – and seeing the backlit spectacle of shouty guys unfold. More a demi-metal band with vague pretensions towards mechanistic approaches – a less varied and interesting Helmet, if that can be imagined (and after said band’s show earlier that year I wasn’t too highly inclined to them any more), Engines of Aggression were laughably horrible and dull, and while specifics are happily blotted from my brain, I just remember the overwhelming feeling of utter, utter suckiness. Turns out everyone I’ve since talked to who was also at that show thought the same thing – they were just simply that horrible. I suppose there was a vague sense in putting them on the bill with Curve if you squinted but in practice, good god almighty. I just invoked them earlier this year as a punchline in an ILM discussion, that’s how bad the scarring is.
Which made Curve all the more welcome, by default, so maybe that was the plan. As was my usual practice when I could pull it off, I floated up near one set of speaker stacks to the side of the stage and was able to enjoy the show in both relative closeness and comfort. Compared to the previous year’s show seen from the back of the Palladium, this was far more my speed. I also liked the fact that, unless my memory is completely shot, they started with the killer song “On the Wheel,” which had only ended up on the “Missing Link” B-side but had immediately become and remains one of my favorite songs they’d ever done. So seeing them rip into the performance, especially with the actually metallic sounding percussion breaks, was a hell of a treat.
Specifics of the show are again less clear than the feelings here, but the images remain strong – Toni Halliday striking impossibly cool and clean poses while in full voice, Dean Garcia absolutely into his guitar playing with obsessive focus, Debbie Smith right along for the ride, a rigorous rhythm section crunch at full volume…pretty damn monstrous. That songs like “Missing Link” and “Superblaster” got played was unsurprising, while older numbers got the nod as well – it was like a perfect summary of everything they had to offer at that point, three full years of viciously perfect and astoundingly beautiful songs.
Which made the breakup the following year such a bummer, and while the reunion and second phase of the band was no less compelling, Butch Vig took the time to whip up Garbage in the interim and they walked off with the headlines and sales, but more on that at a later date. At least I did get to see this stellar show – and meet Matt Groening at that.
And, happily, never saw nor heard from Engines of Aggression ever again. Sometimes it’s the small things.