Six Finger Satellite

Six Finger Satellite

with A Stove Boat, Rent Boys

Echo Lounge, Atlanta • December 16, 1998

It’s amazing how a good band can transform itself. The Beatles went from a cover band in Hamburg, to a mainstream pop band (“Yeah, yeah, yeah”), to changing the way people thought about rock music. The Rolling Stones rose to success as the street-smart counterparts to the Beatles, and have become the world’s best-paying summer job, touring their elderly butts around the world when the chauffeur bill comes due. Well, Six Finger Satellite is another one of those bands — they began by sending a bogus grunge demo tape to Sub Pop as a joke (the joke was on them when it got them signed, and they had to become a “real” band), but they’ve outgrown their past and continue to change and improve.

This was my first trip to the Echo Lounge, which has recently opened in Atlanta, and I must say that it’s one of the best places in town to see live music. It’s the right size (intimate) and layout (shoebox) for seeing local or indie bands. There are two bars for your drinking pleasure, one of which is a super-cool synthetic space lounge furnished in smooth, white plastic.

The opening band, the Rent Boys, seemed to have brought a Greyhound bus full of friends and acquaintances, and they gathered in front of the stage to help create a living-room ambience. The Rent Boys looked like a “bunch of guys” as opposed to a “band,” with no cohesive image or style among them. The music was kind of the same, a mixture of Americana, ska, blues, and generic rock. The singer was the most interesting part of the show, with sort of a Tom Waits/Joe Cocker vibe, a gravelly voice and ever-present drink in hand. They started off a little out-of-tune, but somehow sounded better the more he drank. They ended up like the house band at some really great frat party — everyone in the room seemed to be having a good time, and isn’t that the point?

Next was A Stove Boat, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen two more dissimilar bands play back-to-back. Minimal. Industrial. Decibel. Painful – these are words that came to mind during their set. No lights on stage, just a weird glowing Christmas-ornament-looking globe. Two guys — one playing drums created from shredded metal containers, the other playing a bass through effects that made it rumble and pound like a tank. His vocals were likewise distorted; the band was monotonous, sludgy, dangerous – and I liked ’em. If Godzilla played in Joy Division, it might have sounded something like this.

Six Finger Satellite started their set with some random bass sounds, gradually building like a race car working through the gears on its way to top speed. The sound was guitar-heavy, and the keyboards added a punchy buzz as opposed to the beeps and noodling from their early records. Like the Butthole Surfers at their best, this band was fast, tight and hard, with a hint of an idea that things might fly apart at any minute. This would have been a great soundtrack for the live reports of Baghdad missile attacks that were being broadcast that night.

Made up mostly of music from their latest release, Law of Ruins (Sub Pop), there were also several new songs. In the past, this band has generated comparisons to Birthday Party and Big Black, electronic and noisy. With seven years experience (and quite a few personnel changes) under their belts, their sound now is sparser and more melodic, closer to Girls Against Boys or early Gang of Four. They recently lost a key member (founder John MacLean) and added a new guitarist. I hope this energetic show was an indication of the direction they’ll be headed in the future.

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