Weird Live Review: Kirin J Callinan

Kirin J Callinan live

The universe really did not want me to see Kirin J Callinan at the Echoplex last night. First, I wasn’t on the guest list as promised by his label. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but I’m about to be unemployed so I’m trying to avoid frivolous expenditures like weird band concerts. I was about to spring for the $20 when a woman who had arrived just behind me said, “Want to be my plus-one?” So maybe the universe was on my side last night after all.

But then, just as Callinan was about to go on, I got sucked into a bizarre debate about the biological and ethical imperatives of veganism with my new friend at the bar, which in the Echoplex is at the very back of the venue, approximately one million feet from the stage. “Humans didn’t evolve to be carnivores,” my guest list savior was explaining to me and two other women she had just met at the bar. “We don’t have carnivore teeth. Our stomach acids can’t break down animal protein. I’m going to send you a YouTube video of a lecture on this. It’s all been proven scientifically.” Meanwhile, Callinan was setting up his guitar pedals, dressed in a white silk kimono, as though he had just wandered in from a spa. Even under the kimono, he looked paradoxically both gaunt and muscular. I wondered if he was vegan.

I escaped the veganism debate just in time to score a spot right up against the stage right drum riser, where the thunder of the drummer’s kick drum made my non-carnivore teeth rattle. It was so loud next to the drums that I couldn’t even tell you what the first song was, but it was rivetingly intense and aggressive. Live, Callinan has the tightly coiled stage presence (and impressively large, imperious schnoz) of a young Pete Townshend. I feared for the safety of a heckler who kept yelling, “Take it off!” “You want it?” Callinan shot back, fingering the collar of his kimono. It was unclear whether the “it” was the kimono or Callinan’s nakedness. “You can start by buying me a drink, don’t you think? I’m serious.” (The heckler did not buy him a drink.)

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Callinan’s three-piece backing band—drums, bass, keyboards—had clearly been instructed to remain entirely expressionless. The drummer, a sinewy German whose name was either Hunter or Gunter, had an impressive knack for staring out into the audience and not moving his head at all, even when the rest of him was wailing away on a particularly frenzied passage. Even when Callinan introduced the band—the keyboard player, it turned out, was his younger brother—not one of them cracked so much as a smirk.

The brute force of “Come On USA” certainly knocked the audience back on its heels a bit—”Very Marilyn Manson!” one person exclaimed—but for me, it was the gentler songs that best showcased Callinan’s talents, both as a crafter of melody and as an emotive, room-silencing performer. “Victoria M.” is every bit the New Wave anthem live that it is on record, and “Landslide” is a broken-hearted hymn worthy of Leonard Cohen. When Callinan starts to howl, “The stars are all dirt, and God is in the water, and Hell is right here on Earth,” you catch a glimpse of what a superstar this guy might become.

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Did he eventually take off that kimono, and also his shirt? Of course he did. Every Kirin J Callinan performance, as near as I can tell, has a bit of a striptease quality to it. Before he even played a note, he began the show by taking off a pair of white gloves.

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Callinan ended the show, as I’d hoped he would, with “The Toddler,” his hilarious a cappella number sung from the point of view of a swaggering two-year-old who brags, “All the pre-school cougars wanna get with me, they’re nearly twice my age!” The crowd helped him keep the beat by clapping along, but we couldn’t quite figure out how to help him sing the chorus, though he kept asking us to. Kirin J Callinan isn’t really the type of performer one sings along with.

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I have to end this review by thanking my new concert buddy, Karrie from Minneapolis. We may never agree on veganism, Karrie, but next time you’re in L.A., I owe you a plus-one!

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Weird Live Review: Tinariwen

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I’ve been a huge fan of the Tuareg nomad group Tinariwen ever since somebody put a copy of the album Aman Iman: Water Is Life in my hands about seven years ago. Their fusion of American-style psych-rock guitar with the loping grooves of West African folk music was mesmerizing; the layered guitars seemed to swirl around each other like dust devils, evoking the vastness of the Saharan Desert and the heartache of life in a war-torn part of the world.

Tinariwen tours often enough now that I’ve had many opportunities to see them, but somehow I never quite got around to it. I think part of me was afraid their live show couldn’t possibly live up to my mental image of the band, way out there in deserts of northern Mali, jamming far into the night around a campfire on a stolen generator.

Well, there was no desert sky or campfire at the Belasco Theater, a new/old venue in downtown Los Angeles that recently reopened after a major renovation. But the stately old Gothic/Spanish theater, a former burlesque house opened in 1926, was a surprisingly fitting place to experience Tinariwen’s music, which has its own kind of grandeur and sense of history to it.

Tinariwen has been around long enough that their de facto leader, Ibrahim Ag Alhabib, is too old to tour. But the rest of the band’s core remains intact, and their newest member, a handsome young dude named Sadam Iyar Imarhan, ably fills in Ag Alhabib’s guitar parts and many of his vocals. At the Belasco, he shared guitar and vocal duties with veteran members Abdallah Ag Alhousseyni and Alhassane Ag Touhami, while younger Tinariweners Elaga Ag Hamid, Eyadou Ag Leche and Said Ag Ayad backed them up on rhythm guitar, bass and percussion, respectively.

I had expected to hear layers upon layers of interlocking guitars, but to my surprise, the “frontmen” mainly took turns, each singing lead vocals and playing lead guitar for a song or two while the others stood to the side and sang backup vocals (or, in the case of the charismatic Ag Touhami, danced his ass off). At first, this disappointed me a little—I wanted a guitar army! A Phil Spector of the Sahara wall of sound! But I quickly realized that each player’s leads were so intricate that they would have been lost in more complex arrangements. All of them play beautifully, but I was especially entranced by new member Imarhan, who adds a little rock ‘n’ roll to the band’s mesmerizing sound. There were a few times where he and bassist Ag Leche (who plays a Fender bass upside down and left-handed, like a badass) locked grooves and I thought the mostly mellow crowd was going to start freaking out like they were at a My Morning Jacket concert.

The Belasco has great sightlines, so I was able to wander around and get some decent photos from nearly every angle. Obviously, in their traditional robes and turbans, Tinariwen are a visually arresting band, but watching them live, you forget about their appearance pretty quickly. What you’re left with is the music, which is some of the most hypnotic you’ll hear from any part of the world.

Tinariwen recorded their latest album, Emmaar, not far from L.A. in Joshua Tree. They’re actually back there tonight at a little desert nightclub called Pappy and Harriet’s. Now that must be an amazing place to see them. Maybe next time.

The rest of Tinariwen’s 2014 tour dates are listed after the photos. Whether or not you’re a fan of so-called “world music,” I highly recommend checking them out. I know we say this a lot of this blog, but there is truly no one else like them.

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Tinariwen 2014 world tour:

21 APRIL 2014 – PHOENIX (AZ), US : MIM MUSIC THEATER
22 APRIL 2014 – EL PRADO (NM), US : TAOS MESA BREWING
24 APRIL 2014 – NEW ORLEANS (LA), US : HOUSE OF BLUES
25 APRIL 2014 – LAFAYETTE (LA), US : FESTIVAL INTERNATIONAL DE LOUISIANE
26 APRIL 2014 – LAFAYETTE (LA), US : FESTIVAL INTERNATIONAL DE LOUISIANE
29 APRIL 2014 – CRETEIL, FRANCE : MAISON DES ARTS DE CRETEIL
30 APRIL 2014 – LUXEMBOURG, LUXEMBOURG : ROCKHAL

03 MAY 2014 – CHELTENHAM, UK : CHELTENHAM JAZZ FESTIVAL
04 MAY 2014 – BELFAST, UK : MARQUEE FEST, CUSTOM HOUSE SQUARE
05 MAY 2014 – BRISTOL, UK : ST GEORGE’S
06 MAY 2014 – LEEDS, UK : OPERA NORTH
10 MAY 2014 – UMEA, SWEDEN : MADE FESTIVAL

27 JUNE 2014 – GLASTONBURY, UK : GLASTONBURY FESTIVAL
28 JUNE 2014 – CORK, IRELAND : CORK OPERA HOUSE
29 JUNE 2014 – WESTPORT, IRELAND : WESTPORT FESTIVAL

01 JULY 2014 – DUBLIN, IRELAND : NATIONAL CONCERT HALL
03 JULY 2014 – SAINT ETIENNE, FRANCE : FESTIVAL DES 7 COLLINES
04 JULY 2014 – AMSTERDAM, NETHERLANDS : PITCH FESTIVAL
11 JULY 2014 – BARCELONA, SPAIN : CRUÏLLA BARCELONA
12 JULY 2014 – AIX-LES-BAINS, FRANCE : MUSILAC
18 JULY 2014 – CARHAIX, FRANCE : LES VIEILLES CHARRUES
19 JULY 2014 – SOUTHWOLD, UK : LATITUDE FESTIVAL
23 JULY 2014 – BRECON, UK : THEATR BRYCHEINIOG
24 JULY 2014 – CARDIFF, UK : SAINT DAVID’S HALL
29 JULY 2014 – WESPORT, UK : WESTPORT FESTIVAL

01 AUGUST 2014 – SAINT-NAZAIRE, FRANCE : LES ESCALES
07 AUGUST 2014 – GOTHENBURG, SWEDEN : WAY OUT FESTIVAL
08 AUGUST 2014 – HELSINKI, FINLAND : FLOW FESTIVAL
09 AUGUST 2014 – NR. WINCHESTER, UK : BOOMTOWN FESTIVAL
13 AUGUST 2014 – FRAISANS, FRANCE : NO LOGO FESTIVAL
15 AUGUST 2014 – ESCOT PARK DEVON, UK : BEAUTIFUL DAYS FESTIVAL
16 AUGUST 2014 – TRUYES, FRANCE : FESTIVAL COSMOPOLITE
23 AUGUST 2014 – CHARLEVILLE-MÉZIÈRES, FRANCE : CABARET VERT
24 AUGUST 2014 – SAINT-CLOUD, FRANCE : ROCK EN SEINE
30 AUGUST 2014 – NAMUR, BELGIUM : LA FÊTE DES SOLIDARITÉS
31 AUGUST 2014 – NR. SALISBURY, UK : END OF THE ROAD FESTIVAL

Weird Live Review: Lesile and The LYs

Leslie Hall at The Satellite, Los Angeles

I was still a good two blocks away from The Satellite, where I would be attending the camp-pop explosion that is Leslie Hall and her band Leslie & The LYs, when I spotted my first pair of gold spandex booty shorts. It was the first clue that a.) this show was going to be a people-watching bonanza and b.) I had clearly under-dressed for the occasion.

I needn’t have worried about the second part, though. The whole message of Leslie Hall’s goofy, celebratory music is that we’re all fabulous, no matter what size our asses are or what we chose to clad them in when we left the house. Yes, there were shiny and sparkly Leslie fans in abundance inside The Satellite—but some of us were just shiny and sparkly on the inside.

But the outwardly sparkly ones were more fun to photograph

The show began with a knowingly awkward, low-budget video about Leslie and her sidekicks time-traveling into the future on a quest to obtain the Golden Beats. (No, I’m not telling whether or not they succeeded—no spoilers! You’ll just have to go to the show and see for yourself.) Then Leslie emerged, resplendent in gold and macrame, and launched into “Blame the Booty,” the first of several songs about her “lower regions,” as she delicately put it.

Nothing else about Leslie Hall is the least bit delicate, which is what makes her so awesome. She’s a big, loud Midwestern gal, with a personality at least 10 times larger than her dress size. During and between songs, she worked the crowd with banter that would put any stand-up comedian to shame, over-sharing about everything from her flat ass (“If you bring a pillow to a three-hour movie, I feel you”) to her crafting addiction (“When you need to rent one of those storage units and you’re still in your twenties…”).

Her stage set was, as she put it, “Vegas-style production at Midwest prices.” It started out just looking like some stage flats draped in gold fabric. Then her backup singers rotated the whole thing sideways to reveal a bedazzled Leslie visage, which then split in two to reveal her whole band. The effect was pretty delightful considering the whole thing probably fits in one of those little U-Haul trailers.

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The drums weren’t mic’ed and the keyboards weren’t plugged in. Did it matter? Hell no.

Leslie & the LYs are touring in support of Songs in the Key of Gold, a dance remix collection of Leslie’s greatest hits. (Remember how fantastic it was when that used to be a thing? I still have the Billy Idol dance remix collection on cassette somewhere and I stand by that purchase 100%.) This was good news for us because it meant that Les was there to play the hits and play them for maximum danceosity. Although I suspect that’s pretty much what she does on all her tours.

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Getting a wardrobe assist from the LYs. She's like James Brown!
Getting a wardrobe assist from the LYs. She’s like James Brown!

The only real break in the action came when Leslie invited several fans up on stage for a little gem sweater fashion show. The girl who won—who did indeed have a pretty spectacular sweater—was so excited I thought she might start shrieking like a nine-year-old at a One Direction concert. But she managed to hold it together enough to dance along to “Craft Talk,” the best-known of Leslie Hall’s many musical paeans to the art of bedazzling.

This guy didn't win, but the back of his sweater did say, "Shazam, I'm glamorous!" So in a way, he's always winning.
This guy didn’t win, but the back of his sweater did say, “Shazam, I’m glamorous!” So in a way, he’s always winning.

Other highlights:

There was a tribute to Leslie’s cat Shania, “#1 Cat in America,” which was also an excuse for her to have audience members pass up their cell phones to share their cat pictures. (I immediately regretted that I switched wallpapers awhile back and no longer had this to share.) That number also featured a set of giant cardboard cat legs that rose up behind the stage while someone pretending to be Shania squeaked into an offstage microphone: “Hi, Mom! I hid inside your luggage!”

In lieu of a conventional encore (“We don’t have any more songs,” Leslie said apologetically. “Besides, it’s Monday. Don’t you all have lives? Jobs?”), she and the LYs led the crowd in a little impromptu post-show dance party. “This is the dance started it all!” she declared over Britney Spears’ “Toxic,” busting out a move she called “scooping the driveway.”

At the very end of the show, her minions rotated the backdrop again to reveal a toll free phone number. “I do check my messages,” she assured the crowd, before heading backstage to soak her feet and have some pizza: “I need to float these feminine ankles in the old Epsom bath.”

Go ahead, call her!
Go ahead, call her!

The song that maybe best epitomizes the Leslie Hall mojo was her finale: “Shazam I’m Glamorous”: a call-and-response anthem in which Leslie entreats her fans to tell her she’s glamorous—and of course they do, fervently. And every time they do, her face scrunches up with delight and she squeals “Thank you!” with complete sincerity. The positive feedback loop between Leslie Hall and her fans is a beautiful thing to behold. I think we all left the show feeling a bit more glamorous—even those of us who were only sparkly on the inside.

Weird Live Review: Kyary Pamyu Pamyu

Kyary Pamyu Pamyu at Club Nokia Los Angeles February 16 2014
This and all other non-sucky photos by Hernan Perez

I gotta be honest: I have no frame of reference for reviewing a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu concert. I had never been to a J-pop show before, unless you count Trippple Nippples, which I don’t. Where the Trippp Nippps are clearly trying to be a little edgier and more “arty,” KPP is gleefully, blissfully, unironically out to sweep her audience away under a raging torrent of cuteness. It was quite possibly the most ridiculous show I have ever been to, and definitely one of the happiest. If you walk out of a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu concert wearing a frowny face, you need to adjust your meds.

So is KPP fairly typical of a J-pop show? I have no idea. All I know is not since the ’90s heyday of candy raving have my eyeballs been bombarded with such a colorful display. Oh, and the music was pretty good, too. Even though it was all just a pre-recorded backing track, including most (all?) of the vocals. You don’t go to a KPP show because you want to hear an extended version of the piano solo on “Mottai Night Land.”

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There was a set that looked like the bedroom of a giant toddler. There were Oompa-Loompa-like backup dancers. There was a dancing rabbit and a dancing bear. There was an inexplicably bizarre video interlude, to cover for one of Kyary’s many costume changes, that featured her playing poker with a bunch of scary-looking Americans and posing next to a motor scooter like a kawaii James Dean. There were not, sadly, any of the dancing fuzz-monsters from the “Invader Invader” video, but they did throw in that song’s dope-ass dubstep breakdown—and in case you’re wondering, yes, Kyary Pamyu Pamyu is still totally adorable, even when dancing to dubstep. Her adorableness defies all logic and the basic laws of the space-time continuum. All the kitten videos on YouTube contain less cumulative adorableness than a single KPP dance move. I can’t explain it, but it is so.

The crowd was almost as much fun as the show, full of elaborately costumed J-pop fans of all ages, races and even styles—there were more than a few goth/steampunk dolls in attendance, sprinkled amidst the expected packs of girls in frilly pink princess dresses. I tried to snap a few pics but when you’re a middle-aged guy at a J-pop show, you have to be careful about who you point your camera at. Fortunately, others with more balls and better cameras were there, too.

My arms are still tired from doing the “Fashion Monster” dance, so I’m going to stop typing now and just leave you with a couple more photos. As you can see, we got there late and our seats weren’t the best. I did try to capture the energy of the crowd in that one shot, though. Yeah, people were really into it.

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Weird Live Review: Author and Punisher

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In our dystopian future, when the machines take over and we humans are forced to live in abandoned subway tunnels, our new cyborg overlords are gonna have massive raves in ruined sports arenas, where they’ll blast Author & Punisher out of speaker stacks mounted atop piles of human skulls. This is ambient/industrial drone metal for Terminators, played on machines that appear to be just a few microchips away from bidding us “Hasta la vista, baby” and cranking the bass up till our internal organs turn to jelly.

Under his Author & Punisher nom de drone, Tristan Shone records and performs music made entirely on homemade instruments that look like a steampunk fusion of exercise equipment and a B-movie mad scientist’s lab. Percussion emanates from a massive side-mounted piston made of cranks and tank treads; vocals echo forth from gas masks and lunatic asylum neck restraints. Even an otherwise traditional set of keyboards gets mounted to a Tim Burtonesque set of pipes and levers that Shone maneuvers into place with the grim yet frantic determination of an axe murderer trying to drag a body down the basement stairs. It’s sort of like watching the Willy Wonka of industrial music; every song reveals a new mind-boggling toy, an Everlasting Gobstopper of skin-crawling noise and organ-liquefying bass.

At first it all seems a bit gimmicky, but there’s a raw, visceral quality to Shone’s music that transcends the machinery. He’s especially compelling at coming up with cool new ways to manipulate his voice. At one point, he appeared to be just throwing his head back and making angry faces while twisting the knobs of a handheld device that emitted a series of guttural roars; then it became clear that the device was attached to some kind of microphone or vibration sensor strapped to his throat, and those guttural roars were coming from him. At the end of the song, he thanked the whooping crowd, except it came out sounding more like a caveman grunt: “Hhhunku.” High-tech machinery aside, the components of Shone’s music are primitive: grinding drones, pounding beats, an anguished human voice.

Author and Punisher at Echoplex

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We saw Author & Punisher this past Sunday night at the Echoplex here in Los Angeles. To see the rest of his January tour dates, click here.

Weird Live Review: Long Beach Zombie Walk 2013

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BRRRRAAAAAIIIIINNNNSSS!

Okay, so we didn’t dress up as zombies for the 6th annual Long Beach Zombie Walk. Instead of brains, we feasted on bacon-and-gorgonzola sliders from the Me So Hungry food truck. But hey, we were there to document. I didn’t want to get zombie gore all over my camera phone. (Except that I kind of did anyway. More on that in a moment.)

Zombies are great and all, but we were mainly there to see the bands. Radioactive Chicken Heads, Rosemary’s Billygoat, Haunted Garage and Metalachi, all in one lineup? We’d eat our mothers’ brains with a spoon to check that out.

Sadly, we missed Radioactive Chicken Heads, which was extra frustrating because we got there during the last 15 minutes of their set and just couldn’t find the entrance. Event security staff were in full-on zombie mode, too. “How do we get in?” we  kept asking, at barricade after barricade. “Ugh,” they’d reply, pointing vaguely back in the direction we’d just come from. Who do we have to eat to get into this thing?

We finally figured it out just in time to have about an hour to kill before the next set, by Rosemary’s Billygoat. We passed the time watching a lame wrestling show, a slightly less lame burlesque act, having more event staff zombie conversations about how to buy beer (“Where do I go to get my ID checked?” “Ugh! Ugggghhhh!!”) and, of course, people zombie watching. Not everybody went full undead for the occasion, but among the ones who did, there were some pretty cool makeups. Here’s our personal favorite, the only one we saw from which people actually recoiled in horror.

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Incidentally, I’m glad to see he wore his earplugs. Just because you’re dead doesn’t mean you can’t take precautions again tinnitus.

Finally. Rosemary’s Billygoat took the stage, and they did not disappoint. Frontman Mike Odd is a serious showman, entering on stilts through the crowd and performing their first head-banger strapped to an electric chair.

rosemarys5Throughout their set, R’s BG pushed the prop-rock envelope. There were pizzas sliced up into pentagrams. There were hearses spun in circles through the audience. There was a flaming baby carriage for their cover of “Hell Is for Children” by that “horror queen” (as Mike Odd referred to her), Pat Benatar. There was a flaming guitar, which I failed to get a decent picture of, but I’m posting a picture of it anyway because I love that one of the spectators in the foreground is a giant brain. [Update: We have since received a great shot of the flaming guitar from none other than Mr. Mike Odd himself. Thanks, Mike!]

The show ended with what looked like Manute Bol in a werewolf costume stumbling through the crowd. It was all quite the rock ‘n’ roll spectacle.

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Mike Odd of Rosemary's Billygoat
Photo by Todd Sharp

Next up: Haunted Garage, the recently rebooted splatter-punk ensemble led by the inimitable Dukey Flyswatter, looking fetching in an apron made of human skin (note the screaming face visible near the hem) and ass-crack-revealing biker shorts. (I failed to get a decent photo of Dukey’s ass-crack. To all humanity, my humblest apologies.) Oh yeah, and those things on his face? Mousetraps. Even the guy with the super-gross zombie makeup was probably like, “Woah, dude. Hardcore.” hauntedgarage7

“This is our first Halloween show in 20 fuckin’ years!” Dukey proudly announced. They tore through a short but furious set of Haunted Garage classics, from “Welcome to Hell” and “Bitch Like You” to “Incredible Two-Headed Transplant” and “Brain in a Jar” (complete with, yes, a brain in a jar, like something you’d see at the checkout counter of a zombie convenience store). The stage show was stripped down compared to Rosemary’s Billygoat (“We’re building it back up,” Dukey promised), but what they lacked in flaming baby carriages they more than made up for with energy, intensity and spewage. Right after “Welcome to Hell,” Dukey scored a direct hit on me and several other folks in the front row with a well-sprayed mouthful of what looked like blood but which I believe was Jack Daniels, Coke and red food coloring. At least that’s what it tasted like. Yeah, he caught me mouth-breathing, that bastard. What can I say? I was slack-jawed with admiration at their horror-punk onslaught.

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The whole band tore it up, but special recognition has to go to guitarist Erik Erath, whose screaming leads took the whole band into Priest/Maiden territory. Not bad for a guy whose brains appeared to be leaking out of his forehead.

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Oh, did I mention the giant, demonic rabbit? That’s Peter Rotten Tail, who came out and danced around for a song or two. There was also a flying monkey and some go-go dancers called the Gore Gore Girls.  But Dukey was always the center of attention. That guy’s a true rock ‘n’ roll maniac.

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After Haunted Garage, we stumbled over to a whole second fenced-off area for the Zombie Walk, which isn’t really a walk anymore—more like an aimless milling about, which I suppose is more zombie-like, come to think of it. Anyway, the headliners in this smaller area were L.A.’s preeminent metal mariachi band, Metalachi. We’ve already described the awesomeness that is a Metalachi show, so I won’t give a full recap here; I’ll just note that I believe they rocked this poor gentleman’s fucking face off:

Metalachi-fanmetalachiSo thanks for an excellent evening, Long Beach Zombie Walk! And sorry we missed you, Radioactive Chicken Heads. I’m sure you were a huge hit with the undead crowd.

Weird Live Review: Matmos

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“We’ve played some serious shitholes on this tour,” Matmos‘ M.C. Schmidt said Monday night. “But this is not one of them.”

The man did not fib. The Masonic Lodge at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery is a gorgeous space with high vaulted ceilings, great acoustics and extremely uncomfortable chairs. Chairs aside, it was the perfect space in which to soak up the many bizarre sounds put forth by M.C. Schmidt and his partner, Drew Daniel, who were there to perform tracks from their latest album, The Marriage of True Minds, as well as a few old favorites.

Matmos put on a much more entertaining show than you might reasonably expect from two dudes hunched over a couple of folding tables festooned with cables, laptops and vintage synths. Aided by members of their opening band, Horse Lords, on guitar, drums and woodwinds, they cranked out a pretty diverse and dense wall of sounds, including some made by objects one doesn’t normally see at a concert, much less one being held at a cemetery. But more on that in a sec.

Horse Lords—like Matmos, a Baltimore band—set the tone with some highly percussive post-rock that was punctuated Andrew Bernstein’s gloriously noisy, looped saxophone riffs. They weren’t quite as unhinged as Baltimore’s last great noise merchants, the late lamented Ponytail, but you can see where they have the potential to seriously fuck up some shit. No surprise Matmos invited them to serve as both opening act and touring band.

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When Matmos took the stage, they were a study in contrasts: M.C. Schmidt looked like a tweedy liberal arts professor, while Drew Daniel was decked out in full punk/industrial/leather daddy regalia, wearing a studded leather Merzbow jacket that probably had several Japanoise fans in the audience wiping drool off their chins.

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They began the set with “Very Large Green Triangles,” the lead single (if Matmos has singles) off The Marriage of True Minds. In case you haven’t been keeping up with our many Matmos posts, True Minds is the duo’s possibly serious, possibly tongue-in-cheek attempt to create an entire album using extra-sensory perception: They stuck test subjects in an isolation chamber, then tried to transmit the album to them telepathically. Then they recorded the subjects’ descriptions of what they were seeing and hearing in their isolation-chamber mind-movies and built songs around samples of those descriptions. So “Very Large Green Triangles” is based on a test subject talking about, well, seeing very large triangles. With me so far?

To evoke their mind experiments in a live setting, they had Horse Lords guitarist Owen Gardner narrate “Green Triangles” while wearing opaque glasses and giant headphones. I think we got the extended-due-to-technical-difficulties version of the track, because M.C. Schmidt kept fidgeting with the onstage sound board and making “What the fuck?” faces for about five minutes before his keyboard would emit any sound. Sucked for him, I’m sure, but it actually turned the song into an even cooler, more epic jam than it is on record.

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Credit: Philip Evans

Matmos

They followed that up, fittingly, with their cover of the Buzzcocks’ “E.S.P.”, in which Drew Daniel did a nice job channeling his Merzbow jacket into a throat-shredding lead vocal. Side note: Turns out it’s very hard to head-bang while wearing glasses. Drew kept having to hold his hand over his Warby Parkers to keep them from flying off into the audience, where they no doubt would have been used to barter him out of his Merzbow jacket.

Drew Daniel of Matmos
Credit: Philip Evans

I thought they might play more stuff from True Minds, but instead, they went right into “Lipostudio” from their surgery-sampling 2001 album, A Chance to Cut Is a Chance to Cure. To recreate the liposuction sounds from the studio track (“recorded right here in Los Angeles!” M.C. cheerfully noted), M.C. Schmidt blew what appeared to be a duck call and a small flute into a bowl of water. The effect was both cooler and grosser-sounding than you might expect.

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Credit: Philip Evans

Next came the balloons. Oh, the balloons. I’m not sure what album this track was taken from, but it was hilarious and totally magical. If there is such a thing as a balloon maestro, then M.C. Schmidt is surely one.

Matmos M.C. Schmidt plays the balloon

Did I mention the visuals? Ah, the visuals. These guys know how to keep an electronic music show interesting. Then again, they’ve played with Björk, so you’d expect nothing less.

Matmos

Matmos finished their set with a song from their 19th-century-folk-inspired album, The Civil War, which was a jaunty way to finish the show. There was whistling and something that I think was an autoharp. Until you hear them string together songs from throughout their six-odd-album career, it’s easy to forgot how insanely diverse Matmos’ catalog is. It could all easily be the work of four or five completely different groups.

Drew and M.C. wrapped things up with one of those encore-but-not-really moments when the band makes like they’re going to leave the stage, but then just mills around for a few minutes before someone finally grabs a mic and asks the usually rhetorical question, “Do you guys wanna hear one more?” (Just to be clear: I love when bands do this. Fuck the encore, stay up there and keep playing, dammit!) In response to Drew’s query, “Lounge or disco?”, the crowd wisely and lustily replied, “Disco!” So we got treated to a little Matmos-style thumpy-thumpy before having to walk back through the cemetery to our cars, which was a nice way to end a memorable evening. It would’ve been more memorable if we could’ve actually danced instead of just rocking back and forth in those uncomfortable chairs, but let’s not get greedy.

P.S. Many thanks to our buddy Phil for supplying the additional photos. And to Gary for the extra ticket. And to everyone who helped score me a seat in the second row. I am telepathically transmitting warm fuzzy feelings to you all.