LIVE: Nitzer Ebb December 1, 2009 Mod Club Toronto, Ontario
Pioneering industrial dance group Nitzer Ebb’s connection to Toronto runs deeper than you’d expect.
The reformed Chelmsford, England band’s music was the anchor for no less than a half dozen major alternative/electro club nights in this city about 15 years ago, and that scene’s survivors — the hardy misfits who still wear black, or shave the sides of their heads, or aren’t afraid to go out on a Tuesday night — were witness to a Terminator-efficient performance that was vital, vicious and without any taint of retro kitsch.
Local dance rockers OPOPO had their work cut out for them as openers. Perhaps it was because they felt too much like The Shamen or Ned’s Automic Dustbin — comparative softies from back in the day that Ebb fans would’ve defined themselves against — but the arms-crossed, shaved-headed crowd mostly no-sold the band’s high energy set.
Credit the band for continuing to barrel through, though. Neither did it hurt when vocalist/guitarist Bryan Sutherland put his hands over his eyes to shield them from the stage lights, looked out into the crowd and assured, “Hi, we’re OPOPO. We’ve got a couple songs left” mid-song. It was self-aware and self-deprecating enough that it at least softened the audience to dish polite applause for the remainder of their stage time.
The Mod Club crowd was still a little cold when Douglas McCarthy, Bon Harris and live member Jason Payne bounded onto the stage, but that would change in very short order.
During the pulsing take on the Belief album’s “Hearts & Minds” the character of this show really began to show itself. Slowly but surely, bodies started moving as McCarthy flung himself across the stage in his suit and tie like a sinister Max Headroom while Harris and Payne pounded away at dueling drum kits.
Showtime‘s underground classic “Lightning Man” further elevated things. Hundreds of raised fists matched McCarthy’s shouts of “Baby! Come to daddy!” as a strange sort of hive mentality broke out on the Mod Club floor. It would be too gag-y and ravespeak to say there was a sense of “unity,” but as the band pushed on through “Blood Money” and “Godhead” the audience felt transformed.
No longer was it about the individual fan as much as it was about the interlocking mechanical parts that were the bodies that were moving, punching and stomping along to a fascinating machine language. If this was a collective synesthesia, the participants weren’t seeing colours, but instead phantasmal hammer strikes, gear shifts and piston firings as the band pressed on.
By the time the Ebb unveiled That Total Age‘s “Murderous,” McCarthy had lost the jacket, skewed the tie and the industrio-trance was in full effect.
There had been very little in the way of stage banter up ’til that point and there would be very little as the band continued. Besides, McCarthy was already saying all the important things he wanted to say in his songs — which mostly involved commands for people to get on their knees.
Nobody actually did drop down, but there were a few who were surely close during the surprisingly anthemic “Control, I’m Here” and the not-as-bad-as-I-remembered “Ascend.”
The only logical choice to close their set was dark club banger “Join In The Chant” and, sure enough, pretty much everyone did in fact join in the chant. Somewhere in there, McCarthy lost his shirt and that mechanical trance broke down into chaotic flailing, those machine parts oscillating so wildly that overheating was inevitable.
The Ebb’s short encore concluded with McCarthy doing his best Dave Gahan for an arms-wide-open take on “I Give To You.” Having made so many demands of all the little machines all night, it was the perfect gesture to give something back. It was a decidedly human way to end the show, but it felt a bit like a warning, too, and left little doubt that Nitzer Ebb would be back.
This story was originally published December 2, 2009 via Chart Communications.
International pop star Sia made a movie called Music that was, in theory, about autistic representation.
When Sarah reviewed the film for TIME her chief concerns where that the film could potentially be “patronizing, exploitive and genuinely harmful.” What she found out was that, in addition to arguably being many of those things, it was also simply bad art.
LIVE: My Bloody Valentine September 25, 2008 Kool Haus Toronto, Ontario
If you take a couple of normal folks and put them in front of a loud Creedence Clearwater Revival cover band, the ensuing noise will likely shake them out of their vanilla lives into fits of dancing. At a certain level, it’s not even about whether the band are any good, so much as it’s about the normies having this genuine “I’ve-never-felt-like-this-before” gut response to facing blasting rhythmic noise.
Pack a couple thousand hipsters into a warehouse space and crank waves of feedback at them, and they basically turn into your uncle Stan marking out to “Suzie Q” in the exact same way. I know because that was pretty much the reaction on Thursday night to My Bloody Valentine’s return to a Toronto stage after a 16-year absence.
Yeah, I’m in total agreement with everyone else: Loveless is a wonderful record. And I spent many hours zoning out to that album in the early ’90s. Unfortunately, My Bloody Valentine’s live show — which is built upon the foundations of a) being really fucking loud and b) featuring undulating pulses of piercing white noise — stomps out any of the subtlety and nuance that make MBV great on your home stereo.
Sure, it made for a truly magical and unique marriage of sonics when the melody lines of “Only Shallow” or “I Only Said” would rise above the racket. And when the riffs of “Come In Alone” smashed into you, it was with a fascinating and breath-shortening physical force. These were moments I can’t even imagine a band not named My Bloody Valentine being able to evoke. But if you were hoping to actually sing along to Kevin Shields or Bilinda Butcher, you would’ve been shit out of luck, what with their vocals essentially acting like bird chirps in a sonic hurricane.
Probably more disconcerting, though, was that when you entered the Kool Haus, a very fatherly and concerned security guard handed out earplugs to everyone and warned “you’re going to need them.”
Was nobody else actually offended that the baseline volume of a band was going to be so high the venue staff actually felt the need to warn people what they were getting into (no doubt to absolve themselves of liability for blown ears)? Seriously, what exactly is the goal of having that level of volume?
Mythbusters says “the brown note” doesn’t exist, so trying to make your audience shit their pants is out. But causing vomiting (which we’ve got at least one confirmed report of from last night) and fainting (which happened to a former Chart editor at MBV’s Opera House gig in 1992) were no doubt in the cards. Throw in the overpowering spastic flashes of that light show — a sensation that felt not unlike getting poked in the eye 10 times a second — and it leads me to believe the band were looking to evoke epileptic seizures, too.
Now that I think about it, I’m pretty sure this whole exercise was an act of sonic sadism on the part of My Bloody Valentine — a twisted game where the band earned sparkly badges for every throw-up or person cowering with their back to the stage and hands covering their ears.
Basically, if you went to this show, you got gimmicked. What My Bloody Valentine did was no different than Gwar spewing blood on to a crowd or some hardcore band encouraging a violent circle pit. MBV’s tactic was “be really loud.” And they certainly were. But 20 per cent less volume and 10 per cent more subtlety would have made a 30 per cent better show. And if you think differently, you’re probably like uncle Stan leaving his house for the first time in 10 years and encountering rock ‘n’ roll. Fuck you, My Bloody Valentine.
This story was originally published September 26, 2008 via Chart Communications.