Weird Live Review: Sparks

Sparks at the Ace Hotel

It’s not every day you get to hear music by any band on our Weird List rendered by a 38-piece orchestra. It’s even more remarkable when that band is Sparks, the quirk-pop duo of Ron and Russell Mael, and even more remarkable when the focus of the event isn’t one of their more symphonic efforts like Lil’ Beethoven but their 1974 glam-rock opus Kimono My House, which featured nary a string section but plenty of fuzzy guitar solos and Russell Mael’s swooping falsetto vocals at their most mock-operatic.

The Mael brothers first gave Kimono My House the orchestral treatment last December in London, and decided to follow up those shows with a similar two-night run in their hometown of Los Angeles. The setting for both performances was the suitably stately Theatre at Ace Hotel, formerly the United Artists movie palace, a spectacularly ornate room with Gothic decorations nearly as elaborate as the music from Kimono My House.

As I usually do these days, I wrote the full review of the show for my day job over at L.A. Weekly. So you can read my full account on their site. Suffice it to say that while the orchestral reimagining of Kimono My House, most of the highlights (for me, anyway) came in the show’s second half, when they played an assortment of songs spanning Sparks’ amazing four-decade catalog. And at least one of those highlights involved a monkey. (And no, I’m not referring to Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos. Although he did insert himself into the proceedings. I’m still not sure how I feel about that Sparks/Franz collab.)

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Weird of the Day: Pulsallama, “The Devil Lives in My Husband’s Body”

Pulsallama

Reader Eddie sent us a link to this video by an all-female ’80s group from New York called Pulsallama, a short-lived art-punk ensemble made up almost entirely of percussionists, plus some bass guitar and the occasional horn line (because this was the ’80s, after all). According to their Facebook page, their sound was sometimes described, pretty accurately, as “13 girls fighting over a cowbell” (though they eventually slimmed down to a svelte seven-piece). After opening for The Clash and releasing a couple of singles, they disbanded in 1982.

This song, “The Devil Lives in My Husband’s Body,” was a minor college radio hit, which is just further proof of something we’ve been saying for years: The ’80s were an awesome time for weird music.

If you want to learn more about Pulsallama, fringe culture experts Dangerous Minds (who else?) have a great summary of the band’s brief career.

Weird of the Day: Erleen Nada, “Psychedelic Spaceship”

Erleen Nada

I don’t know about you, but some of my favorite weird music videos are the ones where you can quite tell if the band is kidding or not. When I first watched “Psychedelic Spaceship” from self-proclaimed “sassy synth master” Erleen Nada, I was sure the whole thing was a big goof. Now I’ve watched it like 10 times, because it’s awesome, and I can’t tell anymore. She’s like the sexy lovechild of Jan Terri and Fred Schneider. Is she really gonna take a ride on a psychedelic spaceship? Is she really infinity? I think maybe she is. Take me with you, Erleen!

For more from Erleen, who’s yet another weirdo from right here in Lost Anjealous, check out her website.

“Devo Hardcore Live!” is coming via PledgeMusic

DEVO

Remember when we told you about how awesome the Hardcore DEVO tour was? Still bummed that you missed it? Or you went, but you just can’t get enough “Bamboo Bimbo” and “Clockout”? Well, good news: DEVO documented one of the shows on the tour and is gearing up to release the whole thing in a variety of formats via MVD Entertainment and the crowdfunding site PledgeMusic.

For as little as $10, you can get a digital download of Devo Hardcore Live!—or you can spring for a little extra and get the soundtrack on CD or vinyl, as well as the film itself on DVD or Blu Ray. There are also goodies like signed T-shirts, concert posters and set lists. The trailer for the film posted on the PledgeMusic site looks pretty sharp, so this should be a great memento for you hardcore Devo-tees out there.

The campaign is already nearly 50% funded (PledgeMusic doesn’t reveal total dollar amounts), but don’t think of this as a donation. It’s more like a glorified pre-order.

We’ll leave you with a more lo-fi glimpse of the Hardcore DEVO tour. This is “Jocko Homo,” from the Seattle stop of the tour, just a few days before they filmed the whole thing in Oakland. Yep, still pretty weird after all these years.

Weird of the Day: Mr. Vast, “Ease and Speed”

Mr. Vast

It’s fitting that today’s weirdo, Mr. Vast, looks a little hungover in his promo photo. He’s from Germany and presumably that entire country is a bit bleary-eyed today after celebrating their historic World Cup win.

It’s also fitting that the track we’re going to share from Mr. Vast is called “Ease and Speed,” because that pretty accurately describes how the Germans dispatched Brazil yesterday. He’s actually got weirder music, but “Ease and Speed” just seemed too timely to pass up. Plus the video is jam-packed with the kind of green-screen tomfoolery we just never tire of, and Mr. Vast comes on like a groovy cross between Gary Numan and Mr. B the Gentleman Rhymer. It’s good shit.

[Update: Turns out we’re full of shit and Mr. Vast is English. But he’s based in Germany. And the shit we wrote about the World Cup is funny, so we’re leaving it. Sorry, Brazil.]

For more Mr. Vast, visit his official website.

Weird of the Day: Pocket Lips, “It’s Amazing (The Incredible Dance)”

Pocket Lips

We’ve been doing this blog for a long time, so we like to think we’ve gotten pretty good at tracking down information about obscure artists over the years. But every once in awhile, one of you eagle-eyed readers points us to something so far off the pop culture grid, no combination of Google search terms yields many results. That certainly seems to be the case with the South African novelty act Pocket Lips.

A reader named Shane sent us a link to Pocket Lips’ one and only hit—and yes, by accounts it was a hit in South Africa back in 1987, when it climbed all the way up to No. 6 on the local pop charts. Also by all accounts, the band was a studio project made up of producers/musicians Ian Osrin (actually a highly respected South African recording engineer and record producer with an extensive list of legit credits), Zack Haynes and Sam Wingate, plus a vocalist named Keith Berel who had previously fronted a popular Johannesburg band called Flash Harry. How all these apparently talented individuals came to record a song as ridiculous as “It’s Amazing (The Incredible Dance)” is a bit of a mystery—although I suppose the bigger mystery is how a song as ridiculous as “It’s Amazing (The Incredible Dance)” became a top 10 hit. Was pop radio under apartheid a whites-only affair? Maybe that might explain it.

At any rate, this ridiculous song  from this ridiculous band (not be confused with a more recent U.K. act called Pocket Lips, who are also ridiculous, but for different reasons) has an equally ridiculous video, which we will now share with you because ridiculous is kind of our thing. Enjoy.

Weird Live Review: Hardcore DEVO

Devo at the Wiltern

These day’s, it’s pretty common for veteran bands to dedicate entire shows to a single album. Everyone from the Pixies to Cheap Trick to Kraftwerk have jumped on that particular nostalgia bandwagon. What’s rarer is for bands to focus an entire tour around their earliest, most obscure material. But that’s exactly what DEVO have chosen to do for their Hardcore DEVO Live tour, which is based entirely on songs they wrote and/or recorded before the release of their first album, 1978’s Q: Are We Not Men? A: We Are Devo! And judging from the audience response at the Wiltern Theatre here in Los Angeles last night, it was a smart decision. Turns out plenty of DEVO fans are super-excited to hear the band playing material that they mostly haven’t performed live in over 30 years.

There was no opening act, so the band took the stage promptly at 8:30 p.m.: Original DEVO-ers Mark and Bob Mothersbaugh and Jerry Casale, plus drummer Josh Freese, who’s been with the band more or less continuously since 1996. The stage set was cleverly made up to look vaguely like the Ohio basement in which the band started, with backdrops painted to look like cinderblocks, topped by translucent panels doubling as dirty windows. Mark sat at his keyboard reading a newspaper. “Nixon says he’s resigning,” he announced, his voice distorted to sound robotic and cartoonish. “I think 1974 is gonna be a good year.” Then he proceeded to hurl packs of cigarettes into the audience. “Got any Chesterfields?” Jerry asked. “I already gave away the one pack,” Mark quipped.

Devo

With the scene set and the hijinks out of the way, the band launched into “Mechanical Man,” the first track from the highly sought-after Hardcore Devo compilation that collected all their early demos onto CD for the first time back in 1990. From there the band proceeded to tear many of Hardcore Devo‘s best-known tracks: “Auto Modown/Space Girls Blues,” “I Been Refused,” “Bamboo Bimbo,” plus a few true obscurities like the bluesy “Beehive,” which someone at the Denver stop of this tour was smart enough to capture on film:

Serious DEVO fans probably also known this song from Jerry Casale’s Jihad Jerry side project, which revived the track in 2006. Throughout the Hardcore show, it was fun to see Jerry taking lead vocals duties as often as Mark—a reminder that, in the band’s early days, they didn’t have a true frontman. Bob 1 got a few turns on the mic, too, including “Baby Talkin’ Bitches,” one of several guitar-heavy early DEVO tracks that reveal the band’s roots in Midwestern proto-punk:

About midway through their set, the band got up from their stools and changed costumes, putting on the blue “workmen’s” suits and blue hardhats that served as their earliest band uniforms. From there, they launched into some better-known early tracks that definitely got the crowd more revved up (up until that point, apart from the one guy dancing like a lunatic directly in front of me, it was clear that most in attendance weren’t very familiar with the material).

This was the part of the show that included their brilliantly off-kilter cover of the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction,” as well as several tracks from the 1974-77 era that eventually found their way onto Are We Not Men? and Duty Now for the Future: “Timing X,” “Uncontrollable Urge,” “Jocko Homo,” “Gut Feeling.” The crowd also knew many of the words to “Be Stiff,” a longtime live favorite, and “Fountain of Filth,” a punk rave-up with a shout-along chorus that could almost pass for a Ramones song. (In the video below, you can see Jerry wearing the creepy, transparent doll masks they donned earlier for “Jocko Homo,” another nod to the theatrics of their early days.)

They only played a two-song encore, but it was a pretty great two songs. First, Mark Mothersbaugh came out dressed as Booji Boy, one of the band’s early representations of devolution. This time around, he was dressed up sort of like a Teletubbie, in a pink hooded jumpsuit with cartoon eyes drawn over the hood. He also came onstage pushing a walker, perhaps an ironic nod to the fact that DEVO first introduced the character nearly 40 years ago.

After Mark’s solo performance of “Booji Boy’s Funeral” and “U Got Me Bugged”—definitely two of the weirdest songs in the entire DEVO catalog—the entire band came back out to wrap up the show with a rousing rendition of “Clockout,” featuring Bob Casale’s son Alex on bass. (A song they hadn’t played live since 1977, according to Jerry.) It was one of several nods to Bob 2 (and to late drummer Alan Myers) sprinkled throughout the evening, all of which felt fitting but never heavy-handed.

Overall, the band did a remarkably good job of keeping the show from lapsing into one big nostalgia-fest. The sheer rawness of the early DEVO songs probably helped in that regard, but so did the high-energy performances of the band. Even if they need to sit on stools these days to make it through a 90-minute set, the surviving Casale and the brothers Mothersbaugh can still rock out pretty convincingly for a bunch of guys well into their sixties. In my blurry Instagram photos, you’d swear they haven’t aged a day.

Devo

Since there was no opening act, the show ended on the early side, around 10:00 p.m. I heard a few protests from the crowd—a few people had probably hoped they would play some more “hits” in the encore—but as far as I’m concerned, the Hardcore DEVO show delivered exactly as promised. For the truly hardcore DEVO fans in attendance, especially that one dancing lunatic right in front of me (“How can you not to dance to this?” he shouted to no one in particular during “Ono”), it might have been their last chance to hear their heroes resurrect those songs they created back when they were a bunch of restless art students in an Akron basement.