U.S. Maple, Aerial M, and Mogwai
The Foundry, Birmingham, England • 2.13.98
Birmingham. Let’s say it all together now. Tony Iommi. Geezer Butler. Ozzy. And while we’re going down the list, I’ll throw in Napalm Death, Godflesh, and Bolt Thrower. All three bands tonight definitely feel the down-tuned cloud of Birmingham’s legacy hanging over them. But who is going to pay homage and who is going to piss on graves is still a bit uncertain. Predictably, Skin Graft Record’s flagship U.S. Maple opt for the latter — but then desecration was always a big part of their act. U.S. Maple are rock and roll as epilepsy, they twitch and shudder and shake. And shimmy? Oh my yes, frontman Al Johnson one-ups Mick Jagger in the swagger and shake-your-moneymaker department, all while wearing black leather gloves!! It’s only the hate-contorted face spitting out spastic vocal venom that separates us from the Strolling Bones’ lead pouter. But if Al wants to be His Satanic Majesty, then guitarists Marc and Todd are going to make like Kraftwerk’s (note the sharp suits) showroom dummies gone berserk. Lurching about the stage mechanically, standing on chairs, throwing odd poses like a Pete Townshend slide show- matching perfectly the messy and dysfunctional patterns emanating from the guitars. Couldn’t see the drummer, but he was slowly dismantling his kit the whole time. Now wave in the house! A completely alien demonstration — the audience were mostly silent as Al wrecked the rest of the drum kit and stalked off. All piercing stares, mumbled threats with broken glass, and angular guitar.
Next was Aerial M, the newish project of cute little David Pajo of Slint/Tortoise ill repute. There is a crush of emo-kids down the front to catch a glimpse of their conquering hero, but David is taking his stage cues from Jah Wobble of P.I.L. — back turned to the audience, hiding behind the monitors. The music is all instrumental, bruised but uplifting, and there are some wonderful moments, but something is missing. Sadly, hopes are dashed.
Mogwai enter next, to tremendous anticipation, and Stuart dedicates the set to Geezer Butler and Tony Iommi. This leads to numerous thankfully-ignored cries of “Sweet Leaf.” Mogwai do the business, beginning with “Summer” and never letting up. A new song is aired, which worryingly sounds a bit like Helmet. But the mind is set at ease as “Helicon” ends the evening with frenzied feedback storms and 15 minutes of brutal percussion (four drummers, thank you) that has a frightened soundman doing all he can to resuscitate the amps and monitors after the band has left. And the Foundry is a metal club! Mogwai bend sound to their will like Uri Geller bends spoons, creating a perfect synthesis of My Bloody Valentine, Carcass, and the silence that accompanies a newly fallen snow. Birmingham. Ozz-fest this.