Love and Rockets
The Tabernacle, Atlanta, GA • March 27, 1999
Roi J. Tamkin
“I just came here for Orgy,” one teenage girl told me when I asked her “where are your tattoos?” I should have known better. The Tabernacle in Atlanta was filled with two types of people Saturday March 27th for the Orgy/Love and Rockets show. Lots of teenage girls screaming their hearts out to Orgy lead singer Jay Gordon mixed in with the older, dark, sullen, and brooding crowd waiting to hear some ’80s Love and Rockets.
Orgy did a great job of warming up the crowd. The floor and balconies were already packed and moving to the sounds of the fuzz guitar and brutal vocals. They closed with New Order’s “Blue Monday,” which had the crowd whipped up and ready for L&R.
As I set up in the pit to take photos, another young girl asked me, “What are L&R like?” The guy next to her said only the old men came to see L&R. Old men and vampires, apparently. On the floor, along the sides, and in other dark corners, the crowd had come out dressed as their favorite Bram Stoker character. Like a Victorian freak show. Spiked hair, extraneous and multiple face piercings, black make-up, black lingerie (!), black nylons revealing black panties, black capes swirled around black, painted bodies disintegrating into black, black, black. But it was all for show. These somber zombies collected in groups comparing costumes and quickly breaking down into such mundane conversations as the sudden cold spell in Atlanta.
As the lights dimmed, I asked myself one question — how is this loud, electric three-piece band going to pull off songs from their last CD, Lift ? Lift is electronica. Loops and samples, limited vocals and limited instrumentation.
Daniel Ash, David J and Kevin Haskins took the stage. Guitar, bass and drums. No synths, no back-up singers. So much for electronica.
L&R opened with “My Drug.” The stage was equipped with black lights (go figure!) and strobes. For six minutes, the audience saw nothing of the band except David J’s white jacket stripes glowing under the black lights. As a photographer, I thought, “this sux,” but I knew that as soon as the song kicked into gear and the front lights were switched on, all would be OK. Well…the song never kicked out of slow motion, and the entire show (all 13 songs) was backlit, with occasional side lighting and strobes. The purpose was not to see a band, but to be entranced. To be seduced and hypnotized by the repetition of the music and the pulsating of the strobes. This effect worked better on the second song, “RIP 20 C,” where Daniel Ash repeated “I am godhead, you are godhead, use it” (but what does it mean, Daniel?), and David J chanted three letter acronyms (RFK, LBJ, CIA…etc) for about six or seven minutes. But once hypnotized and under their spell, I was unsure as to what they wanted me to do. And when were they going to play something the crowd wanted to hear? Not to get down on L&R, but 6-8 minute pieces where bass lines and guitar notes repeat in one set pattern tend to get a little… boring.
The band must have realized that the music alone wasn’t going to make a live performance stand out, so they made the light show spectacular. ‘Cos that’s what it was. The production of the lights was very good. The best lights I’ve seen on tour right now. They had an entire team running the lights, making sure the music remained where it belonged — in the background. The L&R light show beamed out onto the audience, burning the retinas of the front row fans (that’s why Daniel and David J wear sunglasses on stage!).
But by the eighth song, things turned around. Daniel Ash grabbed his acoustic guitar and pounded out the opening riff to “Kundalini Express.” Now the older crowd started screaming and cheering. Finally, a song with lyrics and chord changes and progressions. At this point, the rest of the concert focused on the successful songs from the Express and Earth Sun Moon albums. The lights managed to get a little brighter on the stage, and Daniel even found the time to walk away from his mike and step over to the amps to play with some feedback and give the peace symbol to everyone in the audience. Suddenly, a rock concert emerged. And the crowd responded. Singing could be heard from the floor up to the balconies. “Mirror People” and “Yin and Yang the Flower Pot Man” and their first encore, “Ball of Confusion,” were the songs they had come to hear. After “Ball of Confusion,” the band left the stage. The audience began shouting and stomping their feet. They wanted more songs, less lights. And Daniel Ash, David J, and Kevin Haskins came back to play two more songs, “No New Tale to Tell” and “Slice of Life.”
When the lights finally came on at midnight, I felt most people were happy to hear their favorite songs played. With the popularity of Bauhaus’ reunion tour last year, it should have been clear to Daniel Ash that people want to hear what is familiar. L&R’s move into electronica does not make for a good live performance. Unless of course, your light show is killer!