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Rockbitch

Rockbitch

We get a lot of submissions from bands that like to perform in various states of undress, up to and including full genital exposure. It will not surprise you to learn that 99% of these bands are dudes. Guys love whipping it out in public, and doing so in the name of rock ‘n’ roll stopped being a transgressive act a long time ago. When Blink-182 does something, it’s officially no longer any big shakes.

For women, it’s different. Thanks to our society’s inherent sexism and double standards, female sexuality is still taboo in ways that male sexuality is not. So the fact that a band like Rockbitch ever existed is a fairly remarkable thing.

Rockbitch was a British hard rock group that emerged from the ashes of another band called Red Abyss. From the start, Red Abyss embodied many of the same principles that later came to characterize Rockbitch: It was female fronted (though the drummer, and occasionally other members of the revolving lineup, were men), communal and sex-positive. But compared to Rockbitch, Red Abyss’s lyrics and stage show were comparatively tame: “We were hiding our lifestyle behind a facade,” reads the band’s official bio, written by their guitarist, Lisa “Babe” Wills, “self-censoring our natural behaviour.”

Part of the problem was that, while fans and promoters encouraged and even rewarded outrageous behavior by male rock bands, they tended to frown upon similar antics coming from the ladies of Red Abyss. “Male bands with whom we were sharing a stage would perform screaming out their fake rebellious bullshit about sex and satan — then insult us to our faces saying that we shouldn’t be fucking all those men and women in our dressing rooms, and did our parents know how we behaved?”

Red Abyss also encountered straight-up sexism at every turn: booking agents refusing to deal with their female manager, male sound guys and venue employees assuming they didn’t know how to play their instruments or outright sabotaging their sets, venue owners insisting on handing the money to a male roadie rather than to a female band member. “We were, bluntly, being treated like shit.” This happened, by the way, wasn’t happening in some pre–women’s lib Mad Men past. This was in the ’90s.

Eventually, the women of Red Abyss had had enough. They became the darker, heavier, more sexually aggressive beast called Rockbitch.

For a few years, up until they disbanded in 2002, Rockbitch was probably the raunchiest band on the planet. Many of the band members performed naked, or nearly so. Songs like “Fistfuck” would be acted out onstage. During every show, they’d toss a “Golden Condom” into the audience and invite whoever caught it, male or female, to come backstage and fuck several members of the band. (“Babe” Wills liked to point out that, of everyone who ever caught the Golden Condom, the only ones who would chicken out were the men, some of whom apparently assumed it was a joke. Rockbitch’s in-your-face female sexuality was, and still is, highly intimidating to many men. Including, we must admit, us.)

None of this was done for shock value, at least not primarily. As outlined in various essays and manifestos on the band’s website, Rockbitch’s mission was to destigmatize female sexuality and sex in general. And hard rock seemed like the perfect vehicle for doing so. “When a woman can’t even strip to the waist and play a bitching, head-down guitar riff, have her lead singer fuck her with a strap-on whilst a stage surfer licks her feet without authorities wanting to ban over 18’s from coming to see it — well, what has the world of rock and rebellion come to!?” their website playfully asks. (And no, that’s not an exaggerated description of their live show.)

By 2000, Rockbitch’s lineup had become all-female: founder/matriarch Amanda “The Bitch” Smith-Skinner on fretless bass, Julie Worland on vocals, Lisa “Babe” Wills on lead guitar, Luci the “Stage Slut” on rhythm guitar, Nikki Fay on keyboards and Jo Heeley on drums, plus two or three “Sex Magick Priestesses” who danced and facilitated some of the sexual rituals. The band’s former lead guitarist, Tony “The Beast,” stayed on as the band’s manager and producer — no doubt in part to run occasional interference with sexist bookers and venue owners.

Musically, the band played theatrical, heavy rock, highlighted by Worland’s operatic vocals, The Bitch’s fluid, often funky basslines and Babe’s scorching guitar. Here’s a good example, a track called “Sex & The Devil” that also happens to features a weirdly witchy video, with the Rockbitches cavorting half-naked in the forest:

As you probably got from that video, besides all the sexual themes and imagery, an element of paganism runs through Rockbitch’s music and philosophy — though Babe is quick to point out on the band’s website that they are neither Wiccans nor Satanists. As best as we understand it — and I admit, as a couple of uptight dudes in monogamous relationships, our understanding is probably shaky — they celebrate sex itself as sacred, particularly the acts of cunnilingus and vaginal penetration, which they describe as forms of “cunt worship,” the vagina being the source of all human life and therefore the most sacred component of human sexuality. This worship/celebration of sex extends, paganistically, to the worship of nature in general; although their website stops short of describing many of the group’s offstage rituals, or explaining the full meaning of their many onstage ones (“we are intensely private people,” Babe explains in her “brief and grudging account of part of our belief system”), their are a few photographs showing things like an “earth-fucking ritual” and a “serpent initiation ritual,” suggesting that the cult of Rockbitch is a fairly elaborate one that extends far beyond just the music and sex acts.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the authorities tended to lose their shit over Rockbitch. The band was banned from performing at many venues, and their music and album artwork was heavily censored in many countries. It’s not clear what role if any this played in the band’s eventual breakup. but it couldn’t have been easy for the women to tour or get distribution for their music.

Rockbitch only released one studio album, 1999’s Motor Driven Bimbo, plus a live album, Rockbitch Live in Amsterdam; during their brief run, the Netherlands seemed to have been one of the few countries where the band was able to tour on a regular basis. A second album, Psychic Attack, was never officially released but has been widely bootlegged and can be found on various torrent sites. Motor Driven Bimbo is out of print, but copies occasionally surface on Amazon and elsewhere, often selling for $100 or more.

Post-Rockbitch, the band’s full lineup resurfaced in a clothed, less theatrical incarnation called MT-TV. But that group soon disbanded, as well. Amanda Smith-Skinner and Jo Heeley later teamed up with singer-songwriter Erin Bennett to form another all-female band called Syren, but tragically, that group dissolved after Heeley died of breast cancer in 2012. Other former Rockbitch members have, as far as we’ve been able to tell, retired from making music — though according to their Facebook page, they still live and work together as a commune.

We’ve known about Rockbitch for years, but were reluctant at first to add them to the Weird List because to do so seemed sexist. So it was a bunch of women with guitars and their tits out — so what? A bunch of men doing the same thing would be met nowadays with a collective shrug. To add them to our compendium of extreme music felt like yet another example of the very double standard in music that Rockbitch railed against.

But as well researched the band further (while our wives were at work), we decided that regardless of their gender, Rockbitch were truly unique. No other band in history, male, female or coed, ever randomized the groupie selection process as radically as Rockbitch did with their Golden Condom, or made oral sex and vaginal penetration such a routine part of their stage show. Rockbitch incorporated sex into rock ‘n’ roll performance in a way that’s never been done before or since. And as powerful, liberated women, they made that sex a political act. A Rockbitch show was a rock concert, neopagan ritual and radical feminist performance-art piece all in one. And lots of people got laid. That’s the truly awesome kind of weirdness this blog was designed to celebrate.

We’ll leave you one more video, for a track from Psychic Attack called “Breathe.” This appears to be a fan-made mashup of strange naked zombie go-go dance animation and video from one of several concert documentaries made about the band, probably 2002’s Sex, Death and Magick (which, if you’re so inclined, and are over 18, you can watch in full on YouTube).

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Mac Sabbath

Mac Sabbath

Every once in awhile, a new weird band comes along with a concept that is so completely fucking brilliant, you can’t believe no one else thought of it sooner. That was the reaction we first had when a friend of ours here in L.A. invited us to see a McDonald’s-themed Black Sabbath cover band called…wait for it…Mac Sabbath! Genius, right?

It was so genius that we were sure they must suck…no idea could be that clever and well-executed. Turns out we needn’t have worried. You’re in good, puffy clown hands with Mac Sabbath…those hands belonging to one Mike Odd, the same twisted visionary behind another of our favorite weird local bands, Rosemary’s Billygoat. (Officially, Mike Odd is just Mac Sabbath’s manager. But let’s just say that must be Mike’s brother under the “Ronald Osbourne” makeup, because the resemblance is uncanny.)

We were apparently fortunate enough, by pure dumb luck, to attend Mac Sabbath’s first-ever live performance (blurry photographic evidence below) back in July and it was fucking amazing. Hamburglar came out first, tossing hamburgers at the audience as he took his place behind the drum kit. Then came the guitar player, Mayor Slayer McCheese, horns protruding from his cheeseburger mouth like he just ate a whole steer. Then came Grimace, and of COURSE Grimace plays the fucking bass. Most bass players have a little Grimace in them. If you painted my high school garage band’s bass player purple, he’d basically be Grimace with slightly more hair.

Ronald Mc…sorry, Osbourne, came out sporting red and yellow fringed sleeves and took up position behind a mic stand shaped like a giant milkshake straw. The band launched into “Sweet Beef” and the rewritten Sabbath songs just got more ridiculous from there: “Frying Pan” instead of “Iron Man,” “Pair-a-buns” instead of “Paranoid,” you get the idea. I’m pretty sure “Rat Salad” is still just “Rat Salad,” though.

The highlight came when Ronald reached into his takeout bag, pulled out a hamburger with bat wings, and took a massive bite out of it. Or maybe the highlight was when he started using a giant straw to sneak slurps of audience members’ drinks. Or maybe the highlight was just watching Grimace play the bass. Seriously, I could not get over that part.

I’ll leave you with a live video of the band performing “Frying Pan,” complete with subtitles so you can appreciate the full hilarity of what Mike Odd and company have aptly dubbed “Drive Thru Metal.” Supersize me, Mac Sabbath!

Oh and here’s our bragging-rights photo of their very first performance:

Mac Sabbath at Bergamot Station

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Thomas Truax

This photo by Andrew Werner; banner photo by Chris Saunders

This photo by Andrew Werner; banner photo by Chris Saunders

We’re back! Did you miss us? We promise to resume regularly posting Weird Bands of the Week and occasionally updating our Weird 100 chart, but other site updates will probably be more infrequent because we’ve both got demanding day jobs now. For our ever-popular Weird of the Day picks, follow us on Twitter or Facebook. And now, back to the weirdness…

This week’s “band” is a solo artist from New York named Thomas Truax (pronounced “True-Ax”) who plays guitar and a variety of homemade instruments, mostly of the beat-making variety. He started out as the bassist/vocalist for a ’90s trio called Like Wow that was part of downtown Manhattan’s “antifolk” scene (did anyone actually like the term “antifolk”? didn’t think so), then turned solo around 2000 or so. His signature instrument, seen above, is called the Hornicator. It’s a modified gramophone horn that he can both sing into and use as a twangy percussion instrument by plucking a string wrapped around its neck. It apparently also has a kazoo inside it, because really, any halfway decent homemade instrument may as well include a kazoo.

Musically, Truax tends to play his own spin on mutant, lo-fi blues, evoking shades of everything from Nick Cave to Jon Spencer to another weird artist famous for cleverly constructed analog drum machines, Mr. Quintron. He’s done an entire album of songs from David Lynch films and another of original songs to accompany a production of Henrik Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. More recently, he’s teamed up with ex-Dresden Doll drummer Brian Viglione. But it’s his solo live shows, where he unleashes his Hornicator and a variety of steampunky percussion instruments with evocative names like the Sister Spinster and the Mother Superior, that really showcase Truax’s weirdness.

Truax has also made more than his fair share of memorable music videos over the years. Here’s our favorite, suggested by reader Chas (thanks, Chas!), for a typically offbeat Truax original called “Prove It to My Daughter” that doubles as both a song and a hypnosis session:

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Primus oral history book, “Primus: Over the Electric Grapevine,” due out tomorrow

Primus

Good news for Primus fans who like reading and stuff: Tomorrow marks the arrival of the awkwardly titled but sure to be awesome Primus: Over the Electric Grapevine: Insight Into Primus and the World of Les Claypool, the first oral history of the influential, bass-slappin’, beaver-ticklin’ alt-rock legends. We’re supposedly getting our mitts on a review copy soon, so we’ll provide more details then. All we can tell you right now is that it was compiled by journalist Greg Prato and features interviews with all the major players in Primus—Les Claypool, Larry LaLonde, Tim “Herb” Alexander, Jay Lane, Bryan Mantia and Todd Huth—as well as friends, fans and occasional collaborators like Trey Anastasio, Stewart Copeland, Tom Morello, Geddy Lee, Kirk Hammett, Tom Waits, Chuck D and Hank3. You can pre-order a hardcover or Kindle version here.

In other Primus news: On Friday, they released another track from their forthcoming Primus & the Chocolate Factory, their tribute to the music of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, due out Oct. 21st on ATO Records. “Golden Ticket” turns the light-hearted original into a primal space-blues stomp—but in a light-hearted way. Les even whistles at one point. Yep, even by Primus standards, this one’s clearly gonna get pretty weird.

Weird of the Day: Tartar Control, “Smoking Crack”

Tartar Control

Hey, so here’s another L.A. band we’ve been meaning to write about for awhile. Tartar Control claim to be God-fearing Mormons from Salt Lake City who try to spread religion through the power of snotty punk rock, but I’m not so sure. I think they might be actual snotty L.A. punk rockers who are just ripping off these guys. Oh, wait, their drummer is a robot? I take it all back then. They must be actual Mormons and their act is totally original! (Mormons love robots. It’s why their Chosen One is Mitt Romney.)

Anyway, Sean, Robert and Robot have a new album coming out in October called We Forgive You. You do? Thanks, Tartar Control! Glad that dead hooker is finally off our conscience.

While we wait for forgiveness, here’s a video for “Smoking Crack” off their first album, Holy Crap! Tartar Control forgives us, but who forgives Tartar Control?

For more Tartar Control, floss regularly and visit the band’s website.

Weird of the Day: Darth Vegas, “Nano Nano”

Darth Vegas

Today’s weirdness comes to us all the way from Australia (and a suggestion by reader Roman). Darth Vegas might best be described as vaudeville metal. Their music ping-pongs between bone-crushing drop-D chords, sing-song circus-tent music, finger-poppin’ jazz, frenetic ska and sunny surf-rock, usually every three seconds or so. They get compared to Mr. Bungle a lot—like, pretty much in every YouTube comment—and they definitely wear their Mike Patton Fan Club badges on their sleeves. But they bring enough of their own cleverless and technical chops to the party that their stuff stands on its own.

Here’s the first track off their self-titled 2003 album. If you don’t like it, wait a few seconds.

For more Darth Vegas, visit their website, or check out their catalog on Amazon.

This year’s GWAR-B-Q with feature a Oderus-less incarnation of GWAR

GWAR-B-Q 2014

So apparently GWAR will be performing at the fifth annual GWAR-B-Q in Richmond, Virginny, on Aug. 16th. And I’m not gonna lie…I have mixed feelings about this. When GWAR front-monster Oderus Urungus ditched Earth back in March, I kinda assumed it was the end of the line for his merry band of blood-spewing thrash-heads. But they’ve decided to carry on without him, which strikes me as the worst idea since Loutallica. But hey, talk me down from my ledge, Jizmak Da Gusha (from an interview with Metal Insider):

We have Mike Bishop, the original Beefcake bass player of GWAR. He’s coming back to fold to do some singing duties, but Balsac, Pustulus, Beefcake, they’re all singing. Cyborg, Destructo, Bone Snapper, all the GWAR characters have songs to fill in, and we’ve kind of taken the idea back to the original, old school, Scumdogs idea. Where Oderus, he was just the anchor, there were so many characters and so many different people singing songs, and so much action and gore and death on the stage in the old days that it wasn’t like it was more recently, where we stripped away all of that and made Oderus the focal point. The old Scumdogs of GWAR, there’s chaos everywhere, and Oderus is just the anchor to it. So we’re kind of going back to the old format, embracing it… I think people are going to respond to it. No one would respect us if we just threw another guy in the costume and said “Oh here’s Oderus’ replacement.” There is no way to replace Dave Brockie, not in a million years.

OK, I’m less scared now. A reunion of all former GWAR Scumdogs, with everyone taking turns on lead vocals? This could be good. It could be like a big GWAR circus, all honoring Dave/Oderus’ memory. OK, I’m totally in! Also, I may have just teared up a little. Sorry, GWAR makes me sentimental.

In addition to GWAR 2.0, the GWAR-B-Q is also going to feature such skull-crushing experts at Hatebreed, Goatwhore, The Misfits, The Meatmen, and fuckin’ Ice-T and Body Count. For tickets, go here.

In other GWAR news: Plans are moving ahead to open the first GWARbar in Richmond, featuring “intergalactic gourmet junk food” and, of course, GWAR-brand beer (start with the Impaled Pale Ale and switch to the Killsner when you’re too drunk to stand). GWAR’s own Mike Derks, aka Balsac the Jaws of Death, will be the chef. By the way, if you click that GWARbar link at the top of this paragraph, you will see that the name “Balsac the Jaws of Death” just got printed in the Washington Post. This makes us happy.

I’m going to play this post out with a classic clip of GWAR on The Joan Rivers Show sometime around 1990, partially because it gives you a chance to see Mike Bishop, the original Beefcake, in action. But mostly because it’s funny as fuck.

Primus are doing their take on “Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory”

Primus and the Chocolate Factory

Primus’ next album might be, at least conceptually, their weirdest yet: They’re doing their own spin on the music from the immortal 1971 film Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. The album, called Primus & the Chocolate Factory (with the Fungi Ensemble), is set for release Oct. 21st on ATO Records and features the “definitive” Primus lineup: Les Claypool, guitarist Larry LaLonde and returning drummer Tim Alexander, with help from members of the Les Claypool Frog Brigade (operating, we presume, under the name Fungi Ensemble). It’s the first time the Claypool/LaLonde/Alexander lineup has recorded a full-length album together since 1995’s Tales From the Punchbowl.

In discussing his motivation for doing a Willy Wonka-inspired album, Claypool doesn’t mince words: According to the press release, he was largely inspired by his hatred of the 2005 Tim Burton film version of Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book. “I think like a good portion of the planet, we were all pretty put off by the remake of the Willy Wonka movie — the Tim Burton version,” says Claypool. “Look, I love me some Tim Burton, when he writes his own stuff, and I respect what Johnny Depp has done over the years.  Hell, Ed Wood is one of my favorite films, but that (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) is just unwatchable and believe me I’ve tried…twice as a matter of fact. Even my kids hated it.”

I’m not exactly sure how Primus’ Zappa-esque take on songs like “Pure Imagination,” which you can hear below, is any truer to the spirit of the original Gene Wilder film version of Chocolate Factory…but I gotta admit, it’s unlike anything Primus has ever done before. Have a listen.

In other Primus news: The band shared an update via Facebook yesterday on the condition of Tim Alexander, who underwent heart surgery a couple weeks back. Sounds like the surgery was a success and he’s doing well. Here’s the full text of the post (which also includes mention of some cancelled September dates):

Tim has been home from the hospital for about 5 days and is making great progress. Thanks to all Tim’s friends in the music community and the fans for having Tim in their thoughts over the past two weeks. He is up walking around, starting some physical therapy and his wits about him as well. Unfortunately, we had to cancel the 2 set shows in Maplewood, Fargo and Clive as Tim wont be ready to play 2 sets in September. Tim is resting up at home and getting ready for his return to the stage on Oct 22nd at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia. We’ll be making a special announcement about both Riot Fest shows sometime in the near future.

That Oct. 22nd date marks the start of the Primus & the Chocolate Factory tour, which runs through November, with more dates to be announced. As Claypool says, “it gives me an excuse to wear a purple velvet waistcoat and brown top hat for the next 18 months.”

Primus & the Chocolate Factory tour dates:

10/22 – Tower Theatre – Upper Darby, PA
10/24 – Palace Theatre – Albany, NY
10/25 – Orpheum Theatre – Boston, MA
10/26 – Flynn Center for Performing Arts – Burlington, VT
10/28 – Palace Theater – Waterbury, CT
10/29 – Hippodrome – Baltimore, MD
10/31 – Beacon Theatre – New York, NY
11/01 – State Theatre – New Brunswick, NJ
11/02 – Main Street Armory – Rochester, NY
11/03 – The Fillmore Detroit – Detroit, MI
11/05 – Peabody Opera House – St. Louis, MO
11/07 – Taft Theatre – Cincinnati, OH
11/08 – Tabernacle – Atlanta, GA
11/09 – Hard Rock Live – Orlando, FL
11/11 – The Fillmore Miami Beach at The Jackie Gleason Theater – Miami Beach, FL
11/12 – Ruth Eckerd Hall – Clearwater, FL
11/14 – Hard Rock Hotel & Casino – Biloxi, MS
11/15 – ACL live at the Moody Theater – Austin, TX
11/16 – The Majestic Theatre – Dallas, TX
11/17 – Majestic Theatre – San Antonio, TX
11/19 – Orpheum Theatre Phoenix – Phoenix, AZ
11/21 – Orpheum Theatre LA – Los Angeles, CA

Weird of the Day: Eilert Pilarm, “Jailhouse Rock”

Eilert Pilarm

You know what this blog needs? More Elvis impersonators. Who doesn’t love a fat guy in a jumpsuit singing “Love Me Tender” and “Blue Suede Shoes”? Don’t bother answering that, because whether you love it or not, we’re gonna ram some Elvis down your throats anyway.

First up: Sweden’s weirdest and I’m gonna say best (because how much competition can be there be, really?) facsimile of The King, a middle-aged, mush-mouthed dude who goes by the name Eilert Pilarm. Like all great Elvis impersonators, Eilert doesn’t seem to actually know all the words to most Elvis songs, but he barrels through them anyway, with a lack of rhythm and timing that perfectly complements his inability to pronounce the word “Jailhouse.” Enjoy.

Shout out to reader bambiraptor666 for introducing us to Eilert Pilarm. Bambi calls him “The best Elvis impersonator in the world!” and it’s hard to argue, mostly because we’re lazy.

Mr. Vast

Mr. Vast

So as usual, we got something wrong when we first wrote about this week’s weird artiste, the inimitable Mr. Vast. We said he’s from Germany. But that’s not quite right. He is apparently based, at the moment, in Germany. But he’s British. His accent should have tipped us off, but we were probably day-drinking again. Anyway, our apologies to the entire nation of Great Britain for not properly crediting you with bestowing Mr. Vast upon the world.

Mr. Vast is the alter ego of one Henry Sargeant, an actor, musician and performance artist whose previous musical project was (or maybe still is—they’re still releasing music and Sargeant might still be involved) a jokey crew called Wevie Stonder. He relocated to Germany in 2005 and took a break from Art to become a Dad. (Not that those two occupations are mutually exclusive, but the hours are pretty brutal in both.) He returned to music in 2012 as a solo artist called Mr. Vast, making what I shall tentatively describe as tongue-in-cheek New Wave electro-glam-pop until somebody comes up with something catchier to describe his bizarre but surprisingly infectious tunes.

At his best, Mr. Vast reminds us a little of our current favorite Australian weirdo, Kirin J Callinan. Like Callinan, there’s something highly theatrical and fully formed about Mr. Vast, like he’s already a rock star and the world just hasn’t discovered him yet. Also like Callinan, he’s capable of being both unabashedly pop and slightly avant-garde, often in the same song, and doing both in a way that feels both fully committed and slightly tongue-in-cheek. Take, for example, “Teflon Country,” which might be a country-fried psych-rock parody, or it might be actual country-fried psych-rock, albeit one with a junkyard dog impersonation in the middle of it:

That’s from Mr. Vast’s one and only album, by the way, a brilliant, 14-track opus called Grievous Bodily Charm that we pretty much can’t stop listening to. It’s got sci-fi Afro-pop workouts (“Process of Illumination”), fuzz-toned heavy rock freakouts (“Henry the 8th”), Groove Armada-style downtempo makeout music (“Elemental,” which contains the high-five-worthy lyric, “The sangria made me angrier”). You can listen to the whole thing on SoundCloud and decide for yourselves if it’s a masterpiece. We’re leaning towards yes, but it might be the sangria talking.

We’ll leave you with a few videos, because that’s how we do it. First up: An extended experiment in toast physics called “Buttercide.” For the record, this is one of Mr. Vast’s weirder tracks, so if you can’t hang with it, don’t give up on him yet.

Next: The far funkier “Ease & Speed,” which we maintain is best described as Gary Numan meets Professor Elemental (I think last time we said Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer, but hey, po-tay-to, po-tah-to).

And finally, here’s a glimpse of Mr. Vast live and in concert. Well, it’s not so much a glimpse as a bit fat fucking eyeful. Not since David Byrne has oversized costumery looked so sexy.

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