Review: The Skeleton Show at Bar Bar, 1/7/12
Tom Murphy Sara Century with Tana Thornock on tamborine
THE SKELETON SHOW @ Carioca Café ("Bar Bar") | 1/ 7/12
Halfway through her set, after hitting who knows what chords and wailing about being hatched from a witch's egg and flying high, Sara Century held up the guitar she was playing and asked if anyone had a pick, as she had just battered her finger bloody and you could visibly see specks of blood on the pickup and on the pick guard. Upon retrieving a pick, Century and Tana Thornock, her percussionist for the night, forged ahead with her usually weird and borderline psychotic show.
Before getting up to play, Century, in her sometimes transgressive fashion, felt the need to share that she was wearing her brother's clothes, because she had left hers on the bus earlier in the day. Didn't ask what clothes she had been wearing before she got her brother's clothes, because pursuing such details is just asking for trouble. Using all borrowed equipment, including a synthesizer she didn't really know how to use, Century began her set with "In the Shadow of God," often called "Funny Little Spider," and played five songs, including some new material.
One song had a lyric along the lines of "I don't wanna be your wife anyway" -- almost an aside to "Housewife With a Loose Grip On Reality" by Lust-Cats of the Gutters. The last number had Century banging away, somehow musically, at the synthesizer and singing a rapid string of purposefully emotionally ragged lyrics. The set was probably less than twenty minutes. In typical Sara Century manner, it was like a train wreck waiting to happen, with humor and intense emotions on running through it.
A four-piece cover band called Prolapse had started playing a handful of minutes before I got there, thinking it was starting later. The first song I heard was a cover of "You Can't Always Get What You Want" by the Stones, of course. Then a Meat Puppets song where the two guitarists got the stretchy psych sound right. This was followed by a sludgy, slowed-down cover of "Dazed and Confused." When the opening strains of "Breathe" by Pink Floyd came through the speakers, it almost sounded like Robin Trower's "Bridge of Sighs" but the chords made it obvious it wasn't -- it was just noisy and murky enough to make you think otherwise.
Tom Murphy Prolapse
The set ended with a weird medley of "Would" by Alice in Chains linked to "White Rabbit." David Mead, the next performer, observed that the set reminded him of an earnest version of the songs Killdozer used to cover. Fair enough. The musicianship was solid and the songs were different enough that it wasn't like seeing just some other cover band you're going to catch at a bar no self-respecting punker would frequent.
David Mead is better known for being a member of other avant-garde projects but his solo material has always given him the freedom to experiment with pure sounds. He opened, with the very able assistance of Rich from Prolapse, with a number in which he played forcefully into his bass clarinet. It was like a kind of free jazz with expertly sensitive asymmetrical drumming.
Tom Murphy David Mead (foreground) and Rich of Prolapse on drums
For another song, Mead hooked up a contact mike to his throat and his heart to create a sound that later became a kind of distant wind close to whistling off open windows in a large building. All the while, Mead played a lonely flute while a windstorm raged outside -- or at least in your imagination as you listened to the song. Mead finished with a song in which he looped some bell tones and an acoustic, electric bass with all the treble scooped out. Over the top, he sang in a voice that was kind of swampy, like the Sun City Girls mixed with the Residents on "Sinister Exaggerator" and Edward Ka-Spell doing Buddhist chants in English.
It's hard to have anticipated what The Skeleton Show was about. Plenty of bands in recent years have mined that garage rock vein a bit too much. But these guys took a more wild strain of that and fused it with a dreamy psychedelia and punk. Some of the guitar work was reminiscent of Easter Everywhere-era 13th Floor Elevators with the rapidly quivering but also powerful guitar sound. The whole thing felt like getting to see a band rediscovering the Sonics or the Wailers before they knew anyone else already had and not seeing a difference between that and Black Flag and Kaleidoscope.
Tom Murphy The Skeleton Show
Halfway through the show, the guys did a wild, fun and appropriately shambolic cover of "Wild Thing," and it came off not unlike Black Flag's cover of "Louie Louie." Later, Zay Rios told us they were going to play "'Hall of the Mountain King' by Leighton Peterson and Zay Rios." It sure was that song and if anyone wants to know the original composer, it's not hard to look up.
"Moonlight," at least before the full rhythm kicked in, sounded a bit like the Cure or early Cocteau Twins. At the end, Brian Doyle of Prolapse fell into two of the mike stands and knocked them over. Campbell didn't seem to care much, as he'd been grabbing the mike and dancing out into the crowd anyway. He let his guitar drape down and he sang into the crowd full force without regard for whether or not he could be heard beyond the front row.
This was after he had a scuffle of some kind or tripped over his chords and played from the floor. He eventually set his guitar aside and went into the crowd again when Peterson put aside his own guitar and did a short running tackle of Campbell, effectively ending the set, as Ben Mund and Rios banged out the last notes. If you're going to end a rock show, it might as well be with a bang.
Personal Bias: I've been wanting to check out The Skeleton Show for a while and they didn't disappoint.
Random Detail: Ran into Clay and Sam from Red Vs. Black, as well as Nelson Escheverry and Magee Headley of the Haircut at the show.
By the Way: It was the birthdays of the Haircut's Courtney Rodgers, who was there, and William Tyler Campbell of the Skeleton Show. Somehow people managed not to sing the birthday song all night.
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